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Inked-in human rights

What better way to prove your commitment to human rights than by getting it permanently inked on your face? It’s hard to top that, according to Hnin Ei, who on a rainy Friday morning participated in a two-day “Human Rights Tattoo” project in Rangoon by getting the letter “O” forever soaked into her temple.

About 60 people, mostly young and already sporting custom work, turned out for day one of the event, a world-wide art project that spells out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights one letter at a time on people across the globe. One letter, one square centimeter of skin, 6,773 times.

The Human Rights and Human Dignity Film Festival, which got off to a rocky start this week, is co-hosting the event with Dutch artist Sander Van Bussel, who will continue on to other countries offering limited edition tattoos and promoting awareness of human rights.

“Human rights are human rights, that’s all,” Hnin Ei told DVB after having the mark inked onto the left side of her face, in plain sight. It’s a simple and straightforward answer that she’ll surely be reciting for years in response to the inevitable question: What does your tattoo mean?


Since he started the project in 2012, Van Bussel has brought it to a number of countries, but this event marked his first foray into Asia. Thousands of people have already participated, representing about 60 different countries.

The event will continue on Saturday until 120 people have been branded as supporters of human rights. Each participant shares a written public message about why supporting human rights is important to them. It could be interesting to see the answers coming out of Burma, which for decades was one of the world’s most isolated and suppressed societies, ruled by a military junta notorious for abuse.

Van Bussel seems to have struck a chord in Burma, where tattoos are a popular sign of support among the nation’s youth, and in some cultures even carry traditional value. In the lead-up to last year’s nationwide election, many supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi had portraits of her or her father, Burma’s late independence leader General Aung San, imprinted on their skin as a sign of eternal commitment to her cause.

The Human Rights Tattoo project will continue at 10am on Saturday, 18 June, at Pansodan Scene, 144 Pansodan Street, Rangoon. The Human Rights and Human Dignity Film Festival will run through June 19 at Naypyidaw Cinema on Sule Pagoda Road. 


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