charm tong and others
- 4 articles:
March 7, The Washington Post
Victims of a stalled revolution - Fred Hiatt
You can tell a lot about a government by the enemies it keeps.
The dictators of Burma, for example, have, since 1991, imprisoned a
gentleman by the name of U Saw Nay Don for the crime of supporting
democracy. When his wife died last year, security agents visited his
prison cell and offered to free him if he would confess the error of his
beliefs. U Saw Nay Don refused. He is still in prison. Later this month
will turn 85.
Charm Tong, now a poised young woman of 23, has been an enemy of the
Burmese state since she was 6. Her parents, members of the persecuted
nationality, sent her across the border into Thailand at that age to
escape the pillaging Burmese army, notorious for raping girls as young
4 and press-ganging their parents into forced porterage.
She grew up essentially an orphan, watching friends forced out of school
to work as farmhands on Thai plantations, or as domestic workers or
prostitutes. By the time she was 17 she had become a human rights
While Burma's paranoid generals may reveal only their own insecurity
they lock up 84-year-olds, you can't help thinking that they are
absolutely right to fear Charm Tong. As she talks about the suffering in
her native country, she radiates coiled fury, disciplined determination
and empathy. At an age when many Americans are still bringing laundry
to their parents, she has helped found a school for refugees, a network
women activists, a center to counsel rape survivors and to train other
counselors, a program to educate women about writing a democratic
constitution, and weaving and cooking enterprises to help fund all these
For Charm Tong, becoming an activist was in part a process of attaching
names to horrors she had grown up with. "At first, we know what
she says. "But we didn't know, Oh, this is 'forced labor.' This is
'extrajudicial killing.' This is 'extortion.' "
Victims of the regime, she said, are desperate to attach those names and
inform the world. In 2002 she helped research and write a groundbreaking
report, "License to Rape," that documented the military's use of rape,
torture and sexual slavery as systematic weapons of war and tools of
terror. The report triggered widespread condemnation of Burma's rulers.
But Charm Tong sounds almost puzzled by what has not happened since.
"Now many people know," she says. "And still there is no change."
The persistence of evil is worth pondering amid the exuberance sparked
pro-democracy movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon and elsewhere.
had its own democratic moment. In 1988 thousands of students bravely
protested against the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi, the serene and until
apolitical daughter of Burma's independence hero, emerged as reluctant
leader of a democracy movement. In 1990, though she was under house
(as she remains today), her National League for Democracy won four out
every five seats in a parliamentary election.
Burma's corrupt generals, having utterly miscalculated their popularity,
clamped down. The parliament never met. Many of its elected members sit
instead in prison. And, if you discount the occasional internal
bloodletting as one greedy general purges another, the regime has
succeeded in maintaining power.
So democracy movements can fail, or at least stall. This is so if a
is genuinely unconcerned with the misery of its population and ruthless
enough to threaten and torture not only activists but their relatives --
and if the rest of the world chooses to shrug its shoulders.
In Burma's case, the United States has imposed economic sanctions, which
impinge on the regime. But their effectiveness is undermined by the
Japanese and Europeans, who cluck disapprovingly but are reluctant to
jeopardize commercial ties to a resource-rich Asian nation. China and
India want Burma inside their spheres of influence. U.N. Secretary
Kofi Annan, whose envoy hasn't even managed to get a visa into Burma for
more than a year, expresses concern from time to time.
So Charm Tong continues to tell the stories of her Shan people. She says
soldiers rape and murder girls and dump them on well-trod paths,
threatening any relatives who would reclaim their bodies. Villages are
destroyed, pigs and chickens slaughtered, and families forced into
relocation camps. From there they are prevented from returning to their
fields, and they begin to go hungry. "People try their best to survive,
until they can't," Charm Tong says. And so the refugees keep coming.
March 9, The Nation
Human rights award: Shan woman wins honour - Subhatra Bhumiprabhas
Documenting sexual violence against Burmese refugees recognised as huge
A 23-year-old Shan activist has been named a winner of the 2005 Reebok
Human Rights Award for her struggle against the rape of women in Burma's
Charm Tong, a member of Shan Women's Action Network (Swan), was
as a resolute defender of the rights of refugee women and children on
Charm Tong has been combating sexual violence against women in her
homeland and along the Thai-Burmese border for years. She was a
in a team that produced the report "Licence to Rape", a document that
revealed the Burmese military regime's use of sexual violence against
ethnic women in Shan state.
"Licence to Rape" details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of
violence by Burmese troops committed against 625 girls and women in Shan
state, mostly between 1996 and 2001.
Charm Tong is herself a refugee from Burma. At the age of six, her
sent her to the Thai border to escape the war between the Shan ethnic
minority and the Burmese government. She was forced to leave her
in central Shan state. Living as a refugee on Thai soil, she received an
education at a local orphanage, learning about and witnessing the fate
young refugees around her.
Many of her friends ended up in the sex trade or working as child
At 16, Charm Tong joined Swan and helped coordinate a campaign to draw
international attention to the plight of Shan women - both the victims
rape in her homeland and those fleeing to Thailand. The young activist
took a risk working along the Thai-Burmese border to interview victims
document their cases in "Licence to Rape", which was released in 2002.
After releasing the report, the Swan office was forced to close. Charm
Tong and her Swan co-workers then worked underground, moving from one
place to another in a bid to stay safe. Thai authorities, fearing the
report would harm bilateral ties with Burma, threatened them.
The report grabbed international attention and was high on the agenda at
the 59th annual meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Rangoon has consistently denied the allegations detailed in the report.
Burma's Prime Minister Lt-General Soe Win last week addressed the annual
meeting of the Myanmar [Burma] Women's Affairs Federation, and said
Burmese women enjoyed equal rights with men and had done so since birth.
"Unlike the women of other nations, Myanmar [Burmese] women do not need
make demands nor struggle for women's rights as they have enjoyed these
rights since birth," Soe Win was quoted as saying in The New Light of
Charm Tong said Soe Win was making a laughing stock of himself by saying
"Everyone knows that Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship, ruled by
men at every level, who are denying women their rights in every sphere
society," she said, adding that the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation
just a token organisation, totally controlled by the military.
"It used to be headed by Khin Nyunt's wife, and now that Khin Nyunt has
been ousted, it is headed by Soe Win's wife. What kind of an independent
women's organisation is that?" she added.
The Reebok Human Rights Award began in 1988, to recognise young
who have made significant contributions to human rights.
March 7, The Nation
Women in Buddhism: Suu Kyi, Poonsuk recognised - Subhatra Bhumiprabhas,
Activists awarded for outstanding courage in face of injustice,
Aung San Suu Kyi and Thanpuying Poonsuk Banomyong have received a UN
"Outstanding Women in Buddhism" award for their peaceful courage in the
face of grave personal hardship and political crises.
The two women were among 20 award-recipients named at a ceremony at the
United Nations Building, Bangkok, yesterday, to mark the 2005 United
Nations International Women's Day which takes place today.
Suu Kyi of Burma and Thanphuying Poonsuk of Thailand have similar
experiences of political crises in their respective countries: they have
campaigned for freedom and democracy and they have been imprisoned.
Poonsuk, 93, had to live in exile for decades, while Suu Kyi, 60, is now
under house arrest for a third time.
Suu Kyi is recognised for the example she has given in peaceful conflict
resolution and equanimity in the face of suffering and injustice. She
been held since May 2003 following clashes between her supporters and
pro-government forces in Northern Burma. The first time the Burmese
placed her under house arrest, she was detained for six years, between
1989 and 1995. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD Party) won a
landslide victory in the general election in 1990, but the junta refused
to recognise the result. The second period of Suu Kyi's house arrest was
for 20 months, between July 2000 and May 2002.
In her book "Letters from Burma", Suu Kyi refers to the first time she
under house arrest as "Days of Rest" and pointed out that she started
day with an hour of meditation. On the subject of gender, Suu Kyi says
is not the prerogative of men alone to bring light to the world.
"Women with their capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice, their
courage and perseverance, have done much to dissipate the darkness of
intolerance and hate, suffering and despair," Suu Kyi was quoted as
Poonsuk, widow of Thailand's first senior statesman and former prime
minister Pridi Banomyong, is honoured for her work over the last sixty
years to bring peace and hope to the younger generations.
Poonsuk always supported her husband, who led the 1932 peaceful
in Siam. During World War II, she joined the Free Thai Movement,
the invading Japanese side-by-side with Pridi and other Thais to bring
peace to the Thai people and the rest of the world.
When a political storm was brewing around Pridi, Poonsuk calmly endured
injustice several times. She was accused of offences against the
and external security of the Kingdom and detained between November 1952
and February 1953. Poonsuk refused to give in, observing the teachings
the Buddha that "Dhamma always protects those who practice Dhamma". Now
93, she is president of the Pridi Banomyong Foundation, established to
encourage young people to continue the goodwill and work of the older
generation in preserving independence, freedom and democracy.
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga was honoured for her
encouragement and support for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in
her country. Nepalese activist Stella Tamang also received an award for
her role as an international facilitator for peace and conflict
in the last seven years.
Well-respected Dhamma writer Upasika Ranchuan Intrakamhaeng is
for her work in promoting peace. She has penned more than 20 Dhamma
to promote a life of true peace and happiness. She has instilled
with a love of reading by helping to establish libraries, schools and
literacy promotion programmes.
Among other women to receive awards were: Sister Jotika Hermes, the
of Amsterdam's Buddhavihara Temple; Bhikkuni Dr Gotami, who established
Buddhist temple in Massachusetts and counsels Southeast Asian immigrants
from Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam in need of help;
Sang Won Sunim who founded her own temple Bo Myung Sa in Seon Hwak Won
Korea and established an international sisterhood for world peace in
Japan; Suchinta Bhikkuni who serves the Sri Lankan community in the USA
and is committed to internationally supporting women's higher
Dr Thynn Thynn, a Dhamma Burmese teacher who established the Sae Taw
II Dhamma Centre in California and wrote a book entitled "Living
Meditation: Living Insight", which was translated into Dutch, German and
Vietnamese; Bhikkuni Hong-Xiang Shih, the abbess of Jing-Ci Temple in
Taipei, who established exchange visits by nuns from her temple and
in Korea; Maechee Arun Pet-Urai, has dedicated her life to promoting the
status of maechees in Thailand and served as the Secretary of the Thai
Maechee Institute from 1981-1993; Nurse Vilas Porphraphai who has
her life to service at Maharaj Hospital in Nakhon Si Thammarat, setting
a medical equipment centre to reduce equipment shortages, and developing
new equipment to meet the specific demands of patients.
March 8, The Irrawaddy
Not a day for women in Burma
Today, while people around the world honor the role in their lives
by women, as they mark the 30th annual International Women’s Day,
thought for one woman who remains alone and still under house arrest
many years: Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi has been detained in her home for a total of nearly 10 years
she first got involved in politics in 1988, hoping to bring democracy to
the military-ruled country. Although the best known, she is far from
the only woman to have fallen victim to Burma’s military rule. Since the
democratic upheaval in1988, which ushered in the current military junta,
dozens of women as well as men have been arrested and abused by the
authorities for their involvement in anti-government political
By contrast, the region as a whole is considered to be doing rather well
in terms of gender equality, with four female presidents and prime
ministers currently running countries in the Asia Pacific region – the
Philippines, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Bangladesh. But take a look at
Burma. Women do not occupy any leading roles in politics or indeed at
other level of Burmese society.
Throughout Burma’s previous history, women have traditionally taken
leading roles in everything from religion to social activities and
politics. And looking back to the pre-independence era up to 1948, the
role of female students was impressive.
Ludu Daw Amar, for example. She not only took part in the 1938 national
independence movement against the British but went on to become the
country’s most respected female political dissident and left-leaning
Women, however, have been barred from playing leading roles in society
since military rule began in Burma in 1962.
Last Thursday, incredibly, the junta’s Prime Minister Lt-Gen Soe Win
“Myanmar [Burmese] women can be proud to be citizens of Myanmar, as
throughout the nation’s history they have enjoyed rights equally with
men.” To a certain extent that is right—but not during the last four
decades of military rule.
The Prime Minister also said that women in Burma have plenty of
opportunity to play important roles in society. But such talk is cheap:
Just consider Suu Kyi, her colleagues and other ordinary women. Since
1988, there have been around 200 women political activists incarcerated
the junta’s prisons. Today, 58 female political prisoners are being
detained in jails, according to the Thai-based Assistance Association of
Political Prisoners – Burma. At the same time, thousands of Burmese
are forced to live in exile, along with male dissidents, because of
It’s clear that women’s rights are not respected in a country where
are not even basic human rights. If, however, the military would
itself to its proper role defending the country—an unlikely event in the
foreseeable future— then rights, not only for women but for all, will
again blossom in Burma.