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charm tong and others

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  • Edith Mirante
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2005
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      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
      he
      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
      Shan
      nationality, sent her across the border into Thailand at that age to
      escape the pillaging Burmese army, notorious for raping girls as young
      as
      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
      activist.

      While Burma's paranoid generals may reveal only their own insecurity
      when
      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
      home
      to their parents, she has helped found a school for refugees, a network
      of
      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
      ventures.

      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
      happened,"
      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
      by
      pro-democracy movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon and elsewhere.
      Burma
      had its own democratic moment. In 1988 thousands of students bravely
      protested against the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi, the serene and until
      then
      apolitical daughter of Burma's independence hero, emerged as reluctant
      leader of a democracy movement. In 1990, though she was under house
      arrest
      (as she remains today), her National League for Democracy won four out
      of
      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
      regime
      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
      General
      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
      contribution

      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
      Shan state.

      Charm Tong, a member of Shan Women's Action Network (Swan), was
      recognised
      as a resolute defender of the rights of refugee women and children on
      the
      Thai-Burmese border.

      Charm Tong has been combating sexual violence against women in her
      homeland and along the Thai-Burmese border for years. She was a
      researcher
      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
      sexual
      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
      parents
      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
      hometown
      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
      of
      young refugees around her.

      Many of her friends ended up in the sex trade or working as child
      labourers.

      At 16, Charm Tong joined Swan and helped coordinate a campaign to draw
      international attention to the plight of Shan women - both the victims
      of
      rape in her homeland and those fleeing to Thailand. The young activist
      took a risk working along the Thai-Burmese border to interview victims
      and
      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
      to
      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
      Myanmar.

      Charm Tong said Soe Win was making a laughing stock of himself by saying
      such things.

      "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
      of
      society," she said, adding that the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation
      was
      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
      activists
      who have made significant contributions to human rights.

      ______________________________________

      March 7, The Nation
      Women in Buddhism: Suu Kyi, Poonsuk recognised - Subhatra Bhumiprabhas,
      Aree Chaisatien

      Activists awarded for outstanding courage in face of injustice,
      suffering

      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
      has
      been held since May 2003 following clashes between her supporters and
      pro-government forces in Northern Burma. The first time the Burmese
      junta
      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
      was
      under house arrest as "Days of Rest" and pointed out that she started
      each
      day with an hour of meditation. On the subject of gender, Suu Kyi says
      it
      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
      saying.

      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
      revolution
      in Siam. During World War II, she joined the Free Thai Movement,
      resisting
      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
      internal
      and external security of the Kingdom and detained between November 1952
      and February 1953. Poonsuk refused to give in, observing the teachings
      of
      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
      resolution
      in the last seven years.

      Well-respected Dhamma writer Upasika Ranchuan Intrakamhaeng is
      recognised
      for her work in promoting peace. She has penned more than 20 Dhamma
      books
      to promote a life of true peace and happiness. She has instilled
      Thailand
      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
      abbess
      of Amsterdam's Buddhavihara Temple; Bhikkuni Dr Gotami, who established
      a
      Buddhist temple in Massachusetts and counsels Southeast Asian immigrants
      from Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam in need of help;
      Bhikkuni
      Sang Won Sunim who founded her own temple Bo Myung Sa in Seon Hwak Won
      in
      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
      ordination;
      Dr Thynn Thynn, a Dhamma Burmese teacher who established the Sae Taw
      Winn
      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
      those
      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
      devoted
      her life to service at Maharaj Hospital in Nakhon Si Thammarat, setting
      up
      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
      played
      by women, as they mark the 30th annual International Women’s Day,
      spare a
      thought for one woman who remains alone and still under house arrest
      after
      many years: Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Suu Kyi has been detained in her home for a total of nearly 10 years
      since
      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
      being
      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
      activities.

      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
      any
      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
      journalist.

      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
      said:
      “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
      in
      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
      women
      are forced to live in exile, along with male dissidents, because of
      their
      beliefs.

      It’s clear that women’s rights are not respected in a country where
      there
      are not even basic human rights. If, however, the military would
      restrict
      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
      once
      again blossom in Burma.


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