South Korea: 2009 Gwangju Human Rights Award to Burmese activist
Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi 28/4/2009 12:46:56 AM(IST)
The situation regarding democracy and human rights in Myanmar/Burma remains dire. At this very moment, many pro-democracy activists are locked up in freezing cold cells. The international community has put pressure on Burma’s military junta, taking consistent interest in the nation’s pro-democracy movement. Despite its efforts, some countries around the world have turned a deaf ear to the issue due to conflicts of interest. After the military junta crushed the “Saffron Revolution” with brutal force, the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma, meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, a democratic leader of the country, in 2008. However, such efforts to demonstrate the international community’s commitment to the region have been to no avail, and have only led to further disappointment with Burma.
Born in the Burmese capital of Yangon in 1962, Min Ko Naing organized the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), a nationwide student union, in 1988. Later, he was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for triggering the “8888 Uprising”. After being imprisoned for 15 years, he was released from prison and continued his pro-democracy resistance. Finally he was re-arrested and sentenced to 65 years imprisonment for organizing a demonstration which gave rise to the Saffron Uprising. He is currently serving this sentence.
According to an international human rights watchdog, the number of prisoners of conscience who, like Min Ko Naing, have been arrested and imprisoned for engaging in protests and anti-government activities, amounts to about 2,000. In the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster which hit Burma in May, 2007, the international community tried to reach out to the afflicted country. Burma’s military junta, however, decided to reject this helping hand. To make matters worse, the authoritarian regime arrested and detained protesters, killing at least several hundred people, including foreign journalists, involved in the nationwide demonstration driven by saffron-robed Buddhist monks.
The 2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Committee has therefore chosen Min Ko Naing to be this year’s prizewinner. Min Ko Naing and his colleagues have devoted themselves to Burma’s democratization, and it is their devotion that we hope to remember and share as we commemorate the May 18 Gwangju Uprising. The committee sincerely desires that Min Ko Naing and other political prisoners be released as soon as possible, and hopes that democracy will truly take root in this country.
2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Committee
Moon Young-hee, Vice President of Korea Democracy Foundation
Kim Chil-jun, Secretary-General of National Human Rights Commission
Yoon Gwang-jang, Chairman of the May 18 Memorial Foundation
Lee Jung-hyun, Korea National Assembly
Cha Sung-hwan, Director of Pusan Democratic Memorial Association
Profile at Civil Courage Prize:
Min Ko Naing is a leading figure in the Burmese pro-democracy movement. As one of the original founders and past chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), his stature as political dissident has been widely regarded as second only to that of Nobel Prize laureate and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Min Ko Naing — a pseudonym meaning "Conqueror of Kings" — was imprisoned for over fifteen years by the Burmese government, following his 1989 arrest for coordination of non-violent resistance.
As a student at the University of Rangoon in the late 1980s, Min Ko Naing secretly founded the ABFSU along with other student activists. Civil unrest erupted in 1988 in response to worsening economic conditions under a martial dictatorship. Min Ko Naing emerged as a leader of the nationwide non-violent uprising, in which millions marched throughout Burma demanding democracy and an end to decades-long military rule.
The Burmese army responded to the uprising with violent suppression, killing hundreds of student demonstrators. The military reasserted power under a new government, called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Martial law decrees were issued, including a ban on any criticism of the military and any public gathering of more than five people. Min Ko Naing went underground, where he continued his organizing work for the student unions. Reportedly, he was offered sanctuary with the armed resistance, the All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), but refused. Min Ko Naing has always maintained a commitment to non-violence in the resistance movement.
After months of evading the Burmese Military Intelligence, Min Ko Naing was arrested, along with many other student activists, on March 23, 1989. He was sentenced to a 20-year prison term, which was later commuted to 10 years under a general amnesty. He was kept in prison a full five years after his 10-year sentence had been completed.
Min Ko Naing was severely tortured during the early stages of his detention. He was forced to stand in water for two weeks until he collapsed, leaving his left foot totally numb. For most of his imprisonment he was held in complete solitary confinement. In 1998, he was moved from Insein Prison near Rangoon to Sittwe Prison, 590 miles away, making it extremely difficult for his family to visit him during the last six years of his sentence. In the mid-1990s, Min Ko Naing was visited by both a U.S. congressman, as well as a U.N. special human rights investigator.
In response to international pressure, the military released Min Ko Naing from prison on November 20, 2004. He is currently recovering with his elderly parents and siblings in Rangoon. He has asked that his portion of the Prize money be donated to a worthy not-for-profit organization.
Min Ko Naing was represented at the 11 October ceremony by Bo Kyi, a long-time colleague and founder of the assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi was arrested with Min Ko Naing on March 23, 1989, though he was able to escape. He became a central executive committee member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. In 1990, however, he was imprisoned by the regime for three years, suffering torture and forced to do hard labor. Upon his release, he refused to become an informer and was imprisoned again, this time for five years. In 1999 he fled to the Thai-Burma border where he founded the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an organization that documents and disseminates information on the situation of political prisoners in Burma.
Profile at JOhn Humphrey Prize:
Min Ko Naing is a legendary figure of the student movement in Burma. During the 1988 nation-wide democratic uprising, his statements, speeches and poems aroused the democratic aspirations of the people. Viewed as a threat by the military regime, Min Ko Naing was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. His last known contact with the international community was in 1995, when the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma was permitted to visit him in detention.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009