I have to work harder
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, November 22, 2019

I have to work harder

By Aung Myo Min Thursday, July 1, 1999

Recently the Irrawaddy caught up with human rights advocate and award winner Aung Myo Min to talk about his work. He recently received an award from Columbia University's Center for the Study of Human Rights. He has also received awards from the University of Toronto and the International Lesbian and Human Rights Commission. He serves as the Director of the Human Rights Documentation Unit of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). The following are excerpts from the interview. Q: Tell us why you decided to come back to Thailand to work after graduating from university in the US, when so many other Burmese have stayed? A: The reason why I decided to come back to Thailand was that I want my country to be democratic and for the people to enjoy human rights. In the US, I didn’t intend to learn and to lead an intellectual life. That’s why when I had a chance I went to study in Columbia in New York and after my graduation I came back because while I feel that I have the opportunity to go and study but many people in my country don’t have this. So that is why it became my responsibility to work with them for the restoration of human rights in Burma. Q: Can you give us details on your activities on the border? A: I travel a lot on the border especially to the refugee camps, migrant communities and communities inside Burma, where many thousands of Burmese migrants are working and staying. I meet and talk to them and I try to get information about human rights violations in terms of what they have experienced, their life and how their life became threatened by the military and their fear of the situation in Burma. I try to get all the information, and then I document it by subject such as arrests, detention, torture, rape, forced relocation and forced porter. As Director of the Human Rights Documentation Unit of the NCGUB, I publish an end of the year human rights yearbook on Burma every year. It includes information like forced labor and forced relocation. I collect it and send it to international organizations like the International Labor Organization and UNHRC as well as NGOs and HR organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. So my information is being used as evidence of the junta’s human rights violations in the international forum. Q: What kind of human rights violations are taking place in Burma, especially in ethnic minorities’ areas? How do you compare it with the situation ten years ago? A: The human rights violations still continue in every area of Burma especially in the ethnic areas of Burma. Burmans are not being treated like ethnic people, but because of the civil war and the four cuts system in the ethnic areas the ethnic people suffer a lot. More than the Burman people. But Burmese people also suffer other kinds of human rights violations. In the ethnic areas there is forced portering and forced relocation on a massive scale, but at the same time inside Burma there is political detention and arrest of political activist still going on. We can not compare what is worse and which one is the better one, but the human rights situation is as bad as before like ten years ago. I would say that in some areas its getting worse and in some areas its getting better. Q: What about women’s issues? Are you doing any training on this issue? A: One of the trainings that I’m doing is women’s empowerment training. I work closely with ethnic and Burmese women’s groups along the border and communities inside Burma. What I’ve observed is that we need more work to empower women into the decision making position and to gain more confidence in their abilities. Because there are misunderstandings and some gaps between the male-dominated areas. The women are still seen as housekeepers and even in the revolutionary area they are seen as good for nurses and teachers. So we want to bring women into more positions with more decision making position. Q: Why do Burmese women have a limited role in society? A: Some people argue that Burmese women are enjoying their rights and that there is no discrimination against them in Burmese society. But there is still a limited definition for women. If you want to be a good mother, you have to treat your husband as a god and your son as a master. This is a Burmese saying. Women are defined with that kind of definition. If you don’t treat your husband as a god you will be labeled a bad woman. As for freedom of expression, if women want to speak out about something there is a traditional belief not to speak or be outspoken about what they think. This is the stereotype of the Burmese women. So we have more programs to help them understand that they also have rights. Q: Burma used to have a lot of prominent women in a lot of areas. But now the male-dominated military suppresses everyone including women.

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