|Speech by Charm Tong, Shan
Women’s Action Network (SWAN) |
I am very honoured to be here today at the first hearing on
Burma by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. I feel
that every single action, every statement made around the world
to ensure genuine progress for human rights in Burma, is making
sure that my brothers and sisters have a future in our own
I was born in a conflict area in Shan State, where civil war and
oppression by the Burmese military regime has been continuing
for over half a century. I’m only one of the millions of people
who have fled to Thailand.
As a Shan refugee growing up on the border, I have witnessed and
experienced so much suffering of our people. I started working
for human rights when I was 16 years old. Since then I realised
that my sisters and brothers from other ethnic nationalities,
especially women and girls, suffer a lot from the militarisation
We struggle to survive in the face of many challenges and
threats, but we know it is a struggle worth doing. We are
fighting for our future, for our families to be free of war. We
all have the same vision – a future with education, jobs,
democracy, peace, where all of us can live our lives in the way
that we want – without fear. Every day, with every small step
forward we realise the importance of working together regardless
of our backgrounds.
We are not just waiting for the military regime to change their
mind. We are working for what we want despite all the
challenges. I am from a women's organisation named the Shan
Women's Action Network, one of many women's groups that are
actively working to address women's and community needs in
Burma's border areas. Women are working hard to educate
themselves in issues of human rights, women’s rights, politics,
languages, confidence-building and other skills that can empower
them to work effectively within their own communities. Women are
also advocating from the community level to the international
level for gender equality and political change.
This is why an event like this is so important to us. It is a
message of solidarity that the world has not given up on us, on
our hopes and future. It is a sign of your belief that my
brothers and sisters in Burma, regardless of their religion or
ethnic background, will have a future worth living. I want to
tell you that your work is making a difference, to help build a
future for ourselves. So, please keep on supporting our
Our brothers and sisters in Burma are facing persecution and the
threat of brutal killing, rape and torture under the Burmese
military regime. Some are hiding in the jungles as Internally
Displaced Persons, searching for food secretly, and trying their
best to survive day by day in land-mined areas until they cross
the border as refugees. They have been forced to leave their
homes and farms, and some even may not see their family members
again in their life-time.
The war in Burma is still going on. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is
still in detention. The recent life-sentences of Hkun Htun Oo
and other Shan political leaders and the continuing detention of
1,500 political prisoners show that the regime still fears
change in Burma.
As you know, Burma now has the largest number of child soldiers
in the world. About 70,000 children have been forced to join the
army. Those who are able to escape this have very few
opportunities to go to school. In fact, most people have to work
and even do forced labour for the military. Many of my brothers
and sisters are malnourished in a country that was once
considered the rice bowl of Asia.
Our young people live in communities where forced relocation by
the military is a fact of life. Hundreds of thousands of us have
been forced at gunpoint from our homes. The military regime has
been consolidating control of the ethnic states so that it can
increasingly exploit our natural resources, like timber and
gems. Now, together with our neighbouring country, they are
planning a series of mega dams on the Salween River, which will
permanently displace tens of thousands of villagers and impact
the livelihoods of millions.
The Burmese Army still holds a Licence to Rape. Their troops
systematically use rape as a weapon of war in order to
terrorize, demoralize and control the people. There is no safe
place for women and children to hide from such violence.
For us, we know that we cannot expect justice or legal redress
in a country like Burma whose rulers hold absolute power – a
country with no rule of law. But does this mean that we will
surrender? The answer is NO.
Please do not view my brothers and sisters only as victims of
human rights violations. More importantly, they are human rights
defenders, who are bravely speaking out about the atrocities
committed against them, in order that pressure can be brought on
the Burmese military to stop such acts of violence.
This is why your support is important. There are so many ways
you can support us beyond this event. Last September Czech
leader Vaclav Havel and Bishop Desmond Tutu, called for the UN
Security Council to move a resolution on Burma. The resolution
will call for the Burmese military to honour their commitments
to democratisation. This is an initiative that is supported by
the movement for human rights and democracy in Burma. Everyone
can do something to make sure this happens.
We also urge you to continue humanitarian support not only for
Burma’s refugees but also for Internally Displaced People,
through community-based organizations, particularly women’s
organizations, who are actively participating in the movement
for social and political change in Burma. Please ensure that any
humanitarian aid to Burma reaches those in need.
There are so many creative and practical ways that all of you
can support us wherever you are and whatever your job is! Please
tell everyone about our situation. Please support our programmes
and initiatives. Please write to the governments of Burma’s
neighbouring countries to allow us to do our work in peace,
without fear. Please encourage your government to support us.
Please don’t give up on democracy and human rights.
We want to live in a country that will allow us to work
peacefully to help each other. We want education. We want peace.
We want a government that we trust and can work with for a
better future. We know this is something that will not be easy
to achieve, but like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, we won’t give up.