Friday, October 23, 2009

Cham Tong - Young voice for Myanmar minority

Twenty-eight-year-old Charm Tong is regarded as an enemy by Myanmar’s junta but a “candle in the dark” by her fellow citizens. This vivacious woman does not fit the stereotype of a “strong political advocate” for ethnic minority rights and democracy in the military-run
nation formerly called Burma. Yet, she is one of the few who can get the international community to sit and take notice of the Southeast Asian country.

Charm Tong

As a child Charm Tong was separated from her family and forced to flee Burma to escape the brutal military dictatorship. At 17 she testified before the UN Commission on Human Rights. She is a co-founder of the Shan Women's Action Network.A tireless defender of the brutalized women of Burma.

Though her formal education ended in middle school, she has since received a slew of awards and recognitions: She was one of for international activists under 30 to be given the Reebok Human Rights Awards in 2005; the same year, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was named one of Asia’s Heroes by Time magazine. Charm Tong, a member of Myanmar’s Shan minority, is now appealing to Chinese investors to stop the construction of several hydropower dams in the country’s minority areas, which will endanger indigenous culture and for residents from their homes.

Dams threaten minorities’ existence

“I come from an ancient land, Yin Ta Lai, where people co-exist with nature. Our life depends on the sacred Salween River. But my father tells me soon the Burmese government will dam our river and our way of life. If the dam were to be built, all our land will be submerged, and
the Yin Ta Lai will be no more,” a little Myanmar girl says in a documentary produced by the Karenni Research Development Group.

The film, shown to Beijing Today by Charm Tong, gives a rare glimpse of the remote center of Karen state in the country’s east, and the life of the Yin Ta Lai minority, of whom only 1,000 people remain. Footage depicts a distinct culture and a biodiverse rainforest that will disappear if the Salween hydropower dam is built.

“Burma is China’s backyard, and its abundant resources have attracted more a more Chinese companies to come and invest,” Charm Tong said, adding that some of the projects imperil minority culture. She appealed to investors to make a careful study of local situations
before implementing projects

Lecturing the enemy

Charm Tong’s path to activism began in an orphanage in Thailand.When she was six, her parents put her on a donkey and sent her from the war- torn eastern Shan state,home to the country’s biggest ethnic minority,to Thailand, where they hoped she could live in peace and get basic
schooling, a privilege denied many Shan women.

She considers herself “very lucky” as she was taken to an orphanage in the Thai-Burma border in which she studied for nine years. Many of her peers were less fortunate; survival is top of the agenda for Myanmar refugees in Thailand and some became victims of human trafficking and the sex trade.

At 16, Charm Tong began volunteering with organizations that helped Myanmar refugees.

“I witnessed how refugees from Burma suffer – especially the Shan. They have escaped from killings, torture and persecution. They have lost their land and belongings,” she said.

International accolades soon followed, including a visit to the White House upon the invitation of then-President George W. Bush.

A life-long career
Since her UN speech, Charm Tong has traveled the world to speak of the violence and oppression the Myanmar people continue to endure. She co-founded the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) together wih over 40 women, which attracted global attention in 2002 with its ground-
breaking report “License to Rape," detailing rape cases against Myanmar military personnel.

Charm Tong’s current work includes running a school in he Thailand- Burma border that is training a new generation of Myanmar people.

“The school trains them in English and computers, an also in human rights, democracy, the media, the environment and other skills that will help them work effectively with communities,” she said. Many of their graduates have become HIV/AIDS educators in migrant and refugee groups. Others work in women’s organizations, the media and youth
groups. “This is a lfe-long career for me,” Charm Tong said, adding that their students represent the hope for a democratic Myanmar.

(extract from article by Han Manman, Monday, Beijing Today (Beijing Youth Daily)dated 3 July 2009 ,

If you want to see more action of this nominee for Nobel Peace Prize, please visit youtube,, she talk on further report of minority suffering in Burma.

The minority in Burma are facing very difficult situation. We have heard about Kongkang recently, but in the Shanland and other Thai- Burma border, many minority are escaping the hardship and cross the border; many IDP are inside Burma, many refugee are at the camp at the border, some of minority have escaped to Malaysia under refugee status. The suffering still going on.....

Their voices to the world, " we are like forgotten people".....

Note: Extract from Human Right Report 2008 on the minority in Burma:

Ethnic minorities

Many ethnic minority communities and religious groups in Burma continue to be discriminated against, through failure to protect or respect their cultures and languages, and their inability to practice non-Buddhist religions. In the west of the country the Muslim Rohingya face a range of draconian restrictions on their freedom to travel, marry, study or practice their faith. The Burmese army's regular campaigns in Karen State have left many villages destroyed, causing a significant level of internal displacement. Many members of the Chin community living on the border with India are currently enduring a famine caused by a plague of rats, a phenomenon that affects the region every 50 years but for which the regime had made no preparations. Ethnic groups in Burma are also politically disenfranchised. We emphasis regularly to the Burmese regime, and to countries in the region, the need for the full and fair participation of ethnic nationalities in the political process as key to a durable solution to Burma's problems. There can be little prospect of national reconciliation without genuine recognition of their political, economic and social rights.

Related articles on Burma:
1. Human Right Report 2008, by UK government, UNHCR official website,,GBR_FCO,,,49ce361614,0.html
2. Human Right Report, by US government,

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