On Aug.31, Su Su Nway of Burma was awarded the 2006 John Humphrey Freedom Award by the Canadian NGO Rights & Democracy. She was chosen from a field of 100 candidates nominated by human rights groups around the world. Su Su Nway, 34, first drew international attention for challenging the ruling junta for forcing her and her neighbors to repair a road without pay. In an unprecedented 2005 ruling, a judge sentenced the village chairman and a deputy to eight months in prison under an untested 1999 law banning forced labor. Su Su Nway was later charged with defaming the village’s replacement chairman, tried, and sentenced in October to 18 months in Burma’s notorious Insein Prison. Su Su Nway, who suffers from a heart condition, endured nine months in Insein before authorities finally bowed to international pressure and released her on June 6, 2006. Su Su Nway spoke to RFA’s Burmese service from Burma in an interview broadcast on Sept. 1, 2006:
“I would like to say that we all, all of the Burmese people and all of the political organizations, are extremely grateful to the authorities from various countries and all of the citizens who selected me for this human rights award. I would like to go [to Canada] to accept it. But here, since we are members of the [opposition] National League for Democracy fighting for human rights and democracy in Burma, they would surely allow us to go, but they wouldn’t allow us to come back in.”
Before and after my release, we have been standing on the side of truth, human rights, and democracy.
“Before and after my release, we have been standing on the side of truth, human rights, and democracy. We are farmers, and now farmers do not get fertilizer and so on. And so they write to us—farmers come and tell us their troubles and say they aren’t getting fertilizers and all… Now the [government-backed] Union Solidarity and Development Association is lending 100,000 [kyat] to individual farmers whom they favor, while the real farmers who are in trouble do not get this. They tell me about this. And I am working on what they did not get and why they did not get it.”
“This award has given me strength. I hope the people of Burma...whose rights have been violated...are also encouraged, and they will be able to decide courageously what they should do and what they would do.”
“Starting from who enters and exits my house, to where I go, in which boat do I return or which bus I take, what time do I get back, I am being monitored. Even though people can see me going around and being active, I am not free mentally. In spite of this lack of freedom, we … must reveal the truth for the people who are truly violated and oppressed and illegally detained, however much we are monitored. Only then will we get the human rights and democracy that we want as soon as possible. If we don’t work just because we are being monitored and just because we are pressured, our goal of human rights and democracy will become distant from us.”
Starting from who enters and exits my house, to where I go, in which boat do I return or which bus I take, what time do I get back, I am being monitored. Even though people can see me going around and being active, I am not free mentally.
“And so, we, the people of Burma, are afraid. I am also afraid. I’m not saying that I’m not afraid. In spite of this fear, we think about what we will do and what we should do for the truth, and we stand by the people who are really oppressed and whose human rights are violated. We have explained [the issues] to …quite a lot of farmers around the Kaw Hmu township area—previously farmers were very afraid but now they are no longer afraid. Regarding the issue of not getting fertilizers, the
“Ya-Ya-Ka chairmen asked the farmers in the region to sign [papers saying they had received fertilizers]. They didn’t sign that they were getting fertilizers when in fact they were not. They resisted signing it.”
“This situation encourages us. Even those farmers who were previously very scared now know how to talk about their rights. They know how to fight. I’d like to say that it’s worth working for.”
Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Than Than Win. Produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.