Advancing Democracy in Burma: New Challenges and Opportunities

September 19, 2012
12:00 pm - 02:00 pm

Advancing Democracy in Burma: New Challenges and Opportunities

On Sept. 19, 2012, the National Endowment for Democracy held a panel discussion with the honorees of its 2012 Democracy Award, which was presented to the Democracy Movement of Burma. Honorees representing the movement included:

Hkun Htun Oo
Kyaw Thu
Dr. Cynthia Maung

Aung Din
Min Ko Naing (Unable to be in attendance)

The panel was moderated by Brian Joseph, NED Senior Director for Asia and Global Programs.

Learn more about the 2012 Democracy Award :: more

Read the 2012 Democracy Award press release :: more

Learn more about the NED’s work in Burma :: more

About the Speakers

Min Ko Naing is a founding member of the 88 Generation Students Group, which played a key role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution. He rose to international prominence for his leadership role in the pro-democracy protests in 1988 (popularly known as the “8888 Uprising”), during which time he was chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). The New York Times has described him as Burma’s “most influential opposition figure after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” Both the 8888 Uprising and 2007 Saffron Revolution were violently repressed by the military regime. As a key leader of both, Min Ko Naing spent the majority of the last 20 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. He was released on January 13, 2012, in a mass presidential amnesty. During the past two decades, Min Ko Naing has received numerous international awards for his courage, conviction, and dedication to nonviolence and democracy. These awards include the 2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights; the 2005 Civic Courage Prize, which he shared with Anna Politkovskaya and Munir Said Thailib; the 2000 Homo Homini Award from People in Need; and the 1999 John Humphrey Freedom Award, which he shared with Dr. Cynthia Maung.

Hkun Htun Oo is a leading politician from Burma’s Shan State and Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party. Following the 8888 Uprising, he ran in the 1990 parliamentary elections as the head of the SNLD, which won 23 seats, the second most of any party after the National League for Democracy (NLD). After the military government annulled the results, Hkun Htun Oo continued to work for democratic change within the country, for which he was arrested in 2005 and given a 93-year prison term for treason, defamation, and inciting dissatisfaction toward the government. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience, and in December 2008, he was awarded honorary Italian citizenship by the mayor of Monza. In March 2011, the United Nationalities Alliance, a group representing several minorities in Burma, awarded him the Nationalities Hero prize for his “dedication and struggle for ethnic groups and national reconciliation.” He was released from prison in a presidential amnesty on January 13, 2012.

Kyaw Thu is a two-time Myanmar Academy Award winning film director and actor, as well as founder and president of the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS), which, since 2001, has provided free funeral services to more than 110,000 people across Burma. In addition, FFSS operates a free clinic for the poor, supports scholarships, organizes vocational and computer trainings, and helps to meet the health needs of former political prisoners. A leading man in Burmese cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, Kyaw Thu gradually turned his attention to social work, and by serving as volunteer president of FFSS, became one of the most prominent members of Burma’s civil society. In 2007, he and his wife were arrested after publicly supporting the Saffron Revolution, after which he was banned from the film industry. After his release, Kyaw Thu and FFSS played a vital role in rescue and fundraising efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Burma’s Irrawaddy delta and cost over 130,000 lives in May 2008.

Dr. Cynthia Maung is an ethnic Karen medical doctor and founder of the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand on the Thai-Burmese border. She founded the clinic soon after fleeing to Thailand in the aftermath of the 8888 Uprising, where she works with a staff of over 700 people to provide medical services to refugees, migrant workers and orphans. The clinic receives 400–500 patients daily, treating such conditions as malaria, respiratory disease and diarrhea, as well as gunshot wounds and land mine injuries. Dr. Cynthia and the Mae Tao Clinic have received numerous international awards, including the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy’s Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the John Humphrey Freedom Award, the Jonathan Mann Health and Human Rights Award, Catalonia’s International Prize, which she won in conjunction with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and most recently, the Freedom to Create Leadership for Women Award.

Aung Din served over four years behind bars as a political prisoner in Burma after helping to organize the country’s nationwide pro-democracy uprising in 1988 as Vice-Chairperson of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), the largest national student organization and outlawed by the regime. He also served as Vice-Chairman of Burma’s Youth Liberation Front (BYLF), and as Cabinet Secretary of the Parallel Government, which was founded by former Prime Minister U Nu during the peak of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience in 1989, and its chapters worldwide campaigned for his release. In 2003, he co-founded the Washington, DC-based U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB), an umbrella group of Burmese dissidents in exile and American activists, where he now serves as executive director.

Brian Joseph is Senior Director for Asia and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy.  He served as Director for South and Southeast Asia programs at NED from 2005 to 2009.  In this capacity, he oversaw millions of dollars worth of grants to hundreds of civil society organizations in the region. He travels regularly to the region. Brian has spoken widely and written about Burma, Pakistan, Thailand, human rights in Asia, and democracy promotion in closed societies.