Exclusive Interview with Micheline (Mika) LÃ©vesque of Rights and Democracy
March 8, 2007 [Chinland Guardian’s Note: Rights & Democracy established by the Canadian Government is committed to promoting Human Rights and Democracy around the world. With view of highlighting the roles of the Rights & Democracy
in terms of promoting Human Rights and Democracy in Burma, Salai Za Ceu Lian of Chinland Guardian conducts an exclusive interview with Micheline (Mika) LÃ©vesque, an Asia Rgional Officer of the Rights & Democracy.
As part of its mission, Rights & Democracy also presents the John Humphrey Freedom Award each year to an organization or individual from any country or region of the world, including Canada, for exceptional achievement in the promotion of human rights and democratic development. The Award consists of a grant of $25,000, as well as a speaking tour of Canadian cities to help increase awareness of the recipient’s human rights work. On December 6, Rights & Democracy honoured its 2006 John Humphrey Freedom Award laureate Su Su Nway of Burma for her inspiring efforts to hold Burma’s military junta accountable for its forced labour practices]
Chinland Guardian: Mika, it was so nice talking to you. I would like to congratulate you and your colleagues in the Rights and Democracy for successfully organizing John Humphrey Freedom Award giving ceremony. As your interview would be read by thousands of Burmese people a round the world who might not know much about you, can you first please tell us more about yourself and your Organization?
Mika: I have been working as the Asia regional Officer at Rights & Democracy since 1995. Before that, I earned a Ph.D degree at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in Boston. Rights & Democracy is a non-partisan, independent Canadian institution created by an Act of Parliament in 1988 to promote, advocate and defend the democratic and human rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights. In cooperation with civil society and governments in Canada and abroad, Rights & Democracy initiates and supports programmes to strengthen laws and democratic institutions,
principally in developing countries.
Chinland Guardian: How did you first connect with Burma and its people?
Mika: I lived in Thailand from 1982 to 1987, where I worked in camps for Indochinese refugees (refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). I met many people from Burma working in these camps. They told me about the situation under Ne Win’s regime. I also had opportunities to visit Burma many times (under Ne Win, SLORC and SPDC).
Chinland Guardian: How long has the Rights & Democracy been working on Burma’s issue?
Mika: Rights & Democracy has been supporting efforts aimed at securing a peaceful transition toward democracy in Burma for more than 15 years. Rights & Democracy opened its doors in 1990, the year of Burma’s democratic elections. On December 18, 1990, when the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) was created, Rights & Democracy was able to react swiftly and was the first institution in the world to support the government-in- exile. Its support continues to this day. Moreover, Rights & Democracy has earned international recognition for its strong support for Burma.
In 1993, the institution organized a mission to Thailand comprised of Noble Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Betty Williams, Mayread Corrigan, Adolfo Perez-Esquivel, Oscar Arias and the President of Rights & Democracy. More recently, in the fall of 2005, Rights & Democracy co-organized a full day of activities in Ottawa with Prime Minister Sein Win, leader of the NCGUB, to mark the 10-year anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest. In addition, Rights & Democracy works closely with Burma’s government-in- exile and Canadian NGOs in order to bring the Burmese cause to the attention of Canadian, regional and international bodies. The organization also supports the Burmese Women’s Union, a group that promotes the participation of women in the pro-democracy movement, and works on Burma’s borders with Thailand, China and India.
Chinland Guardian: Talking about the awarding of John-Humphrey Freedom to Su Su Nway, as you know, she is not a political leader compared to other John-Humphrey Freedom Award laureates. What is your impression about the awarding of Su Su Nway as John-Humphrey Freedom Award laureate this year?
Mika: Su Su Nway is an “ordinary” citizen. She is a young woman, she has no money, no gun, no power but yet she is able to stand for her rights and make a difference. I believe that there are thousands of people like Su Su Nway in Burma, who everyday resist in their own way to the military regime. To honour Su Su Nway is to honour the whole population of Burma.
Chinland Guardian: Living under a totalitarian regime like Burma, it was disaappointing that she was unable to accept the price in person. So, what message do you want to send to Su Su Nway?
Mika: Su Su Nway is not alone. Not only people from Burma but people around the world are with her. We are with her in her struggle
for justice, human rights and democracy.
Chinland Guardian: To recall your past connections with Burma, I learned that you had also met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi some years ago. Can you tell us the purpose of your visit to see her?
Mika:Mika: I visited Daw Suu in 1999, following the death of her husband. I was able to bring her photographs of her husband’s funeral and
personal letters from her friends.
Chinland Guardian: What is your main impression about her?
Mika: How is it possible that one of the largest armies in the world is afraid of one woman? She is not only the leader of the NLD and of the Burma pro-democracy movement, but she is a world leader and an inspiration for all.
Chinland Guardian: Like the way you had met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have you also tried to meet Su Su Nway?
Mika: Last year, Jean-Louis Roy, the President of Rights & Democracy, and myself requested a visa to visit our Laureates (Su Su Nway 2006 Laureate and Min Ko Naing 1999 Laureate) in Burma but we did not receive a reply.
Chinland Guardian: From our conversation, I sense that you are very empathy about the cause of Burma. Is it because of what you had seen in the country?
Mika: Burma has one of the worst human rights records in the world. When you work on Asia and on human rights & democracy you cannot remain neutral. Burma is a “clear- cut case”. There is a military dictatorship but there is also a strong viable alternative: a democratic parliament elected during the 1990 elections.
Chinland Guardian: Not only to Burma, I know that you also went to Tibet. What made you go there?
Mika: I have been to Tibet few months ago but not for work. It was a holiday. I was really touched by the struggle of the Tibetans. You can really witness the cultural genocide when you go there. The main organization working on Tibet in Canada is the Canada-Tibet
Committee (http://www.tibet. ca).
Chinland Guardian: Let me ask you other thing here. I know that you also had made a movie. Can you tell us what was the movie and what role did you play etc,?
Mika: When I was living in Thailand, I was selected to play a tiny role in the “Killing Fields” by Roland JoffÃ©. I played the role of the”Belgium woman” who was married to a Khmer man. When the Khmer rouge are taking over Phnom Penh in 1975, they both seeked refuge – like hundreds of others – in the French Embassy in Phom Penh. I then learned that I, as a foreigner, must leave the country, while my husband, a Khmer citizen, must stay behind. Basically, I had to cry and shout and repeat that the Khmer rouge is going to kill my husband (in French even if the movie is in English). The whole thing last a few seconds.
Chinland Guardian: Very interesting! If we want to see that movie, where can we get it? Is it available at the Blockbuster?
Mika: Yes, this movie is quite famous and it is easy to find.
Chinland Guardian: I am sure most of our Burmese people who haven’t watch that movie will watch soon! Mika, thank you very much for kindly talking to us. I sincerely appreciate that. Last but not the least, what message do you want to send to the entire pro-democratic forces of Burma?
Mika: Democracy and human rights will prevail in Burma; it is just a question of time. I have witnessed in the past few years many changes: the Vietnamese pulled out of Cambodia; the fall of the Suharto’s regime in Indonesia; and East-Timor’s independence to name a few. When the Suharto’s regime fell in May 1998, nobody could have predicted it. The Suharto regime that ruled Indonesia for more than 30 years was used by the Burmese military as its model, and it collapsed. We do not know when but the military in Burma will collapse as well – there is no other way. Ruling only by the use of force, without the consent of the population, is not sustainable.