Zoya Phan Testified at Oslo Freedom Forum
10 May 2011: Burmese rights activist of Karen ethnicity, Zoya Phan, gave a speech at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway today, testifying how the ruling military dictatorship has been attacking and killing ethnic civilians in Burma.
In her testimoy, Zoya Phan, of Burma Campaign UK, said: “I lived in a civilian village. We were attacked without warning, because we were ethnic Karen. These were war crimes, and what are now legally defined as crimes against humanity. It is just one example of how the UN and others judge dictatorships by their words, not their actions.”
She recalled the attack by Burma Army in 1997 when she was 16 years old, saying the mortar bombs landed without warning while she was doing her school homework, which was followed by the crackle of gunfire.
“I can’t properly describe how terrifying it is to run for your life with mortar bombs landing around you, how the force of their explosions knocks you off your feet, the chaos and screams as people try to grab their children and run.”
“And even more frightening than being killed was the fear of being caught, even as a child I knew how the Burmese Army gang-rapes women from ethnic minorities.”
The new government of Burma is accused of allocating 24 percent of its budget for the military, and only 1.3 percent for health.
In October last year, the military regime held ‘rigged’ elections and brought in what they called ‘civilian-led parliment’ early this year, with the majority in power being ex-military leaders and government-backed USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) members.
The 30-year-old Karen stressed that the new government has only changed its ‘colours’ to show off to the international community, adding: “Fifteen years on and nothing has really changed … Look at their actions, and it is the same old story.”
Speaking about her last visit to Burma on the eastern border, Zoya Phan talked about a woman from Shan State who was used as slave labour and gang-raped by the Burmese soldiers, and a family from a hiding camp in the jungle that lost their child, with two other children injured after Burma Army had fired mortar bombs at the school building.
In her speech, she also urged the UN and international community to look at the situation and judge the regime by their actions rather than to listen to what they said.
The ruling military authorities are still conducting human rights abuses against civilians especially in ethnic areas in Burma, according to sources.
Zoya Phan ended her speech by saying: “All we want is to live in peace and without fear … And for me, and millions like me who have been forced from our homeland, we just want to go home.”
The Oslo Freedom Forum was yesterday launched with a press conference with speakers featuring Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee; Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi; Burmese rights activist Zoya Phan; Ghanaian economist George Ayittey; Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish; Nobel Laureate Jody Williams; South African LGBTI rights activist Busi Kheswa; Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja; and Canadian free speech champion John Ralston Saul.
Van Biak Thang