The European Union in Myanmar honoured Cheery Zahau, Ko Swe Win and Daw Khin Than Htwe with this year's Schuman Award for Human Rights. The three activists and human rights defenders received the award recognising their outstanding merits in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in Myanmar during an award ceremony at the residence of EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt on 15 March 2018.
"Burma was among the “founding” nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Seventy years later human rights can still not be taken for granted – not in Myanmar, and not in many other parts of the world. Activists and journalists fighting for human rights and freedom of expression are the backbone of democracy," said EU Ambassador Schmidt at the Schuman Award ceremony in Yangon. "We need their courage to hold governments accountable, to put their fingers where it hurts. If change is what you want, and change is what you need, then a society must tolerate dissenting and critical voices."
Cheery Zahau, a human rights activist from Chin State, received the Schuman Award for her outstanding engagement for human rights, women participation and gender equality in her community and beyond.
Ko Swe Win, human rights activist and editor in chief of the news agency Myanmar Now, received the Schuman Award for his merits in uncovering human rights violations through his investigative journalism, and determined fight for freedom of expression in Myanmar.
Daw Khin Than Htwe, a women's rights defender from Mon State, received the Schuman Award for her exceptional achievements in supporting survivors of gender based violence and defending women's rights.
EU Ambassador Schmidt also reminded of the two Reuters journalists, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, who still remain under arrest facing trial for their investigations into human rights violations in Rakhine State. "Democracy dies a little every single day these two journalists spend in a prison cell, rather than in the newsroom," Ambassador Schmidt said.
The Schuman Awards honour and recognize the important work of Myanmar personalities in defending fundamental and universal values. They aim at raising public awareness and reinforcing the important messages the awardees send out in their communities. In 2018 – the year of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the awards are especially dedicated to activists and human rights defenders. The 2018 Schuman Awardees were selected by a committee of the ambassadors of EU member states accredited to Myanmar, from a long list of activists, social workers, journalists, lawyers and researchers who were nominated through a public call for nominations in February 2018.
Read the full text of the opening remarks of EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt here:
Cheery Zahau for her outstanding merits in promoting gender equality and human rights in Myanmar
nominated by Bawi Lian Khum, Founder and Director Chin Education Center
Cheery Zahau was born in 1981 (ethnic Chin) and grew up in a remote Chin village in Sagaing region. Her family fled from the Myanmar regime to India. Cheery first remained in boarding school in Myanmar and followed her family to India at the age of 17 years.
Cheery Zahau started volunteering in 1999 with the Chin Women Organisation, on the India-Burma border, teaching Chin and Burmese languages to Chin children who were born or growing up in Mizoram, India. In 2004 she founded the Women's League of Chinland, with the aim of providing women with services that were not yet available: education, health and nursing programmes; civic/political education and leadership trainings. The League aimed at empowering women to participate more in the public decision making and also documented human rights violations against Chin women to ensure their stories were recognised. Cheery is a co-author of the “Unsafe State” report on systemic sexual violence against Chin women. She has become a prominent voice in advocating for gender equality both inside Myanmar and in the Chin people’s vast diaspora, and has trained thousands of women and men about human rights, gender equality, and political awareness.
"She challenges stereotypes and relentlessly pushes for women to be part of the decision making in their communities. She helps women themselves gain the tools to become agents of change: through education, leadership training, civic education and better access to housing and nursing programmes. She involves women and men alike to break up discriminatory traditions, promote gender equality and access to equal opportunities. She documents abuse to help women and girls access justice and give them a space to talk about traumatic experiences – for it to never happen again." Introduction at the Award Ceremony, German Ambassador Dorothee Janetzke-Wenzel
Ko Swe Win for his outstanding merits in promoting human rights and freedom of expression in Myanmar
nominated by Hnin Kyawt Wai, Senior Communication Expert, GOPA and Nicolas Louis, Head of EU ECHO Office Yangon
Swe Win was born in 1978 in Yangon (ethnic Bamar) and briefly studied English at Dagon University in 1998 before being jailed for seven years for his participation in a student protest asking for the recognition of the 1990 parliamentary election results.
He holds a master in journalism from Hongkong University (2009) and worked several years for the Irrawaddy and as a freelancer for international newspapers such as the New York Times. Since March 2016 he is the Editor in Chief of the local news agency Myanmar now.
Ko Swe Win has written extensively on human rights cases that involve physical injury or death, unlawful detention or miscarriage of justice in Myanmar. In September 2016, he received the President’s Certificate of Honour from the Myanmar Ministry of Information for an investigative report he wrote exposing the abuse of two teenage maids by their employers in a Yangon tailor shop.
Ko Swe Win is currently being prosecuted for defamation under the controversial Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which carries a potential three-year prison term. On 7 March 2017, a follower of the nationalist group Ma Ba Tha filed a complaint against the human rights defender for allegedly defaming its former leader, Buddhist monk U Wirathu, in articles published online. He was charged at Maha Aung Myay Court, in Mandalay.
"He is one of those who puts his finger where it hurts. He spent seven years in jail for speaking out against the military regime. He uncovered human rights cases that involved physical injury and death, unlawful detention and miscarriage of justice. For his report about two teenage maids who were abused by their employer in downtown Yangon received the President's Certificate of Honour from the Myanmar Ministry of Information. Last August, he was again arrested over defamation charges filed by a supporter of Ma Ba Tha, and he continues to stand trial." Introduction at the Award Ceremony, French Ambassador Olivier Richard
Daw Khin Than Htwe for her outstanding merits in promoting women's rights and women's access to justice in Myanmar
nominated by Daw Pansy Tun Thein, Local Resource Centre
Daw Khin Than Htwe was born in 1958 and is ethnic Mon. She holds a Master of Science and has spent several years working abroad. She returned to Myanmar in 1999. Daw Khin Than Htwe worked in the private sector until 2012, while at the same time serving as chair of a mother and child care association in Mon State and campaigning for the Eastern District Women Affairs Association.
In 2013, Daw Khin Than Htwe founded the Mon State Women and Children Upgrade Conduct Organisation, where she holds human rights and rule of law training courses for civil society organisations and local community members. The Organisation works in particular on raising awareness of gender based violence and facilitates access to justice for women survivors of violence. Daw Khin Than Htwe has handled 843 cases concerning adultery, trafficking, rape of under-age girls, domestic violence, child labour and other forms of violence against women. She also founded a Women Centre and a Safe House to provide care and support for victims of violence.
"She speaks up when others go silent, hiding behind curtains of taboos and so-called “family affairs”. She takes action where others look away. Over the past decades she was the voice for women who suffered unspeakable violence and abuse. In more than 840 cases, she made sure survivors of adultery, trafficking, rape, domestic violence, child labour and other forms of violence against women found justice. She gave survivors shelter in a safe house. But she is also an active agent for change: she gave more than 180 trainings on human rights and rule of law to other civil society members to trigger systemic change within communities. She advocates with government and lawmakers to better protect women and build the necessary legal safety nets for victims of violence." Introduction at the Award ceremony, Danish Ambassador Peter Lysholt Hansen
The Schuman Awards were first launched in Myanmar in 2017 and recognize outstanding merits in promoting fundamental values such as democracy, rule of law and equality. The first Schuman Awardees were NLD lawyer U Ko Ni (post-humous), director of the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation Daw Ja Nan Lataw and U Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar. In 2018 – when the world celebrates the 7th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the Schuman Awards are dedicated to three personalities who stand out for their efforts in defending human rights. The Schuman Awards are named after Robert Schuman, a former French foreign minister and one of the visionaries who contributed to the foundation of the European Union.