Unwavering courage unites this year’s recipients of the Schuman Awards: women’s rights activist Lway Poe Ngeal, human rights lawyer U Kyee Myint, and satirical poetry troupe Peacock Generation. Their life’s work is to ‘fight for freedom and for others’ even when it costs them their own freedom.
Every year since 2017, the European Union recognises outstanding merits in the promotion of democracy, rule of law, peace and human rights in Myanmar. The awards honour personalities in Myanmar who dedicate their life and careers to the communities they serve and towards achieving lasting social change.
“For the fourth time, we recognize those who carry the flame of freedom for others – those whose light shines brightly from inside a prison cell, in court rooms, or working in villages across Myanmar. They are helping to build a genuine democratic union in Myanmar.,” said EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt.
The 2020 Schuman Awardees
Lway Poe Ngeal Women’s Rights Activist & General Secretary of the Women’s League of Burma
Lway Poe Ngeal received the 2020 Schuman Award for her outstanding dedication in promoting women’s and minority rights in Myanmar.
A Ta’ang woman from Northern Shan, 31-year old Lway Poe Ngeal grew up in a village enveloped in fear, harassment, and a lack of opportunities particularly for women. "I’ve seen women suffering from discrimination even in their families. Being a woman, I don’t want to be discriminated and I want to break away from stereotypes. I want to ensure all women get away from it. I am alive to fight for women’s rights and the rights of ethnic minorities," she said.
When she was 16, Lway Poe Ngeal joined the Ta’ang Women’s Organisation (TWO) and trained in Thailand on women and human rights. She returned to Myanmar as a TWO trainer in 2008, going village to village in the border areas of Myanmar, Thailand and China to educate Ta’ang girls about their rights. Her clandestine work has led to three arrests and detentions, yet living in constant fear didn’t discourage her from empowering women and survivors of sexual violence and trafficking.
The Peacock Generation Thangyat
The satirical poet group “Peacock Generation” received the 2020 Schuman Award for their courage in defending freedom of expression in Myanmar.
In April 2019, members of the Peacock Generation were arrested over their thangyat, a traditional art form that combines spoken word poetry, comedy and dance. Accused of undermining the military with their performance, the poets were held behind bars for six months during trial and later sentenced to one year in prison after being found guilty under sections 505(a) and 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act. Six poets - Kay Khine Tun, Zay Yar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu, Zaw Lin Htut, and Su Yandanar Myint are currently serving prison sentences.
“Thangyat is not a crime. The art and inner beauty of thangyat cannot be broken by fetters and shackles. This award recognises our partners who are in jail and encourages us to express our opinions and ideas freely. Our peacock generation will not be silenced, and we will speak out more and more,” said Nan Lin, co-founder of Peacock Generation.
U Kyee Myint Human Rights Lawyer
Lawyer U Kyee Myint received the 2020 Schuman Award for his tireless efforts in promoting rule of law and human rights in Myanmar.
One of Myanmar’s most prominent human rights lawyer and political prisoners, U Kyee Myint is an inspiring champion of democracy. For decades he has represented individuals charged with political crimes, often pro bono. He is an active voice in media, a prolific author, and a mentor to many human rights lawyers in Myanmar. He advocates for the rule of law, the right for free access to information, and good governance. U Kyee Myint was imprisoned five times before; and for his remarks about Constitutional amendments early last year, the 75-year old lawyer was charged under Section 505 of the Penal Code for allegedly defaming the military and military leadership.
"Some of my partners didn’t want to work with me as they feared that they too will be imprisoned as I am known to fight for freedom of expression. But I’ll continue expressing what I need to voice out for our next generations and encourage others to do so. If we fear expressing our opinions and ideas, we will all face worst fears,” said U Kyee Myint, co-founder of the Myanmar Lawyers Network and Chairman of the Union Lawyers and Paralegals Association.
The Schuman Awards:
The Schuman Awards were first launched in 2017 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, one of the founding documents of the European Union. The Awards were initiated to draw more attention on the important work of those who dedicate their lives to promoting democracy, rule of law, peace and human rights in Myanmar, and to help create a network of like-minded professionals and activists within Myanmar and beyond its borders.
In 2018, the year of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Schuman Awards were dedicated to three human rights advocates: Ko Swe Win, chief editor of Myanmar Now; human rights activist Cheery Zahau and women's rights activist Daw Khin Than Htwe.
In 2019, the awards were presented to gender and peace activist Daw Nang Pu, peace advocate U Aung Kyaw Moe, and human rights defender U Robert Sann Aung.