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Themes Messages to Dissidents » Cheery Zahau

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Interviewed August 2010

Cheery Zahau is a human rights activist from Chin State, Burma, and is now based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As a high school student, she was advised by her teachers that her independence and intellectual curiosity would get her into serious trouble if she remained in Burma. She sought refuge in India, where she became an advocate for thousands of ethnic Chin faced with forcible return to Burma.

Zahau also became a leader of the Women’s League of Chinland, an organization that works to call international attention to the situation inside Chin State, including the use of rape as an instrument of conflict by the Burmese military regime. She has spoken at the United Nations and in other venues around the world.

When Zahau relocated to Thailand, she began working as an advocacy officer at the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, focusing on the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the ASEAN human rights process. She is also a management board member of the Network for Human Rights Documentation in Burma and is pursuing an advanced degree in international relations. 

For our friends who until today still continue to fight, just like we, the people of Timor-Leste who also continue to fight to build democratic governance system, right now we have to build our processes, now, there are still many of our friends out there who continue to fight to gain the opportunity to improve or to build democracy in their land, my message is this: whenever you take a decision, you must hold fast to your principles, you must have faith in the principles not only as dogmas but to hold firm the principles according to our thinking, conforming to our rationality.

For friends who currently fighting for self-determination as in many countries in the world, perhaps you could learn from the fight of this small people is as I have earlier mentioned, that there needs to be a commander, need to have one leader, and each person needs to convince his or her own self, to believe in and put faith in this one commander. This is our experience. Some people think that the word “commander” signifies authoritarianism, that only in military system does one have a commander, if there is another word to describe this, I could use it, but for lack of terminology, we use this, but what I mean is there needs to be in existence a sort of leader who is like a manager who is believed by all in order to lead our movement because we need to walk together in unity and we need to converge ideas which differ from each other, together, so that we can continue to walk towards one objective.

Some in other parts have many ethnical problems, each want to maintain the standings of their own groups, each want their groups to be the one to be on top/leading, and they will not achieve their end, because a society that is divided within itself will never be able to achieve anything. Therefore, from us in Timor-Leste we are ready to part the little experience, which we had lived through, the experience on reconciliation, which we have, for example, in our war against the Indonesians which lasted for 24 years. However, within 3 or 4 months after the war ended, we managed to reconcile ourselves with Indonesia.

This is an example, which perhaps our friends from other parts of the world could follow. We also had our share of civil war back in 1975 and now we managed to reconcile with each other, we managed to sit together in order to face our national reconstruction. I think our fellow men in other countries, other lands, these are our experiences, and we, in Timor-Leste are open and more than willing to share these experiences with you, our friends.

Thank you. 

More on this theme from Cheery Zahau