Interviewed August 2010
Khin Ohmar is a Burmese democracy activist who lives and works in Mae Sot, Thailand. She is a leader of the Women’s League of Burma, the main umbrella organization for women’s organizations in exile and inside Burma.
Khin has served as a spokesperson for the Burmese democracy movement in the United Nations General Assembly and in other international forums. She also serves as coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a regional coalition of civil society groups supporting democracy in Burma, and she is an organizer of the ASEAN civil society and human rights consultation processes.
Admitted to the United States as a refugee after being persecuted for her participation in the 1988 student demonstrations, Khin became a United States citizen and worked for refugee and human rights organizations in Washington, D.C., before moving back to the Thai-Burma border area in the late 1990s.
I have a message that I would like to share with all the brothers and sisters in different parts of the world right now who are also going through the same struggle like us, who are struggling for freedom, for democracy, against any kind of authoritarian and dictatorships. We are doing the right thing. We are doing for the truth and justice. Our struggle, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how hard and how difficult, we will win. We will prevail. We will overcome. We just need to keep up with our commitment, with this spirit. We just have to continue.
But I think we have to be smarter nowadays. Because the way that I look at what’s happening in the world right now is somewhat – I may be so wrong with my personal observation – but I feel like the authoritarian military regimes seem to be somewhat upper hand when it comes with a democracy regime.
Somehow some of the democracy governments in the world now tend to be kind of reluctant and kind of pulling back of their push for democracy. It could be for the national interest of the economic growth. Whatever, you know, economic growth, business deals.
But the reality to me is we have to stand together for democracy and human rights. Because, like Daw Aung Saw Suu Kyi said, ”Democracy may not be the best, but so far in the world right now, it happens to be the best.” Before we are able to find another “best,” I think we have to be able to stand together for this current “best” that we have. Whether the governments or the people who are already in the democracy countries, and people who are still struggling for democracy.
But particularly the governments of democracies don’t seem to be strong enough [at] resisting those evil authoritarian military regimes right now. And I think that needs to be changed. And I think we have to change, whether the governments change or not. The people, as the people who are continuing with this struggle, we are the ones who have to change. And I just want to tell those brothers and sisters out there everywhere in the world, we have to continue with our struggle and we will prevail.
Burma, a Southeast Asian country with about 57 million people, is ruled by a military regime that seized power in 1962. Although the reformist National League for Democracy (NLD) won overwhelmingly in a 1990 election, the country’s military rulers ignored the results and arrested NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 “for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.” The military government held a referendum on a new constitution in 2008 and a parliamentary election in 2010, neither of which was regarded by international observers as free or fair, and both of which resulted in overwhelming majorities for pro-government positions and candidates. The military regime has committed widespread and systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, and denial of freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.
Throughout its existence, the regime has been at war with a number of Burma’s ethnic minority groups. Ethnic minority voters overwhelmingly supported the NLD in the 1990 election, and after the suppression of the democracy movement several of these groups continued or resumed armed resistance to the de facto government. Although the government signed cease-fire agreements with several of these groups ostensibly granting them autonomy within their respective regions, the Burmese military has used a range of brutal techniques, including the killing of civilians, forced labor, rape, and the destruction of homes, crops, and villages, in cease-fire zones as well as in areas where there is still armed resistance.
In 2007, as on several previous occasions, there were mass demonstrations throughout the country demanding freedom and democracy. The 2007 demonstrations were led by Buddhist monks and eventually became known as the “Saffron Revolution” after the color of the monks’ robes. The armed forces brutally suppressed these demonstrations—estimates of the number of protestors killed range from 31 to several thousand—and intensified popular dissatisfaction with the government by the killing, beating, and public humiliation of monks.
The nominally civilian government resulting from the 2010 election has been widely regarded as a façade for continuing military rule. However, in October 2011, the government released 206 of Burma’s estimated 2,000 prisoners of conscience. The next month, the government announced that it would soon release all remaining political prisoners. The NLD, which had declined to participate in the 2010 election, registered to participate in the next election and announced that Aung San Suu Kyi would be among the NLD candidates.
Although the military regime announced in 1989 that it had changed the English name of the country from Burma to “Myanmar,” the United States government and other international supporters of democracy in Burma have generally continued to call the country Burma because this is the name preferred by Aung San Suu Kyi and other democracy advocates who won the 1990 election.