Khin Ohmar is one of the world’s leading voices against human rights abuses in Myanmar (Burma), which has been ruled by the military since 1962. She has been awarded this year’s Anna Lindh prize, a human rights award created in memory of the murdered Swedish foreign minister.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by Cyclone Nargis
Khin Ohmar, the exiled activist from Myanmar, has been campaigning for democratic reforms in her country and is among the harshest critics of the military regime.
The 46-year-old campaigner is stunned and angry with the attitude of the junta after last month’s cyclone "Nargis". She says the fact that the junta first blocked and then reluctantly accepted foreign aid for the storm victims was not less than a "crime against humanity”: “It’s quite a difficult moment for us because we should have been back in the country, we want to be. Even though we cannot, it is our duty and responsibility to do what we can from outside the country.”
As a young student Khin Ohmar took part in a peaceful movement against the regime in Myanmar in 1988. The movement led by students was quickly joined by other citizens, including teachers, monks, workers and farmers. But the regime struck back. Soldiers opened fire, nearly 3,000 people were killed and several hundreds were arrested. Thousands of demonstrators had to flee the country, including Khin Ohmar.
After a few years in the United States, she returned to Thailand and has been working there for democracy and human rights ever since. She is a coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a network that mobilizes the democracy movement in Myanmar and sends out weekly reports about the situation there.
Khin Ohmar believes that it is an obligation of the international community to help the people of Myanmar. After the cyclone "Nargis" she, like other dissidents, also called for a humanitarian intervention: “Do they want to have another Ruanda? Of course, the situation Ruanda is a man-made situation and here in Myanmar, it is a natural disaster but worsened by a man-made situation", she argued. "Are they going to allow another case like Ruanda or are they going to do something about it? If they don’t do anything collectively as the United Nations, then we will like to see other responsible governments to take on that."
Politics over aid
Several observers have argued that the debate about lack of aid for storm victims has become too politicized. But regime critic Khin Ohmar says the issue cannot be separated from politics: “After all, Burma is all about politics. Looking at from every aspect, this country is ruled by a regime for more than four decades, which governs the nation with an iron fist. Of course, a natural disaster can happen to every country. But what if our country were democratic and what if our country were able to enjoy basic fundamental rights that the people deserve? In that situation, we would at least have been able to prevent further deaths and suffering. "
Khin Ohmar insists she will continue her struggle and will make sure that the fight for freedom and human rights in her country is not forgotten.