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Network for Human Rights and Democracy in Asia

By Jackie Bong-Wright

Networking Among Civil Society Leaders

Echoing President George Bush’s call for global democracy and an end to tyranny in the world, 40 Asian-American activists and civil society leaders from across the United States gathered at a workshop in mid-May in Falls Church, Virginia. They raised common concerns about human rights and democracy in their home countries, and established a coalition called “Network for Human Rights and Democracy in Asia,” also known as the Network.
Baramy Mitthivong of the United Lao Action Center delivered opening remarks stressing the need for a Pan-Asian alliance among groups fighting for the same cause. Cong. Frank Wolf, co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, sent a representative to show support for the Network’s formation. Wolf has often urged groups to form coalitions to strengthen their condemnations of the human rights affirmed by the United Nations. Sen. Sam Brownback, Sen. George Allen and Cong. Tom Davis have endorsed the views of Cong. Wolf.
Some workshop participants had met in February of last year at the third general assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Durbin, South Africa, and in late 2004 in Taiwan at the World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA). They said that their dream had come true in this joining of hands under one umbrella. They agreed to work under the guiding principles of equality, accountability, and transparency among organizations, while maintaining their own autonomy.
Four objectives were set for the Network. They pledged solidarity and mutual support on the part of Asian human rights and democracy groups in the United States with Burma, China, Korea, Laos, Tibet, Uyghur and Vietnam. Secondly, they called for accelerating democratization and the observance of human rights in these nations and territories. Third, they would stimulate and facilitate the coordination of programs of mutual interest, whether already underway or being proposed. Finally, they would use the power of the Network to seek stronger international support for human rights and democracy in the entire Asian region.
Representatives from seven groups were elected to the Network’s Provisional Steering Committee. Dr. Sen Nieh of the Global Coalition to Say Bye to the Chinese Communist Party and Dr. Sin Vilay of the United Lao Action Center (ULAC) were named as co-chairs. Also elected were Khai Nguyen of the Vietnam Human Rights Network; Ann Buwalda, Esq., of the Jubilee Campaign; Karma Zhuhang of the Capital Area Tibetan Association (CATA); and Steve Moe from Democratic Party for a New Society. Baramy Mittivong became Secretary General.
The Steering Committee’s short term task is to draft a constitution and by-laws, and to respond immediately to issues that may arise in any of the countries represented in the Network. It will dissolve as soon as a Board of Directors is elected. It will be headquartered in the capital area.

Promoting Human Rights and Democracy in Asia

At the workshop, representatives from each organization presented issues of concern in their respective countries. Tin Maung Thaw, Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma, talked of the repressive policies of the junta-led military government towards the Burmese people. “The nullification of the elected opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her house arrest incited clashes between her supporters and the dictators in power. The in-fighting provoked an outflow of refugees to the Thai-Burmese border,” he reported.
Thaw deplored the human trafficking, prostitution, rape, and drug trade that flourish at the border, and the ensuing problem of HIV/AIDS. He said that despite the embargos of the U.S. and European Union, the junta continues to cling to power with the support of Communist China. He speculated that the recent bombing in Rangoon was caused by power struggles between military factions of recently-deposed Prime Minister Khin Kyut and those loyal to the current Prime Minister.
China’s political situation was described by Dr. Sen Nieh of the Global Coalition to Say Bye to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He showed a small manual in Chinese, similar to that of Chairman Mao, denouncing the CCP’s lies and evil tactics. “Millions of these underground booklets have been circulating among average Chinese. They challenge Chinese leaders who want to control the CCP and stay in power instead of serving their people.”
Mindy Ge of the DC Service Center of Quitting The Chinese Communist Party and Dr. Nieh announced that over 1.4 million cadres had already renounced the CCP. They said that once the CCP crumbles, the remaining Communist states of Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam will follow suit. Both said that rallies against China have been springing up lately in Asia, Europe, and around the world. They believed that the collapse of the CCP had begun.
Ann Buwalda, a lawyer representing North Korean dissidents, added her agreement. She said that the regime of Kim Jong Il was perpetuating the ruthless and despotic policies of his father, Kim Il Song. The son had been pouring financial resources into military and nuclear power while the people had been starving to death. “Between 50,000 and 200,000 North Korean defectors have managed to escape across the border into China. They have been in hiding, living illegally and fearing torture and execution if they get caught and deported back to North Korea.”
Buwalda’s organization, Jubilee Campaign, and the U.S. have been asking Korea’s neighboring countries to give asylum to these refugees, she said.
Another speaker was Dr. Sin Vilay of The United Lao Action Center (ULAC) and Laos Fund. He said, “It is wrong for the West to accept a small group of oligarchs who perpetuate absolute power and personal wealth in the midst of mass poverty, abject living conditions, and deprivation of basic rights of millions of Laotians. I urge all activists who are American taxpayers to ask Congress to enact legislation that will impose economic sanctions, including aid and trade restrictions, on the Lao Communist regime. As it stands, donor nations are giving billions to help dictatorial governments stay in power.”
Dr. Vilay recommended that the U.S. Administration start a comprehensive process of democratization for Laos and other oppressed countries in the region.
The next presenter was Karma Zurkhang, Capital Area Tibetan Association. “Although Tibetans, under the leadership of the Dalai Lama, resisted assimilation under Chinese occupation, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wanted to absorb them. The Chinese regime is constructing a railroad linking China to Tibet that will produce an influx of Chinese immigrants, tourists and trade that will erode Tibet’s culture, language and religion.”
Zurkhang urged China to sign an agreement guaranteeing the autonomy of Tibet and the total independence of his country while the Dalai Lama, now 70, is still the undisputed leader of the Tibetan Community.
Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent Muslim businesswoman, was jailed for nearly six years by the Chinese police in western autonomous Xingjian Province. She was released two months ago on medical grounds. At the workshop, she stated, “Like Tibet, China occupied our country, Uyghur, and treated our population of 8 millions as second-class citizens. I served on the top advisory board to China’s Parliament and I was used as a propaganda tool. I founded the Thousand Mothers’ Movement to promote job training for Uyghur women. I was arrested by the Chinese police for trying to send newspaper clippings about the treatment of Uyghurs to my husband, who lives in the United States.”
Asked how she was treated during her jail term, she said that she witnessed other political prisoners being harassed, tortured and executed. “I still have five children in China and the government constantly threatens them. I was released on March 17 so I was able to come to the United States. I have changed my birthday to that historic date.”
Kadeer proposed to work with others towards a common democratic solution in Asia.
Next, Kok Ksor of the Montagnard Foundation from South Carolina talked of the plight of ethnic minorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, “My people are being persecuted because of our Christian faith. We lost our livelihood when the Vietnamese Communists confiscated our land and farms. In 1975, we were 1.5 million strong and are now reduced to only 600,000. The regime imposed an ethnic cleansing policy on us.”
Ksor continues, “We were seeking fair treatment and compensation and addressing the issue of civil rights and religious freedom with peaceful demonstrations. But the government viewed these as rebellious acts and arrested thousands of us. Some of us fled our ancestral lands and sought refuge in neighboring Cambodia, but they were jailed and repatriated back to Vietnam. We want to regain our dignity and our right to live as human beings.”
The last presenter was Tony Nguyen Thanh Trang from the Vietnam Human Rights Network. He ended the workshop with these words: “We all have in common issues of religious persecution, civil liberty abuse, and suppression of basic human rights in our respective countries. We should exchange supporting materials and work together to coordinate our efforts with national and international forums to bring about positive changes in Asia.”