[Blueboard] Lecture by a 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

Leland Joseph Dela Cruz ldelacruz at ateneo.edu
Tue Aug 11 12:33:50 PHT 2009

The Ateneo - Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations
invites everyone to a lecture by

Ka Hsaw Wa
2009 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership

on Tuesday, September 1
at Faura AVR
from 3 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Ka Hsaw Wa was recognized for ?his dauntlessly pursuing non violent yet
effective channels of redress, exposure, and education for the defense  
of human rights, the environment, and democracy in Burma.? The  
write-up from the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation website is reproduced  


In Burma, large-scale human rights abuses are being committed and  
natural resources despoiled by the ruling military regime. The voices  
of the victims have largely been silenced. One young man has decided  
that these voices should be heard in the outside world, and their  
legitimate concerns addressed.

Ka Hsaw Wa ceased to be a teenager abruptly and early. As a seventeen  
year-old student activist in the anti-dictatorship demonstrations of  
1988, he was arrested and tortured for three days by the military.  
Subsequently, in the aftermath of the student uprising of August 1988  
when an estimated ten thousand people were killed, he fled to the  
jungle (as did many others) to seek refuge. His wanderings exposed him  
to scenes and stories of the horrible atrocities committed against  
ordinary villagers. He decided then, instead of taking up arms as an  
insurgent as he had planned, he would take up the pen, record the  
abuses, and find a way to get these stories out into the world.

For five years, he talked to more than a thousand victims and  
witnesses of human rights and environmental abuses. Most of these  
abuses were connected to the building of the Yadana Gas Pipeline.  
Financed by the US-based Unocal and the French corporation Total,  
Yadana was then the largest foreign investment in Burma. In enforcing  
the project, the ruling junta, the project's principal beneficiary,  
had militarized the area along the pipeline, dislocated communities,  
imposed forced labor, and damaged a rich, biodiverse environment.

Ka Hsaw Wa was later joined in his documentation work by a visiting  
law student, Katie Redford, who had entered Burma to investigate the  
human rights situation. In 1995, they founded EarthRights  
International; they were married the following year. EarthRights is a  
nonprofit organization with offices in the US and Thailand. It focuses  
on what it calls "earthrights," the intersection of human rights and  
the environment, and combines "the power of law and the power of  
people" in defense of these rights.

In 1996, EarthRights filed a case in the United States against Unocal  
with the help of private and public-interest lawyers. The suit alleged  
that Unocal was complicit in the human rights and environmental abuses  
committed by the Burmese military in the building of the Yadana  
pipeline. After nearly ten years of complicated litigation, Unocal  
agreed to compensate the eleven victim-petitioners in the case. The  
petitioners decided to commit substantial funds from the compensation  
to humanitarian relief for other victims.

This precedent-setting case has served as a warning to the Burmese  
government and to multinationals investing in Burma. It has also  
inspired Ka Hsaw Wa and EarthRights to investigate other  
infrastructure projects in Burma and the larger Mekong Region, such as  
the mega-dams along the Mekong River and the Shwe natural gas pipeline  
project in which Burma's military junta is collaborating with foreign  

EarthRights does much more than litigation-related work. It carries  
out research, publication, and advocacy on behalf of the people of  
Burma. It maintains EarthRights Schools in Thailand, training young  
people from Burma and other countries in nonviolent social change,  
environmental monitoring, and community organizing. Its network of  
alumni has become, for EarthRights, an important resource for mutual  
assistance and information sharing. Equally important, the network has  
inspired EarthRights to hope that by training young people from Burma  
and neighboring countries it is planting the seeds of civil society  
throughout the region. Despite the constant threat of government  
reprisal, Ka Hsaw Wa stays committed to the mission he found in the  
jungles of Burma. "There's no dead end for me," he says. "I don't give  
up easily, and I don't like to give up."

In electing Ka Hsaw Wa to receive the 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Award for  
Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his dauntlessly  
pursuing nonviolent yet effective channels of redress, exposure, and  
education for the defense of human rights, the environment, and  
democracy in Burma.

Leland Joseph R. Dela Cruz
Moderator, Ateneo Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations
Assistant Professor and Director
Development Studies Program
School of Social Sciences
Loyola Schools
Ateneo de Manila University

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