[Blueboard] Public Forum with a 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

Leland Joseph Dela Cruz ldelacruz at ateneo.edu
Fri Aug 28 13:08:16 PHT 2009

The Ateneo - Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations
invites everyone to a public forum with

Ka Hsaw Wa
2009 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership

on Tuesday, September 1
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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