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Burmese Human Rights Defender Wins the 2007 Perdita Huston Human Rights Award

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FORUM-ASIA congratulates Naw Zipporah Sein for winning the 2007 Perdita Huston Human Rights Award in recognition of her leadership in helping ethnic Karen women attain basic human rights. Naw Zipporah Sein's life is witness to the struggle of the Karen ethnic minority against the oppressive Burmese military regime.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) congratulates Naw Zipporah Sein on being awarded the 2007 Perdita Huston Human Rights Award in recognition of her leadership in helping ethnic Karen women attain basic human rights. The award was presented at the Fifth Annual Perdita Huston Human Rights Award Ceremony in Washington D.C. last June 6, 2007.

The Perdita Huston Human Rights Award is awarded annually by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) to recognize the life and work of outstanding advocates for women’s rights in developing countries. The award celebrates the work of Perdita Huston, an American journalist and human rights advocate who demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the status of women across the globe.

As a Karen woman, Naw Zipporah Sein’s life bears witness to the struggle of the Karen ethnic minority against the oppressive Burmese military regime. During her early years, the brutal political, economic and cultural suppression of the Karen forced Naw Zipporah Sein’s family to constantly move around Burma’s dense jungles as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Naw Zipporah Sein is from eastern Burma where it is reported that over 3,000 villages have been destroyed in the last decade and an estimated 500,000 people remain internally displaced. In 2006, renewed attacks on civilian targets by the Burmese Army have internally displaced over 25,000 people. 

Naw Zipporah Sein has been documenting these human rights violations against the Karen people for over two decades now. She is currently the Executive Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), a community-based organization that promotes awareness of women’s rights and empowerment and encourages participation in the struggle for equality and freedom in Burma. Currently, KWO has over 30,000 members living in Burma, Thailand and abroad.

As the leader of KWO, Naw Zipporah Sein has steered the organization towards the provision of health, education and humanitarian aid to Karen women in refugee communities in both Thailand and Burma. In addition, she initiated the creation of safe houses in these communities, providing shelter and counseling to women and children facing violence.

As an international human rights advocate, Naw Zipporah Sein presented to the U.N. Security Council issues on human rights violations in Burma in October 2006. More recently, she spoke on women’s rights at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in March 2007. Naw Zipporah Sein believes that the Perdita Huston Human Rights Award indicates an increased international awareness of the plight of the Karen. She said, "We are happy that the international community is getting to know more about Karen women who have been suffering terrible human rights violations."1

For Naw Zipporah Sein, the notion of real "peace" goes far beyond the end of war and violence. Peace must be all-inclusive, encompassing the participation of women in politics, freedom from domestic violence and access to basic human rights.2

FORUM-ASIA applauds Naw Zipporah Sein on the recognition of her achievements as an inspiring human rights defender. Moreover, FORUM-ASIA reiterates its solidarity with all human rights defenders dedicated to building a peaceful, just and equitable world where human rights are respected and realized.

In addition to Naw Zipporah Sein, Samar Minallah from Pakistan and Bishnu Maya Pariyar from Nepal were also honored at the awards ceremony as Perdita Huston Activist for Human Rights awardees.

For more information, please contact Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, telephone +66 2 391 8801; email: [email protected] or Emerlynne Gil, Programme Officer of the Human Rights Defenders Programme, telephone: +66 2 391 8801; email: [email protected].