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FORUM-ASIA coordinates human rights training on the Thai-Burma border

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Thirty participants from over 14 different ethnic minority and Indigenous Peoples' organisations attended training in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Burma border on 15-18 October. For many, this was their first introduction to the subject of human rights.

(Mae Sot, 26 October 2007) On 15-18 October 2007, FORUM-ASIA’s Ethnic Minority in Southeast Asia Programme facilitated a Human Rights Defenders Training with the Mae Tao Clinic, a partner organisation in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Burma border. The training brought together 30 participants from community-based organisations in the Mae Sot area. Over the four days, participants learned the basics of human rights and what it is to be a human rights defender. Discussions included the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Millennium Development Goals, the Rights Based Approach to Development, and minority and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

In the first two days of training participants were introduced to the concept and history of human rights, relating issues to Burma, Asia and the rest of the world. For many participants, the idea of human rights was previously only a vague notion they had never had the chance to learn about. The vast majority of the participants were born in Burma, living in Thailand as stateless persons ranging from only a few months to most of their lives. In Burma the topic of human rights is forbidden. All participants came to learn that they were human rights defenders and explored the challenges and protection mechanisms related to their field of work.

The first two days of the training were conducted by a FORUM-ASIA trainer; the final two days of the training were facilitated by the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB). Participants explored their own needs and aspirations and their relatedness to the denial of their rights that they had faced or continue to face; aspirations included education, citizenship and security.

Since the participants came from different ethnic minority groups in Burma and Thailand, the sessions on minority and Indigenous Peoples’ rights brought up lively discussion and debate on self-determination and the realities and challenges of realising rights. 

“I really wanted experience learning with other ethnic groups”, stated one participant. Years of civil war, largely ethnic-based conflict in Burma, has left ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples distrustful of each other. Just being in a classroom together was a big step for many towards learning to cooperate with other ethnic groups.

Participants gave very positive feedback, wanting to learn more about indigenous rights and human rights defenders particularly. All were enthusiastic to apply and share their new knowledge with their organisations and continue learning about human rights.