ISHR Australia Report 2007
International Society for Human Rights Australia Inc.
PO Box 168 Thomastown Victoria Australia 3074
Vol. 3, Issue 2, November 2007
ABN 79 428 071 539 Inc. A0031346L
Cambodia : Themy Orphanage
ISHRA Secretary John Launder paid the orphanage in Phnom Penh a visit
Refugee Relief Association has been involved with this orphanage for some years. ISHRA Secretary John Launder paid the orphanage in Phnom Penh a visit during his recent trip to Asia. His report follows:
"The orphanage is situated on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and has been supported for some years by Refugee Relief Association.
Dina from the Khmer Institute of Democracy arranged to take me out there on Sunday morning (22/07/07). We arrived there unannounced, but were soon surrounded by a throng of delightful friendly children who recognized Dina and welcomed me so fully, I immediately felt at home with them. I felt like a long lost uncle. A number of them spoke good English and were quite pleased to practice with me.
There was nothing staged or obsequious in their greeting, they were children who obviously enjoyed meeting people who came to visit them as friends and benefactors. Saret, the Director, soon appeared and welcomed Dina and gave me a warm welcome when she discovered that I was a friend of Irene Robinson.
Saret told me that there were 61 children and youth in her care, the latest little fellow, maybe a 5 year old, had arrived the previous week. He had been placed there when his father was imprisoned for murdering his mother. It was clear that he was already comfortable and accepted by the other children as part of their little community. He grasped my hand in his small one in an obvious sign of trust, which was touching. Many of the other children also took hold of me and gaily sought to show me around, and willingly had their photos taken.
Dina had to leave so I was left in the care of Saret and the children. A couple of the older boys took over and accompanied by an entourage of younger children they were happy to show me the various facilities of the orphanage. There are number of simple cement rendered structures that were dormitories, only woven mats no mattresses on the wooden beds.
ISHR computer for the Themy orphanage
Adjacent to the boy's dormitory is a small room that had been turned into a computer study room a bank of four computers were in use. After some animated discussion between themselves and Saret, it became obvious where they some of the ISHRA money I had indicated I had for the orphanage, would be spent.
They asked if ISHRA could buy them another computer. There is a keen desire to learn computing skills among both girls and boys, and they are usually allotted so much time each can spend on the computer, so an extra computer would be very welcome. Part of their computer studies is using MS Word and Excel in the Khmer script. Panja, a 19 year old senior student, who was very familiar with the computers, offered to come to meet me at the hotel on Monday to take me to a computer shop.
I was also shown the library and recreation room, the main items being a hifi keyboard piano/organ, various games and a small library of books. Some of the children pulled out some board games and sat on floor and began to play games whilst others crowded around the key board.
There is a communal dining area covered by a veranda attached to the cookhouse and Saret asked me the next day whether ISHRA could assist them to extend the veranda as some protection against the monsoon rains. They worked out that it would cost around $450AUD to carry out this extension. I promised to put it to the ISHRA committee with my positive recommendation.
There is a large open walled, tiled area which serves a variety of purposes, a class room, an entertainment area and meeting place. After my tour, the children invited me to this place and sat me down and put on a display of Khmer traditional dancing and comedy. Two young boys did a comedy skit with one been a food vendor - with pole and food containers etc the other objecting to him setting up on his pitch. They were quite funny, all done to traditional music. The second act was a folk dance routine led by Nary (12-13) vivacious girl, of short compact build, with the biggest smile around. A very confident and perky child who spoke quite good English. I suspect she may have been the initiator of this program. After the children had performed their graceful routine, Nary came and took me by the arm to join them in the traditional Khmer circular dance. After a minute or so I felt like a stranded whale among these small graceful children so I begged to be excused. One sweet young girl, Srey Moa, presented me with a 500 riel note in a paper fold out form flower that she had made for me.
On Monday I was met by Panja and off we went in a tuk-tuk to one of Phnom Penh's suburbs to purchase the computer from a shop run by a Chinese family. Once our computer ($260 USD) was all assembled and tested, including soft ware, we boarded our tuk tuk and went to a furniture shop to purchase a suitable desk (USD $39) which was also crammed onto our tuk-tuk, finally with a stop at a music shop where I bought a classical Yamaha guitar, including a bag and spare strings (USD $48.50), we climbed into our trusty tuk tuk and traveled the 30 minutes or so to the orphanage where we were greeted with excitement.
The computer was soon assembled and running much to the pleasure of the older children. Saret and the children thanked ISHRA. I also presented the guitar to Saret and found it was soon in use. I gave her a further $50 USD to purchase some more books for their library. With a final tour of the garden where the children grow some vegetables and fruit I slowly said my goodbyes. Panja accompanied me part of the way back into town as he wanted to check out his emails at an internet café.
So ended my happy visit to the Themy orphanage. Thank you Irene (RRA) for encouraging my visit.
I had been reading about how Khmer values had almost been wiped away during the wartime and subsequent genocidal paranoia of the Khmer Rouge regime, well I felt far more optimistic after visiting Themy. Here the children were not only engaging and innocently friendly, I observed how they respected not only adults in their lives but each other and how they mutually supported each other from the youngest to the oldest. Given that these children have all suffered varying degrees of loss and trauma it was a pleasure to see and feel their warmth and humanity. Congratulations to Saret and others who care for them.
Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Association
L-R Thet Oo, John L, Aung Kyaw, Oo, Khun Saing
I was invited to meet with the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Association, which has its office and documentation centre in Mae Sot.
Again I found myself in a world that is so alien to some one who takes life and liberty for granted as I live in a democracy. Even though in my normal daily care free life in Australia I am aware at a distance of the oppressed and desperate lives so many people in the world are forced to live, it can be quite confronting when you meet those who have experienced the loss of liberty, of health, of the lives of family and friends, and suffered the pain and trauma of torture. Yet at the PPAA I met several men who with quiet dignity talked about their experiences, of life and torture in the notorious Burmese prison system, including time in the infamous Insein Prison in Rangoon.
The centre is set up behind a house in the urban area of Mae Sot. I met several of the committee all of whom had spent many years in the notorious Burmese prison system including time in the infamous Insein Prison in Rangoon.
Aung Kyaw Oo in his late 30s was imprisoned for 14 years and was tortured during that time, had only arrived in Mae Sot a week earlier than our meeting in August 2007. As a student he became angry when power was not transferred to the National League for Democracy (NLD) after the 1990 elections, and had joined the All Burma's Students Federation (ABSF). He was captured in Rangoon on 2 August 1991 and sent to prison. He spent 6 years in Insein, where he was beaten. During these beatings he was forced to wear a mask which often meant being punched in the face. Also he was forced to wear 6-inch shackles, sometimes with heavy weights attached. At other times he was shackled out in the mid day sun and beaten till his ears bled.
His mother was always coming to visit him, but at times the authorities refused her permission. In Insein he was sometimes alone in a cell, at other times with others. At the time many political prisoners refused to do 'hard labor' and as a consequence were deprived of food and had to rely on family and friends for food. ICRC intervention helped improve this and the health situation, because many political prisoners became seriously ill in Therawaddy prison (80 km from Rangoon) provoking the ICRC move.
In Aung Kyaw's case he became ill and was eventually sent to Rangoon General Hospital. The ICRC period of involvement was between 1992 and 2005, but always their representative was accompanied by a Junta official. This was to inhibit free discussions between the ICRC and individual prisoners. If a prisoner told the truth they would be severely punished, including being used as an 'Army porter' which could see them killed, by landmines or beatings. Before ICRC intervention prisoners were forced to sleep on concrete floors.
Thet Oo, 45 years old, spent 12 years in prison. He was arrested in 1993 and released in 2005. His 'crime' was that he protested against the National Convention and published a pamphlet which he distributed in Rangoon. He was tortured in prison suffering significant hearing loss as a consequence of beatings around his head and ears. He was also deprived of food and water during this period. He spent 4 years in Insein and then the rest of his sentence in Therawaddy.
Khun Saing spent 13 years in prison, nearly four of those years in Insein. He also suffered torture before his 'trial'. On other matters, Khun Saing said that prisoners did not trust "Constructive Engagement" the policies of a number of countries, including Australia, and ASEAN as part of their strategy of improving human rights in Burma. At no stage in the last decade has this policy strategy borne fruit as human rights abuses have continued unabated especially in Karen State. For example a recent arrival at Umphang, told of how her husband was killed before her and she also witnessed his eyes being gouged out with a bayonet.
Now 'constructive engagement' was being supplanted by 'constructive intervention' by ASEAN, China and India but there is sceptics that anything positive will come from change. The dissidents see the Junta's National Convention on the Constitution as a stratagem to entrench the Army in power. They see the subsequent referendum will be manipulated to achieve the Army's objectives of securing a legal endorsement of having an Army controlled National Security Council above Parliament. The dissidents want to see that any such referendum has international monitoring so that ordinary people can feel secure if they choose to vote against any proposed Junta Constitution and to oversee the counting of the votes. The phony process began 13 years ago and has seen the NLD who received 80% of the vote at the elections of 1990 denied government. The delegates have all been hand-picked by the junta.
They spoke of the corruption of the regime and illustrated that by referring to the October 2006 marriage of General Than Schwe's daughter in which it is said that some US $40,000,000 was given as a present to the couple apart from cost of wedding. A video of the wedding that began to circulate in Burma can see people who view it jailed for 5 years.
The sum spent on the wedding exceeded what the regime spends on the education of children in Burma, and what it spends on public health. The regime spends 1-2% of the country's GDP on Health and Education the great bulk in excess of 44% goes on military spending with Burma having the third largest military establishment in Asia. Its only "enemy" it sees is the Burmese people. The regime curries favour with international businesses and countries like China, Thailand, Singapore, India and big global companies like Total, that wish to exploit the countries extensive gas, oil and mineral resources.
The rush by capital to stake their claims in the resource riches of Burma with scant regard to the rights of the people of the country is shameful. There is always a pay off for the military, the public sees little of the resulting increase in GDP. The country's future is been sold off to support the rapacious greed of the ruling junta. The middle-class is shrinking; civil servants are poorly paid, with petty corruption being rife as a result, eg. teachers who force students to see them for private tuition if they want to pass their exams; similarly in the health field where patients have to see the government doctors privately and pay for the visit, if you have no money then you have no medical treatment; even hospital cleaners seek payment from patients.
Even in the Tatamadaw (Burmesse Army) low rank officers and lower ranks are not happy, as like everyone else they face rising inflation on poor wages. The army recruits by conscripting or in rural areas "press ganging" people into the army. To refuse, means facing a prison term of 14 years. Thousands desert and face imprisonment if and when caught. Fear is the force that holds the whole institution together.
The legal and justice system is a complete fraud. During 2006 a considerable number of those arrested were beaten and tortured at police stations with more than a few dying as a result. 30-40% of those arrested, including women, are for insubstantial cases, example: sellers on the way to bazaars. There was a recent case of a mother who "died from natural causes" after her arrest, as her family were told when her baby was handed back to them. In 2006 there were 1200 political prisoners now (August 2007) that number has grown to 1300. (Editor: The recent demonstrations against the doubling of fuel prices have increased that figure and number of citizens murdered by the regime. Oct 2007)
The BPPAA believes that there will be further arrests after the National Convention and expect the matter to be postponed a further 12 months by the regime. They instanced the recent case of a 68 year old father of a democracy activist who came to Thailand to visit her. On his return to Burma he was arrested and sent to for seven years for visiting her. He has never been a democracy activist! He was just been a caring father.
In 2006 there were 50-60 former political prisoners living in refugee camps or as 'illegals' in Thailand. Those living in Mae Sot can still be activists but cannot be, if they choose to live in a refugee camp.
BPPAA Exhibition Room
Khun Saing reviewing history of Junta's victims
The PPAA then showed me their exhibition room. The room had a succinct but graphic display of the Burmese prison system, including
- A map of prisons in Burma
- Images of prisoners
- Pictures and dioramas of life in prison
- Diagrams of "punishment positions" including photos
- Scale models of Insein prison and of its cells. Standard cells are 2.5 m by 3m. Prisoners are held in solitary confinement during the interrogation period. They often undergo many beatings. After sentencing they are put in cells with two or three others and as many as seven persons.
- Images of the 88 uprising _ Photos of political prisoners who have died of HIV due to the use by the prison of contaminated needles.
Mental torture is a common feature of the System, example famous Burmese poet, U Win Tin, who was sentenced for 3 years and when told he was to be released was suddenly sent back to his cell for a further seven years and when that was completed found his "release" was translated into another seven years confinement. He finally committed suicide.
The exhibition was a small but damning expose of the brutal regime that has made life a misery for millions of Burmese peoples of all ethnic backgrounds.
Members are encouraged to write protest letters to:
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar,
22 Arkana Street, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600
Dr Chee's one man demo outside Istana
During my recent travels to Asia I took the opportunity to visit Singapore and meet Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who has been subject to questionable legal and political tactics to destroy him as an opposition figure.
Singapore has a reputation for its efficiency, 'clean government', with much of the credit going to its PAP government which has ruled the city state since independence. As a person who first visited there back in 1971 I acknowledge I had been an admirer of Lee Kuan Yew who led the country for so many years and still wheels considerable influence as one of the 'senior elder statesmen'. His son, Lee Hsien Loong is currently Prime Minister.
During the 1980s Singapore strived and thrived becoming one of the 4 "tiger economies" of Asia, an international financial centre and international travel hub.
However over the past 25 years many human rights people have developed increasing concern over the nature of the autocratic governance of Singapore due to the ruling PAP's actions to effectively destroy the development of any effective opposition movement to its reign, even though there does not appear to be much electorate resentment to the PAP.
For many, this disquiet began with the atrocious treatment of another political opposition figure, J. B. Jeyaretnam, who was continuously sued in the 1980 and 90s by Lee and his associates, into bankruptcy. This was achieved by somewhat questionable trials, as illustrated by the Privy Council overturning an early case in which he was amongst other things disbarred from practicing law. As a result the PAP Government changed the law to make it very difficult for further matters to be taken to the Privy Council.
The ruling clique has used similar tactics to break Dr. Chee. Agree or disagree with him, he is a man of principle who passionately believes in democracy and the rule of law in which there is true justice. Along with his supporters he has continually challenged draconian laws such as that which to all intents and purposes stifles free association, and Government policies or lack of policies which from his perspective see poor sections of the Singapore society effectively disenfranchised. He is also highly critical of aspects of Singapore's foreign policy and the way it deals with the Burmese junta. In Singapore such criticism of the powerful men who run the city state is fraught with difficulties as the PAP has a narrow definition of what represents "democratic rights" especially when they are seen to conflict with defined "Asian values".
GOYA hosting East Timor kindergarten teachers in Melbourne
East Timor Report
The GOYA Foundation facilitated and funded training for 3 teachers from Sr Aurora's kindergarten in East Timor, and hosted two teacher trainers from the districts of Ermera and Same.
There was extensive experience gained through each individually attending a new facility each week for 5 weeks, followed by a final week of workshops and group visits. The group photo was taken at Melbourne Uni.
Melbourne kinders and schools very generously opened their facilities and hearts to these teachers as they shared their valuable experience with the Timorese where there is no formal pre primeria teachers training college.
Sr Aurora is an advisor to the Ministry of Education on Pre Primeria curriculum development.
Jill Forsyth (GOYA) with Sr. Aurora in East Timor (October 2007)
I recently paid a visit to East Timor and met Sr Aurora at her kindergarten where students and teachers said "obrigao barak", translates to "thank you very much" for the opportunity which GOYA and ISHRA were able to provide.
The water situation is GOYA's next project at this pre and primary school. We are hoping to provide a roof and spouting to collect water for the bathrooms and kitchen and also we are working on developing a community garden and restoring the playground since the grounds have been housing ID persons for the past 18 months.
Papua New Guinea Report
GOYA continues to assist Jennifer Mondia in her work with vulnerable women and children orphaned by HIV Aids. Her current role is chairperson of this organisation.
She continues to develop her voluntary work in the highlands region training volunteers to help educate the highland village women and help them work towards economic, food, health, water and domestic security. Jennifer was recently in Melbourne for a visit to seek funding for her important work, and to celebrate the birth of a new grandchild born in Melbourne.
Donations towards GOYA projects can be made through ISHRA nominating a project.
All monies received go 100% to project.
Cheques payable to ISHRA PO Box 168 Thomastown 3074.
Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible
ABN 79 428 071 539 Inc. A0031346L
ISHR - AFOF
The group supporting the work of AFOF has shrunk a little in recent years and it seems it may be time to look at enlarging that support base. However, we are able to continue our work with 42 young people able to be enrolled at junior and senior secondary school levels for the academic year. Brother Gabriel who administers this and our other on-going project with disabled and orphaned children, was able to disburse our current funds to this work before he left Flores on a training course for his order, the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD), in Rome. He returns to Flores this month, November, and will overview and review the program. In the meantime, our students continue to study hard and we, AFOF members, are delighted to be able to contribute in a small way, with the support of ISHR, to their futures.
ISHR - Refugee Relief Assosiation
Cambodia Themy Orphanage
RRA has arranged for Themy orphanage to have some special meals and of course we are still helping with their electricity costs.
Cambodian Village Wells
The wells are progressing, we had arranged for two and then Len Brear donated $ 375 to have another one put in so that made three. When the last lot of money went to Dina (Khmer Institute for Democracy) there was $ 1,375 I so it was decided we could put another two in which made a total of five. However, there was a misunderstanding in the reading of the emails and now we have done a total of seven. I have the names of each village and the province they were put into and we will receive photos of the inauguration. This is a huge event for the villagers. The wells cost between US$270 and US$300 each.
Irene Robinson, ISHRA
RRA - Haiti
In October RRA had a function is to raise money for Haiti AAEnfants program. The money will be used to provide both Wind and Solar power for the school. This will provide access to an e-learning platform which will give the students open access to an education that is impossible locally.
The actual program has been organised through an orginisation in Italy that we work closely with. A sum of 1500 Euro will provide enough energy for 15 computers to be used at all times. The Dinner and auction raised Aud $2300 (1460 Euro).
The school now has 70 students and through the computer e-contact they can print the new curriculum for the students and negates the cost of books for the children. I do have some more information about the NGO in Haiti but I don't know how to send it to you so I am sending their web address hhtp://wwww.aaenfants.org.
Barbara Zowland, ISHRA
RRA - Bangladesh
Support for women and children in Bangladesh
Money raised through RRA has been strategic in supporting several grass roots projects in Bangladesh. The projects benefit impoverished communities with a particular focus on women, teenagers and children.
Cross Age Tutoring
This project situated in Bharoshapur, a village in the remote south of Bangladesh provides poor college students with a monthly stipend with the expectation that they provide cross age tutoring to poor village children attending local primary schools. This project clearly benefits the two target groups and makes a significant ongoing contribution to the education of many students.
The Widow's Purse
This project also situated in Bharoshapur is an initiative aimed at restoring the dignity of Muslim, Hindu and Christian widows. No social security system exists in Bangladesh. Care for the disadvantaged resides principally with families and non government organisations. Widows are a particularly vulnerable group. In the absence of an aged pension widows are dependent on their families for maintenance and support. Many families due to abject poverty are unable to assist widowed family members, their meagre resources being devoted to the care of children. The widows of Bharoshapur are typical of widows throughout rural Bangladesh. Most are compelled to daily beg for a handful of rice from the middle class of the community. A handful of rice enables the widows to make a small contribution to their family's maintenance. This contribution is very important in the capacity of families to offer support to widows.
The Widow's Purse Project through the provision of a small monthly stipend enables widows to contribute to their families income and therein consolidate their own position within the family A monthly stipend of 100 taka per month (approximately $2 Australian ) enables the widows to contribute 5 Kg of rice or equivalent to their families. It also enables them to avoid the need for begging and do much to enhance their dignity and sense of security and well being.
Such stipend (income security) is ongoing and guaranteed in that it is funded from our ethical investment of all funds raised in an (high) interest bearing account in Bangladesh. The interest accrued funds the stipend per se thus obviating the need to utilise the funds we raise in this way.
The Tongi project
This project situated on the outskirts of Dhaka provides vocational training to very poor widows, and women abandoned by their husbands. Funds raised through Refugee Relief have been used to purchase sewing machines for the women. Access to sewing machines has been strategic in allowing the women to learn marketable vocational skills and to earn income essential to the survival of their families. Funds have also been utilised to provide basic education to the children of the women.
UTSHO is a small NGO based in Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh that provides education and refuge to women and children many of whom are survivors of trafficking, domestic violence and social and economic ostracism. Funds raised through Refugee Relief have been used to develop a range of income generating projects, including sewing, small restaurants, catering etc. Such initiatives have been useful in both raising funds for the project and also affirming the agency of women in contributing to the well being of their families.
ISHR/AADO - Afghan Australian Development Organisation
The insecurity and lawlessness in Afghanistan did not stop Afghan Australian Development Organisation (AADO) in their efforts to support Afghans in their rehabilitation inside their country because we are encouraged by our generous Australians, especially Melbournian friends who are continually contacting us by showing interest toward Afghan people's health and education which have been neglected for almost 3 decades of war and conflict.
Our report demonstrates that with minimum amount of funds a series of projects have been effectively implemented inside the country.
During 2006/2007 the projects have been monitored and evaluated twice. This year besides on going vocational training projects there has been the installation of Deep Well Water Pumps in three different villages.
This clearly shows how the water played a role to revive the agricultural base and provide clean drinking water for people. The water was used to build the infrastructure such as school and build capacity in the midst of hundreds of other priorities.
AADO has been officially registered as an NGO in Afghanistan. We are functioning independently in Kabul under the same name Afghan Australian Development Organisation (AADO).
We have three staff and four trainers working for the organisation. I will be happy to talk during the ISHRA AGM and show you a power point presentation.
Dr. Nouria Salehi
About ISHR Australia
The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) is an international non-governmental organisation which bases its work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. ISHR seeks to promote international understanding and tolerance in all areas of culture and society. It is a non-profit organisation, independent of all political parties, governments or religious groups. Founded in 1972, ISHR acts according to the philosophy that the realisation of human rights and the improvement of social conditions cannot be pursued by use of force. ISHR was founded in order to support individuals who share this principle and, consequently, strive non-violently for their rights.
ISHRA Australia began in 1982 as the Australian Human Rights Society. Shortly after its inception the Society was invited to become a National Section of the International Society. In 1994 AHRS changed its name to ISHR-Australia.
- Refugee Relief (Thai-Burma Border)
- HRs Advocacy and Education
- Development Aid
ISHRA supported projects through:
- AADO Afghanistan projects, Child Sponsorship
- Refugee Relief Association Projects: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti
- India (Karunai Illam)
- GOYA Foundation: East Timor, Papua New Guinea