Wed 28 Oct 2009
Filed under: International
Three Burmese monks with refugee status in Utica, N.Y., shared their personal stories from the 2007 Saffron Revolution and commented on the human rights crisis in Burma last Wednesday.
The event was hosted by the Brandeis chapter of Amnesty International and co-sponsored by the Southeast Asia Club and the Brandeis International Relations Council.
Monks U Agga, U Gawsita and U Pyinya Zawta spoke in particular about their involvement in the Saffron Revolution, a series of anti-government protests spurred by the ruling military’s sudden removal of fuel subsidies.
These peaceful protests against the Burmese ruling military junta were led by thousands of Burmese monks and caused police and troops to fire on protesters, raid and shut down Buddhist monasteries, cut Internet traffic and imprison protestors in attempt to curb the events from traveling the globe.
The monks said that human necessities were nearly impossible to afford during this time.
With the assistance of a translator, U Gawasita emphasized that “if the international community speaks with one voice, … Burma will change.”
U Pyinya Zawta was imprisoned and tortured for nine years in Burma before fleeing to the United States.
He is a founding member and executive director in exile of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance and said that as refugees, they now have three main objectives.
“Firstly, we support the monks who have been arrested and are now in prisons. Secondly, we support who are working for Burma’s democracy such as monks, students and activists inside Burma. Finally, we support the monks who were able to flee Burma and … who are now staying in Thailand, India and refugee camps.”
U Agga, the youngest of the three, made it clear that the monks still send “loving kindess” to the oppresive military regime.
“We don’t have hatred; we are not angry,” he said.
In a slideshow, Gawasita presented photographs depicting a peaceful march that he led and the cruel response it received from the military.
The photographs showed thousands of monks and students running from attacking soldiers and a Japanese journalist being killed point-blank. Gawasita recalled that after the march he was followed and beaten on the head.
“I realized that I couldn’t die in a prison, and I would rather leave Burma and continue the struggle for Burma [in the U.S.],” Gawasita said.
The monks now travel to universities as a part of a tour organized by Amnesty International USA’s Group 113 based in Somerville, Mass., to share their inspirational stories of a peaceful effort to gain democracy in their home country.
At the end of the event, students and faculty were asked to sign a petition addressed to leaders of the Burmese government to free Burma.
The petition asked Dictator Senior General Than Shwe, in particular, the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently placed under detention by the militia.
Amnesty International Brandeis chapter co-president Chris Lau ’12 said that he was very happy with the event turnout.
“[The event] was a great chance for Amnesty International to gain visibilty on campus,” he said.
Attendee Matthew Zunitch ’13 said in an interview, “I might be a little biased because I am in the ‘War and Possibilities of Peace class’ and have seen a lot of similar events recently, … but I thought their individual testimonies were really moving.”