MPA Student Earns Congressional Recognition

December 19, 2012

MPA student, Aung Khaing Min, was awarded a Congressional Recognition Award in October 2012 for his work advocating for human rights and democracy in Burma.  In addition to this honor Aung Khaing has been interviewed on the radio and other news outlets about his personal experiences and his work for the refugee community throughout the world.  Meeting Aung Khaing, one would not immediately know his story and sacrifice runs so deep.  Instead he comes across as a very intelligent but humble person, traits which are only accentuated when one learns all that has been done to him and, more importantly, all that he has done despite adversity.  The following is some of his story in his own words.

The Congressional Recognition Award was extremely encouraging to me, but it was also a reminder of how much further there is to go for genuine freedom and democracy in my country.

Growing up in Burma, human rights violations were a part of daily life. I personally witnessed terrible violations such as killings, prolonged arrest, arbitrary detention, and forced labor. At the age of 15, I watched as my brother, his friends and colleagues participated in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Many of them were arrested, while others fled to Burma’s borders. I was expelled from high school for meeting with fellow students to talk about the human rights situation and democracy.

In December 1996, I joined demonstrations calling for human rights, freedom and democracy and opposing the Diamond Jubilee Ceremony of Rangoon University, which was being held by the military regime while thousands of students were still in prisons. Because of this opposition, I was imprisoned for seven years in Burma’s most notorious prison, Insein.

In prison, I met many student activists, veteran politicians, members of opposition parties and monks. We shared our experiences with each other and through them I came to know much more about the real situation in Burma. I also witnessed forced labor, portering and other human rights violations perpetrated by the prison authorities. Once I was free from jail, I smuggled myself across the Thai-Burma border, where I joined an organization called the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) set up by former political prisoners that distributes information and raises awareness about horrible prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and detention, and human rights violations in Burma.

I have felt lucky to first win a US Department of State Burma Refugee Scholarship that allowed me to study at Indiana University, and to return to Northeastern now for my Masters in Public Administration. So many of my friends, colleagues and fellow political prisoners haven’t been as lucky.

Hundreds of people are still languishing behind bars for peacefully exercising their basic civil and political rights, hundreds of thousands of ethnic people are on the run from military brutality and hundreds of thousands of people still live in refugee and internally displaced persons camps. The situation of these people is a major barrier to real democratic progress in Burma.

I am lucky to have survived the horrible conditions in prison. But some of my friends remain there; some have been re-arrested and imprisoned again, others have died. They have all sacrificed their lives for a free and democratic Burma. More than for me, this Congressional Recognition is for them, for those who continue to struggle and sacrifice for our country. As long as there are political prisoners in Burma, I cannot stop my work. I will continue to advocate for them until they are all free.

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