The New York Times published the op-ed below by Burmese dissident Ko Bo Kyi, one of many human rights heroes who will be gathering on March 8-9, 2010, for the 2nd Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy. In what will be the largest pro-democracy event of the year at the UN Human Rights Council, the Geneva Summit is co-organized by UN Watch, Bo Kyi’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, Ibuka, Freedom House, the Darfur Peace and Development Centerand 20 other human rights organizations (see full list below). To register, or for more information, visit www.genevasummit.org.
February 7, 2010
Nelson Mandela’s Captive Audience: My Hero, Page by Page
By KO BO KYI
News of Nelson Mandela’s release dominated the radio broadcasts by the BBC and Voice of America on Feb. 11, 1990. I felt I understood why he had resisted so long, because in Burma, as in South Africa at the time Mr. Mandela was in jail, the majority of people were struggling to make their voices heard. Within three months, the military junta would refuse to recognize the results of our national election — and I would be locked up in Rangoon’s Insein Prison for leading a demonstration.
Released in 1993, I was sent to prison again in 1994. It was during my second sentence that I managed to read a magazine article describing Mr. Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.” Single pages of this article were smuggled into the prison over a period of weeks, and I pieced them together from tightly folded scraps. But the story was worth the trouble: Mr. Mandela’s refusal to give up his principles, during more than 27 years in jail, was an inspiration to me and all the other political activists in Insein. “Nelson Mandela is the black power from South Africa, he can overcome 27 years of darkness,” went the refrain of a song that one of my fellow prisoners composed, a song we used to sing to keep up our spirits.
Mr. Mandela wrote that time drags in prison only if you are idle; if you organize, study and work, prison life can be very busy. But his situation seemed in some ways better than mine. He could study openly, whereas my friends and I could do so only clandestinely. We pleaded with the guards to allow it, but they told us we had to renounce political resistance first.
The Burmese authorities repeatedly pressured me to cooperate with them. But I held firm. In 1999, one year after my second prison term was finished, I escaped to Thailand — and right away got a copy of “Long Walk to Freedom.” “The challenge for every prisoner, particularly every political prisoner, is how to survive prison intact, how to emerge from prison undiminished, how to conserve and even replenish one’s beliefs,” Mr. Mandela wrote. “Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve.”
For the Burmese people, the long walk toward a free society is not finished, but we are walking in the right direction, and we will arrive one day.
Ko Bo Kyi spent nearly eight years in prison in Burma before escaping to Thailand and co-founding the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, one of 25 human rights NGOs organizing the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, on March 8-9, 2010.
Register Now: www.genevasummit.org
Co-Chairs of Honorary Committee
Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, writer, human rights hero
Lech Walesa, former president of Poland, founder of Solidarity trade union, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma
Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)
Darfur Peace and Development Center
Directorio Democratico Cubano
Fondation Genereuse Development
Global Zimbabwe Forum
Human Rights Activists in Iran
Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l
Ingénieurs du monde
Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children
International Association of Genocide Scholars
International Campaign to End Genocide
International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY)
Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme
Stop Child Executions
Tibetan Women’s Association
Zimbabwe Advocacy Office
Human rights NGOs from around the globe have joined hands to organize the 2nd Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy. To take place on March 8-9, 2010 — in parallel and to enhance the main annual session of the UN Human Rights Council — this unique assembly of renowned human rights defenders, dissidents and experts will feature victim testimonies, shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues and situations, and call on governments to guarantee freedom of the internet for democracy and human rights activists.
- INTERNET FREEDOMThe Google-China Case, Censorship and Hacking: Entrepreneurs & Dissidents Debate•DEFENDING ETHNIC MINORITIESRebiya Kadeer, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Uighur human rights hero
•ATROCITIES IN SUDAN Jan Pronk, former UN Secretary-General Special Representative in Sudan
•EQUALITY FOR WOMEN Massouda Jalal, former Afghan Minister of Women Affairs, first female presidential candidate
•THE FUTURE OF DISSENT Yang Jianli, 1989 Tiananmen Square Hero, founder of Foundation for China in the 21st Century
- THE BURMESE JUNTA vs. AUNG SAN SUU KYIBo Kyi, Burmese dissident and 2008 winner of Human Rights Watch Award•COMBATING CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY Simon Deng, former Sudanese Slave
•OPPRESSION IN TIBET Phuntsok Nyidron, Buddhist nun, longest-serving Tibetan political prisoner, jailed for recording songs of freedom, winner of 1995 Reebok Human Rights Award
•NON-VIOLENT PROTEST Matteo Mecacci, Italian MP, OSCE Rapporteur on human rights and democracy, activist
•REPRESSION IN LATIN AMERICA Tamara Suju, Venezuelan human rights lawyer
•PRISONER FROM BIRTH Donghyuk Shin, survivor of North Korean prison camp
•“DEFAMATION OF RELIGION” vs. FREE SPEECH Owais Aslam Ali, Secretary General of Pakistan Press Foundation
• And more…