It takes a great deal of courage and passion to testify to a group of world leaders about a long-standing campaign of terror by a military regime whose presence is in that very room.
But courage and passion are exactly what drive Charm Tong, a refugee from Burma, who at seventeen addressed the UN Commission on Human Rights on the military regime’s campaign on terror against civilians in the Shan State, home to an ethnic minority in Burma that comprises just nine percent of the population.
Charm Tong’s activism began at just six years old when she was brought to an orphanage in Thailand and was given a chance at safety and an education. It was at the orphanage where she began learning about the suffering of refugees fleeing persecution in her native land.
At sixteen, Charm Tong began working with human rights groups and interviewing Shan refugees about their experiences in Burma. When she was seventeen, she became one of the founders of SWAN, the Shan Women’s Action Network which exposed the systematic use of rape as a weapon by the Burmese military. In 2001, she helped to establish a school for refugee children who were not allowed to live in a regular refugee camp.
Since then, Charm Tong has become one of the world’s leading activists calling for action in Burma. She was a recipient of Reebok’s Human Rights Award, was invited by President George W. Bush to discuss human rights in Burma, has addressed the UN Commission on Human Rights twice, was named one of Marie Claire’s “Women of the World” in 2004 and, in 2005, was named one of Time Magazine’s Asian Heroes.
Referred to as “a candle in the dark” by students in her school, Charm Tong has demonstrated a tremendous amount of courage in her unending battle to end sexual violence against women in her homeland.
Of the Burmese military regime, Charm Tong says, “The regime does not want the world to know what’s happening to the people, but the women’s voices will be heard.