Horrors of Burma shared at lecture

Matt Kuhns

Student activists are the main source of opposition to human rights abuses in Burma, a Burmese refugee said while speaking at Iowa State on Sunday.

Ohmar Khin, 28, described government atrocities in her homeland and her experiences as a political activist to about 25 people gathered in the Memorial Union.

“Students have always been at the forefront” of the struggle to bring democracy to Burma, Khin said, despite numerous crackdowns by the military.

The Burmese government considers students such a serious threat that they closed all universities in 1996, she said.

Illustrating her points with a marker board and easel, Khin described numerous horrors committed by Burma’s government.

Civilians have been forced out of their homes to clear areas for foreign investors to build factories, Khin said, and Burma’s government has also forced as many as 2 million people to work for the government under harsh conditions, imprisoning those who refuse to work.

Khin also described how Burmese girls — many as young as 13 — are sold into prostitution.

Over 40,000 girls have been forced into prostitution in Burma, Khin said, adding that “that’s really scary” for her to think about because she could have experienced the same fate.

Burma’s government also destroyed the nation’s economy when it issued new currency in 1987, devaluing the old money and thereby wiping out many people’s life savings, Khin said.

Khin urged students to take an interest in Burma, saying “Burma’s problems are not only Burma’s,” but directly affect the rest of the world.

As an example, Khin said, 60 percent of all heroin in America comes from Burma.

Khin called Burma “the South Africa of the ’90s,” saying she hopes other nations will use economic pressure to bring about reform, as they did in South Africa.

Students in the United States can also help bring about change in Burma, Khin said.

She said students should boycott corporations that invest in Burma, such as petroleum-producer UNOCAL.

Khin said pressure from consumers and government has already caused some corporations to pull out of Burma, mentioning Pepsi and Texaco as examples.

Students can also help by letting their representatives know they are concerned about events in Burma, and urging them to oppose Burma’s military government, Khin said.

Khin was a chemistry major at the University of Rangoon and became politically active in 1988.

She then became involved in efforts to end the military’s control of Burma because of the government’s brutality.

In 1988, Burma’s government cracked down on the pro-democracy movement, killing thousands over a period of days.

Khin said 30 of her friends were arrested around that time, prompting her to flee the country.

Khin was admitted to the United States as a political refugee in 1990, and she completed her degree at Simon’s Rock College in Massachusetts.

Since then, Khin has worked to further efforts for democracy in Burma. She has addressed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, and has recently been touring universities to inform students about the human rights abuses in Burma.

Khin said she plans to leave the United States for Thailand in December to work with the Burmese Women’s Union.