EU Honors Myanmar Rights Advocates at Fourth Schuman Awards

By Nyein Nyein 19 February 2020

The European Union (EU) in Myanmar on Wednesday bestowed its annual Schuman Awards on a rights activist, a prominent human rights lawyer and a satirical performance troupe to honor what it said was their courage in fighting for freedom and for others, “even when it costs them their own freedom”.

The 2020 Schuman Awardees are human rights lawyer U Kyee Myint, women’s rights activist Lway Poe Ngeal and satirical poetry troupe Peacock Generation.

Launched in 2017 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty—one of the founding documents of the European Union—the annual Schuman Awards recognize outstanding efforts in the promotion of the universal values of democracy, rule of law, peace and human rights in Myanmar and beyond.

“For the fourth time, we recognize those who carry the flame of freedom for others—those whose light shines brightly from inside a prison cell, in court rooms, or working in villages across Myanmar. They are helping to build a genuine democratic union in Myanmar,” EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt said in a press statement.

U Kyee Myint, 75, was honored for his tireless efforts in promoting the rule of law and human rights, including the right to free access to information and good governance in Myanmar.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday shortly before he was due to receive the award, he said he was accepting the honor not only for himself, but also for all those across Myanmar who are trying to promote human rights.

An outspoken and inspiring champion of democracy, U Kyee Myint is one of Myanmar’s most prominent human rights lawyers and political prisoners.

For decades he has represented individuals charged with political crimes, often pro bono. He is a mentor to many human rights lawyers in Myanmar and also co-founder of the Myanmar Lawyers Network and chairman of the Union Lawyers and Paralegals Association.

U Kyee Myint has been imprisoned five times since the 1962 military coup. He is currently facing trial for remarks about constitutional amendments he made early last year in Kawthaung, Tannitharyi Region. He was charged under Section 505 of the Penal Code for allegedly defaming the military and military leadership.

He said, “I was sued because I was determined to work to achieve democracy. I am not a member of any political party and I don’t speak based on a desire for power. Our country has lost its democratic principles and I am one of the people who are trying to get them back. I will continue the work and this award will motivate me to move forward.”

Lway Poe Ngeal, 31, is a Ta’ang woman from northern Shan State who grew up in a village “enveloped in fear, harassment, and a lack of opportunities, particularly for women,” the EU said in its statement.

She has dedicated her time to promoting women’s and minority rights, and to ending all forms of discrimination against women. Involved in activism since the age of 16, she has been arrested and detained three times.

The EU said in its statement on Wednesday that “living in constant fear didn’t discourage her from empowering women and survivors of sexual violence and trafficking.”

The thangyat troupe “Peacock Generation” was honored for its members’ courage in defending freedom of expression in Myanmar. Thangyat is a traditional art form that combines spoken-word poetry, comedy and dance. In April 2019, members of the Peacock Generation were arrested for a performance in which they were accused of undermining the military. They were held behind bars for six months during their trial and later sentenced after being found guilty under sections 505(a) and 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act.

Six performers—Kay Khine Tun, Zay Yar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu, Zaw Lin Htut and Su Yadanar Myint—are currently serving prison sentences.

In 2017, the inaugural awards went to U Ko Ni, the slain lawyer and adviser to the ruling National League for Democracy, Daw Ja Nan Lataw, director of the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation, and U Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar.

In 2018, Ko Swe Win, chief editor of Myanmar Now; human rights activist Cheery Zahau and women’s rights activist Daw Khin Than Htwe received the awards, in the year of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Last year’s recipients were gender and peace activist Daw Nang Pu, peace advocate U Aung Kyaw Moe, and human rights defender U Robert Sann Aung.