By Tara Horn
December 9, 2006-Kuala Lumpur: The Chin Refugee Committee was awarded the Suaram Human Rights Award on December 8, at the annual Suaram Tribute to Human Rights Defenders dinner in Kuala Lumpur. Suaram is a Malaysian non-governmental organization “committed to defending and campaigning for human rights in Malaysia and other parts of the world.” Suaram, or Suara Rakyat Malaysia, began in 1989 and is now the leading human rights organization in Malaysia.
The Tribute to Human Rights Defenders dinner was held in conjunction with World Human Rights Day on December 10, to pay tribute to those who work to promote and defend human rights in Malaysia. About 500 guests from civil society, political parties, media, and international embassies attended the dinner.
The dinner began with opening remarks from Yap See Seng, who called on the Malaysian government to respond to the request, made in 2004, for a country visit by Hina Jilani, the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders. After the opening remarks, Suaram also presented a video statement from Said Zahari, a prominent human rights leader in Malaysia and Singapore. Zahari urged human rights organizations to move beyond protests and develop new strategies for raising awareness among the people of how human rights relate to their daily lives, and for getting them involved in standing up for their own rights everyday.
During dinner, The Chin Refugee Committee’s 20-member cultural troupe performed the Chong Lai Zonh dance in traditional Chin dress. There were also dinner performances by an orang asli, or indigenous Malay, group, and Malaysian singer Mei Chern.
The much anticipated Suaram Human Rights Award 2006 was presented later in the evening by Dr. Kua Kia Soong, the director of Suaram. In total, there were four nominees for the award this year. The three additional nominees were the Bukit Jelutong villagers, a community of plantation workers who fought against unlawful evictions by the plantation giant Guthrie, the Article 11 coalition, a network of groups that campaigned for the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and the Broga No Incinerator Committee, which campaigned against a mega incinerator project at the border of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. The Chin Refugee Committee was jointly awarded the honor along with the Bukit Jelutong villagers.
The Chin Refugee Committee was established in 2001 to support Chin refugees in their pursuit of safety in Malaysia. The CRC staff, all volunteers from the Chin community, advocates for the protection and registration of Chin refugees with the UNHCR and assist individuals with the registration process. They also assist refugees with obtaining care or protection in times of crisis, and network with the police, government, and local NGOs to increase awareness of and services available to the community. There are currently estimated to be around 20,000 Chin in Malaysia. Victor Kham Bil, founder, and Philimon Sang, Coordinator of CRC, accepted the award on behalf of the committee. Victor says of the award, “It will shed light on the situation of the Chin for NGOs, and really show that the CRC is working hard to protect the Chin. They will know that the CRC is something. It is very rewarding and very encouraging, and it will encourage all the CRC members to work harder than before – they will know that even the NGOs in Malaysia recognize our work.” The CRC was nominated for the award by Chin Human Rights Organization, an advocacy group that initiated the formation of the committee in 2001.
The annual Suaram Human Rights Award was initiated in 1999 to recognize local communities and collectives in their outstanding and inspiring endeavors to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia. Both winners will receive as their prize a space to attend the Asia Training and Study Session on Human Rights in Bangkok for two weeks next year. The prize is sponsored by the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), a regional human rights organization with more than 30 members in the Asian region.