This year, Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) and partners continue to hold the annual campaign of #MonthOfTruth to highlight all the progress and process of truth-seeking centred on and around victim participation from the Asia-Pacific region. Leading up to the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Violations and for Dignity of Victims on 24 March as well as to close the campaign, AJAR also joined hands with civil society in Myanmar to share reflections on conflict and our experiences of working with survivors. The campaign this year is also momentous, since the month February also marked the one-year anniversary of the coup – where we echoed the call with the people of Myanmar to demand justice.
Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) has been working closely with local women-led organisations and survivors in Myanmar for many years to document stories of survivors, build survivor movements and facilitate dialogue to address past human rights violations. This year, through the programme Healing Wounds, AJAR produced two short animated documentaries with the purpose of sharing women survivors’ plight of overcoming the lingering impact of war and conflict – a reality far too common for ethnic women in Myanmar. The subjects of the documentaries are an amalgamation of many women survivors we met and interviewed over the past few years, depicted in animated forms to better convey their life journeys and emotions they experienced.
The documentaries were screened for the public on 25 March 2022 through an online event entitled “Creating Hope for Healing – Stories of Women Survivors in Myanmar”, inviting a range of women panelists from various parts of Myanmar – Naw Say Heh from Karen Women Organization (KWO), Lway Moe Moe from Ta’ang Women’s Organization, as well as Ah San from Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand (KWAT). The event was also live-streamed through AJAR’s Facebook Page and pages of media partners such as Mizzima TV and Shwe Phee Myay News
The first animated documentary, titled Decades of Conflict from Then ’til Now: The Story of Naw Po and Her Village, tells the story of Naw Po, one of thousands Karen people living in the refugee camps along the Myanmar-Thailand border. The Karen people for years up until now are still in need of humanitarian assistance and emergency relief. The documentary had such attention on social media during the live stream, with one of the audience stating,
“The people of Ta’ang are equally saddened by the long history of fighting and what happened in Karen state.”
Naw Say Heh of Karen Women Organization elaborated that in Karen State, the survivors in many villages still suffer from neglect and lack of acknowledgement from the authorities. Many were hesitant to reach out to one another, even when their existing mental and health problems were still left untreated.
“When we did a survivors’ exchange, we needed to bring some medicine for the survivors to prevent the continuous trauma from their past incidents”
KWO is currently supporting villages through their chiefs in terms of healthcare, psychosocial support and providing livelihood – a vital support since during the conflict, many lost their family members and houses. Not only that, Naw Say Heh explained, KWO also made efforts to document the survivors’ stories and to advocate to the community leaders, both national and international.
“As the fighting intensifies in Karen areas, many properties and public areas have been destroyed and people cannot stay in their houses. Most of the Karen people have to hide in the forest and live in danger,”Naw Sat Heh of Karen Women Organization
KWO continues to emphasise the importance of giving humanitarian assistance through community-based organisation and civil society organisations who work closely in the community for the Karen people.
The online screening of our two animated documentaries reached 9.4 thousand viewers during the event.
The event continued to screen the next documentary: Survivors Finding One Another: Survivor Support Groups. It depicts the story of how survivor support groups can help one another to find hope and heal to end the culture of impunity altogether, eventually.
After the screening, Lway Moe Moe from Ta’ang Women Organization further reiterated a similar situation that befell the survivors in Northern Shan State, saying,
“(In Northern Shan State) some people have no choice but to go back from their villages, so when the military launches an airstrike, the whole family dies…”
TWO and her, until today, continue to support women survivors by providing training on psychological support where survivors can share their feelings and expectation for justice.
“Sometimes the survivor has all these difficulties, so they try to ignore what happened to them, they don’t follow up, our society must not neglect these violations, but must help survivors… and stand with them and call for justice,”
As for the situation in Kachin State, Ah San of Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand said that insecurity continues to haunt the survivors years after the conflict subsided – while many of them still have to endure real danger by still living in the conflict areas with military deployed all around them.
KWAT initiated support groups to help these survivors, especially for women survivors. The groups are formed to encourage survivors to search for truth and justice for themselves. Ah San observed that this felt helpful for them, even when challenges to continue to do this still persist.
“Women survivors are constantly worried about security – because they need to gather to listen to each other and share stories, it’s difficult to gather crowds and commute, and COVID-19 has also made it hard to travel and gather a lot of women together,”Ah San of Kachin Women’s Association
The screening and discussion ended with similar nods from all the panellists that the women survivors are demanding truth and justice. In Myanmar, as they have reiterated, it’s very difficult to start the truth-seeking process that resulted in justice – no guarantee until today to uphold human rights at the moment.
However, a moment to gather like this event is important to reflect back and shed light on the stories that happened on the ground, especially those which are shared by women survivors – many are keen to know the current situation as the event garnered 32.400 views from AJAR and partners’ social media channels. Here’s hoping through these documentaries, preceded by campaigns with our partners, discussions and discourses will follow, and solidarity shall abound.
Check out our #CollectiveTruth campaign and #MonthOfTruth campaign using the hashtags in your preferred social media! You may also watch our animated documentary shorts here! The event re-run was also livestreamed through AJAR’s Facebook Page and pages of Mizzima TV and Shwe Phee Myay News.