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In September 2009, Inter Pares colleague Charm Tong testified before Canada’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Charm Tong told the members of the committee that she was a refugee from Shan State in Burma, and that she had grown up in an orphanage on the Thai-Burma border.
She explained how hundreds of thousands of people like her had become refugees as a result of the war conducted by the Burmese military junta. She described how the Burmese military had destroyed more than 3,000 villages in Burma’s ethnic states over the past decade. She spoke of torture and extrajudicial executions of civilians, forcible displacement, and the use of rape of ethnic women as a strategy of war. These are crimes, Charm Tong told the assembled parliamentarians, and requested that Canada play a role in calling for a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.
Charm Tong was part of a delegation of democracy and human rights activists from Burma who spent several weeks in Canada last September. The delegation met human rights groups, refugee resettlement agencies, students, health organizations and community groups in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Toronto. In Ottawa, they also met parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, senators, and government officials. The visit was organized by Inter Pares and groups across the country involved in promoting democracy in Burma.
An important part of Inter Pares’ mission is to provide opportunities for Canadians to learn about the social justice work in which we are engaged. The most effective strategy for doing so is facilitating the building of relationships between Canadian and Southern organizations involved in similar activities. Inter Pares has a long and rich history in organizing learning exchanges between Canadian and international women’s rights activists. We have facilitated dialogues among Canadian farmers and farmers in Asia and the Caribbean. We have brought together Canadian environmental activists with those from other countries. We have introduced First Nations organizations in Canada to indigenous peoples from Asia and Latin America.
In all of these activities we have found that people are eager to share their stories, to learn about change strategies in different places, and develop new relationships based on a profound sense of solidarity and common cause.
We have also sought to encourage the Canadian government to play a progressive international role on issues such as civil and human rights, corporate social responsibility, and environmental sustainability. Over the years, we have brought overseas colleagues to Ottawa to meet with government officials and political leaders, to testify before parliamentary committees, and to participate in important debates about Canada’s role in the world. For the most part, we have found that officials and politicians appreciate having access to perspectives and voices that otherwise they would not have heard.
By the time Charm Tong and her colleagues departed from Canada, they were assured that many Canadians across the country support them in their struggle for peace and justice in Burma.
By bringing international activists to Canada to share their experiences, Canadians can see parallels with dilemmas in their own communities. These activities help us learn from each other, and deepen our collective work for social change, at home and abroad.
[Charm Tonga a prié] le Canada d’exiger une commission d’enquête du conseil de sécurité des Nations unies sur les crimes de guerre et les crimes contre l’humanité commis en Birmanie.