L-R: Ambassador Petr Kolar, President Vaclav Havel, Filmmaker Milena Kaneva, ERI Executive Director Ka Hsaw Wa
EarthRights International Executive Director, Ka Hsaw Wa, joined President Vaclav Havel at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington DC on Monday, February 26 for a special screening of the film Total Denial. Following the film, attended by diplomats, White House and government officials, United Nations personnel, NGOs and activists from Burma, President Havel, Ka Hsaw Wa and filmmaker Milena Kaneva led a panel discussion on the current situation in Burma and offered recommendations for change.
“Only if people around the world know the truth is there some chance for change. I think it is important that such films as this exist. It is a kind of pressure not only to the leadership in these countries, but also to those who operate with these governments, who don’t want to see the reality, and to see whom they help. I think that pressure is very important, and it is impossible without documentation and publicity.”
–President Vaclav Havel, on the film Total Denial
The film, Total Denial, which chronicles ERI’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the American oil corporation Unocal for human rights abuses in Burma (Doe v. Unocal) exposes the brutal human rights violations that were committed in association with the Yadana gas pipeline in Burma and received the prestigious Vaclav Havel Award for Human Rights in 2006. The audience had the opportunity to watch and listen as survivors of forced labor, rape and torture told their stories, and to see the devastating impacts of natural resource exploitation and life under military rule.
President Havel opened the panel discussion following the film with words of inspiration for people in Burma His words have special meaning for ERI, in particular for our courageous field staff in Burma who take enormous risks to document and expose the human rights abuse
s of the Burmese junta. President Havel said, “I think it is extremely important for all people who want to somehow help nations who are under dictatorship to make the publicity…people who are able and who have the courage to fight against it, to speak against it, to speak about it. What they [the people of Burma] need from the democratic world is the moral support, the publicity, because that is the main way to help change…” who are still suffering under military rule.
ERI’s Executive Director, Ka Hsaw Wa, spoke about the current situation in Burma, in particular the ongoing military offensives in the northeastern part of the country. In recent months, 33 military battalions have militarized the northern Karen state, leading to corresponding increases in forced labor, rape and killing, and the displacement of over 25,000 villagers. These abuses are directly connected to the junta’s ongoing efforts to enrich and entrench their rule through exploitation of natural resources, including logging, mining, and water diversion projects. Ka Hsaw Wa introduced ERI’s new report about the earth rights violations that accompany resource extraction in Burma, “Turning Treasure Into Tears”. He called on foreign governments and corporations to avoid such destructive partnerships with the junta, and to halt investment in this sector until a democratic government is in place and the people—rather than the military—can be the benefit from Burma’s natural heritage.
Milena Kaneva, the Producer and Director of Total Denial, spoke of the historical similarities of the Czech Republic, Burma, and her native country, Bulgaria. “On this panel, there is one Burmese Karen, President Havel who is Czech, and I am Bulgarian. And what is connecting us is that desire to speak the truth and to have that desire to speak the truth and have democracy and justice all over the world. What connects me with President Havel is that I was born behind the iron wall, and I was born in a dictatorship. I lived through that dictatorship… the people in Burma marched in the streets, just as they did in the Velvet Revolution, but they are still living behind an iron wall.”