All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and Min Ko Naing were awarded the Student Peace Prize of 2001 for their nonviolent contribution to the fight for democracy and peace in Burma.
Burma has a long history of student activism that goes back to the 1930’s. In 1951 several student organizations formed a union, called ABFU.
Educational failure in Burma
In Burma, the military junta has not put enough resources on the development of higher educational system. There is a lack of libraries and reading rooms at the schools. The educational method does not encourage the participation of students. Many of the teachers are not qualified, as they have been graduated from the same intuitions. The failure of the educational system along with the extreme lack of speech imposed by the military junta, creates a poor environment for learning and development.
Min Ko Naing
On the first student conference since 1962, Min Ko Naing was elected as the chairman of ABFSU. The same year he attended a peaceful demonstration for a democratic educations system together with 3000 other students and Buddhist monks. However, the military was not pleased with these actions and went against the peaceful demonstration. Many people died during the riots and Min Ko Niang and several other student leaders were arrested.
Min Ko Niang was imprisoned for 16 years, experiencing both physical and psychological torture. This because he rose his voice and stood up for his rights. In Burma standing up for your rights can have fatal consequences.
A life in prison
Many of the members in ABFSU have experienced what Min Ko Niang did; despite this they have never stopped fighting. Several students have been killed, imprisoned and have disappeared throughout the years and it still happens today. In 2004 Min Ko Naing was released. He only got three years of freedom before he was arrested again. This time it was under a demonstration against high fuel prices and he was sentenced to another 65 years of imprisonment. On the 13 of January, Min Ko Naing was released along with several other activists. He was released because of pressure from a mass presidential pardon for political activists.
There are still many political prisoners in Burma and ABFSU support all campaigns that can help the prisoners out.
After Min Ko Naing were awarded the student peace prize he have received other prizes such as the 2009 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights and the 2005 civil Courage Prize (which he shared with Amma Politkovskaya and Munir Said Thalib).
Committee members of the jury of 2001:
Gro Brækken – Save The Children, Norway
Thorvald Stoltenberg – Norwegian Red Cross
Peter M. Johansen – Journalist, Klassekampen
Vedad Hadziavdic – Student representative
Ragnhild Skinnes – Studentrepresentative
Sigvart Eriksen – Studentrepresentative
Tor Bernhard Slaathaug – Student representative