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Zoya Phan: Promoting human rights and democracy a priority for every country

In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Zoya Phan, Coordinator of the Burma Campaign UK said:

"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

With this green background I feel like I am back home in the jungle of Burma again.

It is an honour to be speaking to you today at the Conservative party conference.

First of all, I would like to say thank you to Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague for a kind invitation and to the conservative party for putting human rights issue at the heart of your agenda.

When I was just 14 years old the soldiers came to my village. Mortar bombs exploded and soldiers opened fire. There was no warning. We fled for our lives, but many people were killed. My family ran, carrying what we could on our backs, leaving our home and everything behind. I still remember the smell of the black smoke as our village was destroyed. As we hid in the jungle, homeless and afraid, a British trade delegation dined in Rangoon, making business deals with the regime that had just slaughtered my people.

My country is ruled by one of the world's most brutal military dictatorships. It is 11 years since the attack on my village but nothing has changed. Earlier this year the regime launched a new military offensive against civilians of the Karen and Karenni ethnics in Eastern part of Burma. Shooting children, mutilating and beheading people, forcing 20,000 people from their homes. And still the British government has done nothing to stop companies investing in Burma. How many more generations will have to suffer while the world looks the other way?

I know sanctions are controversial. In many countries trade and investment can have a positive impact, bringing jobs and prosperity, and opening up countries to new ideas. In Burma the opposite happened, the regime used trade and investment to double the size of the army, and reduced spending on health and education. That is why Burmese people are asking for targeted economic sanctions, to cut the economic lifeline keeping this regime afloat.

As a democracy activist from Burma, I am confused by the response of the international community. How can any government's foreign policy not make human rights a priority? What is more important than the basic right of all of us to live in peace, without fear? How can governments stand by while in Burma innocent children are shot, while girls as young as five years old are raped by soldiers, while over a thousand political prisoners face torture and cruelty every day. While Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, her life in danger.

Why has it taken 16 years for the United Nations Security Council to even discuss Burma? There is not even a UN arms embargo against my country.

Promoting human rights and democracy is not imperialist. It is not a cultural issue. It is everyone's business. I believe it should be a priority for every country. The opportunity to speak to you today has given me hope. I hope that your party will help my people in their struggle for human rights, democracy and freedom in Burma. Hope that this signifies a bigger change, and that in future governments will put human rights at the core of their foreign policy. There are millions of people like me around the world - not just from Burma - who have been forced from their homes by brutal regimes. We just want to go home. I just want to go home. But I can't without your help. Please help us go home.

Thank you."

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