BO KYI

© 2008 Patricia Williams

2009 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism

Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.

As a former political prisoner and co-founder of the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), Bo Kyi works tirelessly to secure the release of Burmese people who have been jailed for their political independence and activism. Some 1,920 people remain imprisoned in Burma, where they endure abysmal treatment by the ruling military junta for opposing its horrific abuses.

After taking part in peaceful demonstrations as part of Burma's 1988 popular uprising, Bo Kyi was arrested in March 1990 as a college student who had joined the human rights cause. He ultimately spent seven years and three months in prison for his political activism. He suffered repeated interrogations, beatings, shackling, and torture in prison, amid squalid living conditions.

Throughout his long ordeal, Bo Kyi resolved that he would not allow the Burmese junta to dull his mind. He learned to speak and write in English while in prison, and hid his educational materials each time a warden passed his cell.

Upon his release from prison, Bo Kyi fled to Burma's border with Thailand, where he helped found AAPP. The organization works on behalf of current and former political prisoners and their families. It provides them with financial support and medical care, monitors prison conditions, and advocates internationally for the prisoners' release.

Over the last twenty years, Bo Kyi has demonstrated unfaltering courage, sharing his story and those of other political prisoners and exposing the Burmese military junta's abuses, which have been on full display in recent months following the devastating cyclone. Human Rights Watch honors Bo Kyi for his heroic efforts to speak out against Burmese repression and to advocate on behalf of those who have dared to criticize the military junta.