Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese (Laos, Germany)
Born in Meuangpek in the north-eastern Laotian Province Xiengkhouang.during the civil war between the Royal Laotian government and the Pathet Lao guerrilla movement Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese already experienced the horrors of a war as a child.
With the victory of the rebels, her merchant family was considered as part of the so-called class enemies. Although at school, she was the best in class, she was repeatedly discriminated and unfairly treated compared to those linked to those from the new regime.
Nevertheless, she got a scholarship to study medicine in Czechoslovakia, which shared the same ideology as the Laotian government. History repeated: her “bourgeois” background led to her being treated in a similar way as in her country of origin – while still being the best in her year.
With the emergence of ever-increasing protests in Czechoslovakia – and the repression by the authorities – she became a human rights activist and participated in the velvet revolution, which overcame the authoritarian regime in Czechoslovakia.
During that time, she – together with other students from Laos – had transmitted the values of the democratic uprising to South Eastern Asia. As her efforts were unsuccessful in achieving a regime change in Laos, she had to fear arrest and torture in her country of origin.
To avoid being sent back to Laos, she went into exile in Germany, where she started to work as a medical doctor in a hospital and became Vice-President of a German NGO opposing the authoritarian Laotian government.
Together with her German husband, she understood that civil society work exclusively in Germany was not enough. Therefore, they founded a new NGO with fellow campaigners from several countries, called the “Alliance for Democracy in Laos” (ADL) in Brussels, the capital of Europe.
Through their widespread successful activities, this NGO transformed into a real global network of democracy, human rights and environmental activists for Laos.
This resulted into regular consultations with the foreign affairs structures of Australia, Canada, European Union, Germany, New Zealand and the US.
Being joined by Professor Joshua L. Cooper, they expanded their focus onto the UN institutions in New York and Geneva from human rights (UN Human Rights Council, UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok) to sustainable development (HLPF), including deforestation.
Among others, they achieved to convince the UN member states to take into consideration the meager human rights performance of Laos and prevent that country from being elected to the UN Human Rights Council.
Despite major security risks, the ADL also participated actively in the Annual ASEAN People’s Forum and the 2018 UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum in Bangkok.
Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese receives this award, as she is a role model for combining the work as head of a hospital department in Germany with the role as the most respected human rights spokesperson of Laos.
Following the hand-over of the award, Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese addressed the public with the following words:
Friends, colleagues, your excellencies, ladies and Gentlemen,
Already delighted by receiving this award, I am overwhelmed as well to see so many people here inside the room.
Thank you very much for joining us in the EU representation of the German land of Hesse.
The EU, as a continental union of democratic states, has once again shown how important and ground breaking it is.
This award is showing it.
This award is not only important within the EU, but also for outside.
For all other people in the world, especially women.
For all those especially in Laos.
This award is not exclusively handed over to me.
It is handed over as well to the fellow campaigners and supporters of the ADL, the Alliance for Democracy in Laos.
The EU is a role model.
A role model for other states in other regions of the world.
A role model for ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
My home country is one of the ten member states of ASEAN.
Let Laos learn from the EU.
Let ASEAN learn from the EU.
Let us learn concerning the situation of women.
Eventhough women in Laos do find themselves in a fair amount of leadership positions, they have no genuine decision-making power.
No real freedom of action.
Laos has been a communist one-party dictatorship since 1975.
That meant, the head of state is traditionally a man.
The same for other key positions.
There is a website “Women in national parliaments”.
Listing 192 countries.
Rwanda is placed best.
With 49 out of 80 MPS.
Which means 60%.
In Laos, there are only 41 female MPs among 149.
That means 28%.
Let us learn from Rwanda and EU countries to have a rather more equal representation.
By this I do not only mean representation in politics.
Anyone who disagrees with the government in Laos faces harassment.
Faces imprisonment with torture.
To add to that, there is more ominous cruelty amongst oppositional women.
Their children are taken away.
Kidnapped or forced into prostitution.
However, women find it tough going in the first place, regardless of whether a woman is oppositional or not.
Woman like me struggle to get hired – and keep their job – in management positions.
Usually a woman has to work twice as much as a man to get attention in society.
A management position should not be a question of gender.
It should be a question of qualification.
Let me finish my speech with human rights.
Women’s rights are human rights as well.
Which means that my fight for democracy in Laos is multifaceted.
It is about human rights in general.
It is about women’s rights.
It is about rights for all.
Especially of those who are disadvantaged.
Of those who are oppressed.
Of those who suffer injustice.
Of those who do not have the freedom of expression.
Of those who suffer due to corruption.
Finally, I would like to thank two men who supported me in the past.
And I hope: as well in the future.
Professor Joshua Cooper of the University of Hawaii.
As Director of the Hawaii Institute for Human Rights he is active with the UN on human rights.
Marcus Wiese, my husband and comrade-in-arms, office manager of the ADL.
Someone, who has a supervisory role in the German Red Cross in our region,
And finally I would like to thank the many women and men amongst the ADL.
Who years ago co-founded this organisation with me.
Who always stood by my side.
Without them, I would not find myself here at this moment in time.
And thank you again to the EU and the German federal state of Hesse.