The best books about the Karen and human rights that inspire me

Who am I?

I'm a human rights activist from Burma. When I was 14, I was forced to flee to Thailand because of an attack by the Burmese military and ended up in a refugee camp. As one of Burma's leading democracy activists in Europe, I campaign for the promotion of human rights, democracy, and development back home in Burma. Together with my family, I set up Phan Foundation which aims to preserve Karen culture, promote human rights, fight poverty and provide education for Karen people. This is in memory of my mother Nant Kyin Shwe and my father Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, who was assassinated by agents of the Burmese military.


I wrote...

Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

By Zoya Phan,

Book cover of Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

What is my book about?

Zoya Phan was born in the remote jungles of Burma to the Karen tribe, which for decades has been resisting Burma’s brutal military junta. At age 14, her peaceful childhood was shattered when the Burmese army attacked. So began two terrible years of running, as Zoya was forced to join thousands of refugees hiding in the jungle. Her family scattered, her brothers went deeper into the war, and Zoya, close to death, found shelter at a Thai refugee camp, where she stayed until 2004 when she fled to the U.K. and claimed asylum. There, in a twist of fate, she became the public face of the Burmese people’s fight for freedom. This is her inspirational story.

The books I picked & why

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A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People

By Benedict Rogers,

Book cover of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People

Why this book?

We, the Karens, call our land Kawthoolei, which means "a land without evil." When I first came to the UK, Ben gave me a copy of his book, A Land Without Evil. After reading this book, I felt so much pain that I couldn't stop my tears because all of the suffering of my people that Ben wrote in his book were all true, and it brought back all the memories of our sufferings. For decades, my people have been brutally attacked by Burmese governments, but the world didn't know and pay attention in order to help us. 


The Story of Zoya and Shura

By Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya,

Book cover of The Story of Zoya and Shura

Why this book?

When I was born, my father, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, named me after Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. When he was a student at Rangoon University, he read about Zoya and her brother Shura resisting Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia. Both Zoya and Shura were killed by the Nazis. My father was inspired by Zoya's story and he wanted me to help resist the Burmese government's violence against his Karen people. 


Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

By Barbara Demick,

Book cover of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Why this book?

I met Barbara at an international conference on human rights called Oslo Freedom Forum, in Norway, where we were both speakers at that conference. After talking to her, I read her book and learned more about the heart-breaking situation in North Korea. It was a real eye-opener for me and inspired me to see the courage of North Korean refugees who escaped the atrocities and speak out for their own homeland. 


Fifty Years in the Karen Revolution in Burma: The Soldier and the Teacher

By Saw Ralph, Naw Sheera,

Book cover of Fifty Years in the Karen Revolution in Burma: The Soldier and the Teacher

Why this book?

I knew Saw Ralph and Naw Sheera when we were in Manerplaw, which used to be the headquarters of the Karen resistance, in Burma. As a little girl, I often followed my mother Nant Kyin Shwe to her workplace and remembered seeing Naw Sheera in the office of the Karen Women's Organisation. When I read her book, it reminds me of all the places and the people, and my beautiful childhood in, Kawthoolei, Burma. 


A Suffragette My Own Story

By Emmeline Pankhurst,

Book cover of A Suffragette  My Own Story

Why this book?

This book is very important to me. It gave me more understanding of the Suffragette movement in the UK and how women sacrificed their lives for equal rights and fairness. I really appreciate those women activists. Because of them, women now have better treatment and opportunities in society, although we still have a long way to go to have more women in politics and at the decision-making level. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

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