The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy announced yesterday that its 2007 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award will go to Cynthia Maung, founder of the Mae Tao Clinic located close to the Thai-Burmese border, for her long-term dedication to helping Burmese refugees.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who is also chairman of the foundation, said Maung, or "Dr. Cynthia" as her patients call her, stood out from the five finalists with an excellent review from the foundation's Final Review Board.
The finalists included Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission; People in Need, a Czech non-profit organization providing relief around the world; exiled Chinese democracy activist Wang Dan (
Wang said the consensus to choose Maung was reached by the review board: Robert Menard, founder of Reporters Sans Frontieres, which fights for freedom of speech worldwide; Asma Jahangir, chairwoman of Human Rights of Pakistan; Nisuke Ando, a member of UN Human Rights Committee; Alexander Boraine, chairman of the International Center for Transitional Justice; and Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy in the US.
"Dr. Cynthia is going beyond her mandate as a physician by turning a refugee population into a community based on shared values and respect for human rights, as well as by linking her cause to the international community," Wang said during a press conference.
The foundation will invite Maung to visit Taiwan on Dec. 13 to receive the award and a grant of US$100,000 to support her relief work, Wang said.
Maung, who was born in Yangon in 1959, was also a refugee herself after she fled across the border to Mae Sot, Thailand, where she lived in the Huay Kaloke refugee camp.
She established a makeshift clinic in Mae Sot in 1989 to provide medical treatment for victims of wars and job training and HIV prevention education to refugees free of charge.
She has been internationally recognized over the past few decades, including being chosen by Time magazine as one of its Asian heroes in 2003, being nominated for the 1,000 Women Nobel Peace Prize, and being awarded the 2005 Chou Ta-Kuan Foundation's Global Concern for Human Life Award.
"Giving the award to her means we have formed a broader definition of democracy and human rights," said the foundation's standing supervisor, Hsiao Hsin-huang (
"Last year, we awarded the prize to Reporters Sans Frontieres," Hsiao said. "This year's winner provides direct services to victims ... from reporters to doctors, everyone can fight for democracy and human rights."
Hsiao said the timing of Maung's award was crucial because it represented an immediate concern from Taiwan for the refugees from Myanmar.