Zoya Phan is a Burmese human rights activist and author. Since fleeing Than Shwes army and claiming asylum as a refugee in the United Kingdom, she has worked to expose the juntas barbarism. After being selected at random to appear on the BBC, she has given countless interviews and commentary on the situation in Burma, and has become the face of a nation enslaved. Recently named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Phan has created a foundation that promotes education, human rights, and the culture of the Karen ethnic minority in Burma.
Phan is an ethnic Karen human rights activist from Burma. The Karen have been attacked by the Burmese military junta for decades. In Eastern Burma, over 3,500 villages have been destroyed in the past fifteen years, and systematic human rights abuses are prevalent. Thousands of ethnic minorities are used for forced labor, their women are raped, their men are tortured and executed, and they are subjected to widespread extortion, forced relocations, land confiscation and denial of aid. At present, there are more than 100,000 people hiding in the Burmese jungle without adequate food, shelter, or medicine.
Phan was introduced to political activism and defense of Karen rights at a young age. Her mother was a soldier for the Karen National Union and her father was the General Secretary. At the age of fourteen, Phans village was attacked by the Burmese Army and their house burned down. She and her family were forced to flee across the border into Thailand, where they lived for years in a refugee camp. While at the refugee camp, Phan completed an Open University Exam and was given a scholarship to study at Bangkok University. During her second year at university, she began what was to become a long commitment to fighting for Karen rights by secretly organizing a support group for other Karen students.
After completing her degree in Bangkok she was offered a scholarship to study in the UK in 2004. Before she left, her father took in two Burmese child soldiers who were sent to assassinate him and Phan; although they failed, it was the first time the Burmese government had specifically targeted her. At a free Burma protest the year following her arrival in the UK, she was interviewed by the BBC, after which, she rapidly became a sought-out speaker for issues related to Burma and Burma-UK relations.
In 2008, just before Phan received her master degree, her father was assassinated by agents of the Burmese military dictatorship. She and her siblings established the Phan Foundation in his memory. The organization seeks to alleviate poverty, promote education, and preserve the culture of the oppressed ethnic Karen people. Phan is also the International Coordinator of the Burma Campaign UK, an organization which campaigns for human rights, democracy, and development in Burma. She is also the coordinator of the European Karen Network, secretary of the Karen Community Association (UK), and serves on the board of the Austrian Burma Centre. In her role at these organizations, she calls for democracy in Burma and meets with politicians in the UK and abroad to pressure for sanctions against Burma.
In 2009, Phan published Little Daughter: a Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West (titled Undaunted: My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma in the US), an attempt to highlight the plight of the Karen living in Burma and to raise international awareness about the human rights abuses being committed in an area which is often overlooked by the international community. In 2009, Phan became a TED Fellow and in 2010, she was honored as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.