Christian Group Honors Laura Bush for Burma Advocacy

A Christian group that supports the persecuted church presented First Lady Laura Bush with the 2008 Freedom Award for her efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Burma, the organization announced Friday.

Michigan-based Christian Freedom International applauded the First Lady for being an outspoken advocate for the hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees who have suffered tremendously because of the ongoing internal conflicts.

The country's military regime is known to violently crush any opposition, especially pro-democracy movements. Last year, the military fired guns and hurled batons at tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who were led by Buddhist monks.

Dissident groups say some 200 people were killed during the crackdown, while hundreds were arrested.

But besides crushing opposition, the junta is also known for its brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against minorities.

For decades, the Karen, Karenni, and Chin people – who are overwhelmingly Christians - have been victims of the government's systematic persecution. The women of these ethnic groups are frequently raped as part of the government's campaign of terror.

The U.S. State Department has designated Myanmar, the official and preferred name of Burma by the junta, as a "country of particular concern" – the worst religious freedom violation label.

CFI praised Mrs. Bush for her consistent call on the Burmese government to end the violence that has torn the country apart for five decades. The First Lady has also called for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's most famous democratic leader who has been under house arrest since 1989. Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace laureate.

In her effort to raise international awareness, Bush hosted the Dialogue on Burma during the U.N. General Assembly in September 2006, a conference that CFI president Jim Jacobson participated in.

Then in August 2008, she traveled to Thailand and toured the Mae La refugee camp and left behind crates of donated supplies, including thousands of mosquito nets.

"I accept the 2008 Christian Freedom International Freedom award with great pleasure," said Bush in a video message.

She went on to note that tens of thousands of Burmese have been forced by the violence to live in refugee camps or in the harsh mountains without necessary food, medicine or shelter.

"I personally witnessed the devastating effects of these atrocities when I visited a refugee camp on the Burma border," Bush said. "That crisis needs our support and attention."

"The international community including the United States has called on the regime to end their terror campaigns against their own people, to stop the persecution of ethnic minorities and to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi," she added.

Christian Freedom International has worked extensively in Burma since 1998, delivering food, medicine, Bibles and other humanitarian aids to thousands of Karen and Karenni refugees. CFI also operates several schools, orphanages, and hospitals in the region, and provides microenterprise support to artisans who generate income for their family through the sale of handcrafted products in the United States.