Strength for the Fight Ahead

January 20 marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. For human rights advocates, the past 365 days have been marked by daily efforts to resist actions from our nation’s highest office that propagate racism, hate, fear, ignorance, and greed. Right now, we are fighting for a clean Dream Act even as dysfunction in Washington holds up these efforts.

However, reflecting on the past year, and the work of our partners and staff in action, gives us hope—this work tells a story that is much more about courage and perseverance than one of despair.

Our shared vision of a world free from oppression provides fuel in the fight to advance human rights. Working together, with our partners and allies, we have activated strategies that confront unjust power structures and challenge oppressive policies.

Here are just a few moments from the past year that motivate us for the work that lies ahead.

This year, sustained by the passion of our community and supporters, we will continue to focus on strategies for protecting families fleeing violence in Central America, fighting for an end to ethnic cleansing in Burma, and responding to the front lines of climate change and ready to respond to natural disasters.

Take Action! The U.S. cannot support abuse and murder by the Burmese government

A bipartisan amendment (S.A. 607) introduced by Senators Markey, Gardner, and Cardin would cut off U.S. military assistance to Burma’s army, which is accused of crimes against humanity. We need to mobilize NOW and urge the Senate to adopt this amendment and we only have a few days!

The United States must act to stop the systematic brutality the Burmese military is inflicting on the Rohingya, and we need you to help amplify this message. Follow the instructions below to contact your Senator before the Tuesday vote.

Call your Senator now!

  1. Call (202) 224-3121. This number will direct you to the Capitol switchboard
  2. Ask to be connected to your Senator (Note that you will need to call twice to reach both senators!)
  3. A legislative assistant or answering machine will answer the phone. Give them this message, filling in your personal details:

“Hello, my name is ____ ____. I’m a constituent from [State and zip code]. I don’t need a response. I am calling to urge my senator to oppose increased embrace of the Burmese military by co-sponsoring Senate Amendment 607 to the National Defense Authorization Act. Thank you.

  1. If you haven’t already, call again to connect with your other senator.
  2. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues to join you in this action!

In the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya minority population of Burma have fled to Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh Border Guards have reported seeing Burma’s military fire machine guns and mortars at those trying to flee, including children. Many are stuck on the border where landmines have been buried. Thousands have died and untold numbers are being denied life-saving humanitarian aid.

Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, is arguably the most powerful person in Burma. He continues to oversee soldiers who rape women, arbitrarily shoot civilians, and burn entire villages to the ground. It is also under his command that conflicts in Kachin and Shan states have escalated, and he who has blocked constitutional reforms that would make Burma a legitimate democracy.

Incredibly, the current draft of the military budget, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which the U.S. Senate will consider next week calls for an expansion of U.S. military engagement with the military of Burma. This is unconscionable and the U.S. government’s message to Burma’s military must be clear: There can be no further engagement or assistance until the government of Burma ends abuses and demonstrates a real commitment to accountability and reconciliation.

Thank you!

Burma updates and actions

Crisis in Burma

The news from Burma is horrifying. Nearly half a million Rohingya refugees – an ethnic minority population – have fled Burma into Bangladesh in response to the Burmese military burning their villages and indiscriminately killing and raping their people. With no home, and very little access to food, shelter, and medicine they are fighting for their life. A humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions continues to unfold.

Take Action Today

Support our work
UUSC and our partners on the ground continue to advocate at all levels for a resolution to this crisis and work to provide humanitarian assistance on the ground. These efforts are critical steps in supporting communities at risk in Burma. Please make a donation to support this work today.

Sign the pledge
Show solidarity with our partners in Burma who are working to get people the assistance they need and advocate for action from the local level to the United Nations at uusc.org/burma-respond.

Background and History

UUSC has been partnering with grassroots organizations in Burma (Myanmar) since 2002. In that time we have responded to natural disasters, including Cyclone Nargis in 2008, considered the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of the country. We have also worked with rural villagers to protect their rights to land and livelihood and supported efforts to assist the country in making the transition to democracy and deescalate the violence against ethnic and religious minorities.

Map of Burma (Myanmar), with Rakhine State shaded in red.Within the last several years, Burma began the process of transitioning from a military dictatorship to a quasi-civilian government. This transition made UUSC and many others throughout the world hopeful that after decades of repressive military rule, the lack of national unity and numerous structural issues facing the country would be addressed. However, despite some positive aspects of the political transition, the human rights situation in Burma remains dire. The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic population, continue to suffer from systematic human rights violations, including the denial of citizenship rights, lack of access to healthcare and education, forced labor, and sexual violence. More than 100,000 Rohingya remain in internally displaced persons camps in Rakhine state and survive only with the assistance of strained humanitarian organizations.

Today, UUSC’s work in Burma centers around advancing the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the Rohingya. Our approach is two-fold: Inside the country, we work to strengthen the capacity and coordination of organizations who document human rights violations committed against minority groups and who work to build inclusive communities that value and respect diversity. Here at home, UUSC engages in strategic advocacy designed to influence the United Nations and the U.S. government to take a rights-centered approach to diplomacy in Burma and exert pressure on the Burmese government to protect ethnic and religious minority rights.

Recent Initiatives

In October 2016, attacks perpetrated by a Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) prompted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in which Burmese military forces perpetrated mass gang-rape, killings, disappearances, beatings, and other grave human rights violations. In response, UUSC participated in a coordinated advocacy campaign that resulted in the U.N. Human Rights Council establishing an international fact-finding mission (FFM) to establish facts of the alleged atrocities “with a view to ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

UUSC’s primary role in the campaign was to ensure the United States supports the establishment of an FFM and to exert pressure on the Burmese government to accept its terms. UUSC, together with our partner Fortify Rights, mobilized thousands of individuals to take action by signing a petition urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to support the FFM. Additionally, UUSC President and CEO Tom Andrews joined a panel including Mohamed Naeem, an ethnic Rohingya and human rights leader; Co-Founder and CEO of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith; and Program Manager of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide Andrea Gittleman in submitting testimony to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan body of the U.S Congress. The full hearing can be viewed here.

UUSC continues to work with our partners to ensure the FFM is an effective mechanism and to call on the Burmese government to allow investigators free and unfettered access to the affected region. The FFM experts are expected to give an oral update on their findings at the Human Rights Council’s 36th session in September 2017 and present its full findings at the Council’s 37th session in March 2018, although this timeline may be extended.

An Escalation of the Crisis and UUSC’s Response

More recently, in August 2017, just hours after Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State released their final report and recommendations, ARSA militants attacked thirty police stations and an army base in Northern Rakhine State. The Burmese military again responded with a brutal crackdown, shooting indiscriminately at civilians and burning entire villages to the ground. Current estimates are that nearly 400,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh between August and September 2017, and the U.N. human rights chief has called the military’s response a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” It is both a human rights and humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. The region is under complete lockdown, making access to reliable information extremely difficult, but reports coming from those who have made it across the border into Bangladesh are horrifying.

In response to this escalating crisis, UUSC is providing emergency assistance to our local partners, who are well-positioned to respond. Fortify Rights has been on the Burma-Bangladesh border for the last week taking testimonies of survivors. Another partner, the Center for Social Integrity, is working to deliver critical humanitarian aid in the form of medicine and phone cards. UUSC also recently advocated for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that the United States does not expand military-to-military cooperation with Burma.

Along with our allies and partners UUSC continues to monitor the situation closely and explore all opportunities to offer our support and work toward peaceful resolution.

Burma Must Follow Recommendations of Kofi Annan-Led Commission

The following statement was issued Wednesday, August 30, 2017, by Tom Andrews, President and CEO UUSC. Andrews and UUSC are urging the Burma (Myanmar) government and its State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to immediately accept and act upon key recommendations of a report issued last week by the independent Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

“The violence raging in Burma’s western Rakhine state follows longstanding repression and discrimination against the Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority. This latest tragedy befalling innocent Rohingya citizens will become worse unless action is taken to address its source. The government of Burma can begin by fulfilling its promise to act on the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

“The plight of Rohingya families is now compounded, as they are daily and increasingly in the crosshairs of fighting between Rohingya militants and Burmese military who systematically raid the region’s villages.

“We condemn the recent acts of violence in Rakhine between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the Burmese military.

“The increasing violence, as well as the rising specter of terrorist infiltration in the region, make it imperative that the key recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led independent Advisory Commission on Burma’s Rakhine State be accepted and acted upon immediately by the government of Burma and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We applaud the commission’s report, which addresses many of the region’s most immediate and pressing issues. And we particularly support the report’s recommendation to accelerate the citizen verification process and the benefits, rights and freedoms that are associated with citizenship.

“Even so, the report does not fully address the human rights of all Burmese Rakhine Muslim minority residents, who, under a 1982 law, are not even recognized as citizens. They are one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, and the world’s largest stateless community, despite the fact that they have lived in Burma for many decades.

“We now urge Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to immediately allow the U.N. fact finding mission access to Burma to establish the facts of what is occurring and what has prompted the violence. The U.N. mission must include an investigation of alleged human rights abuses that are reported to involve sweeping arrests, deaths in custody, the blockade of food and aid to civilians, as well as reports of a large increase in military troops in the region and growing tension between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities.

“We further call on the government and military to distinguish between Rakhine civilians and combatants in their response, and to not repeat the scorched-earth response that followed last October’s violence. It is a response that will further inflame an already critical situation that could lead to even greater and more catastrophic violence.

“We also implore the governments of Burma and Bangladesh to allow greater access to humanitarian workers helping the affected population.

“Thousands of Rohingya are now fleeing to the Bangladesh border asking for asylum, but many are being sent back at fear for their lives. Villages are now being burned. Even Burmese Buddhists in the region are also fleeing the area to safety in Sittwe, a Buddhist majority city in southern Rakhine state.

“This egregious violation of human rights on all fronts must stop. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has long supported the wellbeing and human rights of the Rohingya people. We will not stop. And we are now accelerating our call to leaders in the United States, other world bodies and faith leaders globally for increased world influence to end this tragedy.”