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.

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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.

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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.”

UUSC Provides Aid with Dignity

Described by the United Nations as the largest humanitarian crisis since WWII, a widespread and enduring drought in East Africa is putting millions at risk of starvation. As with all of UUSC’s emergency initiatives, our goal is to provide aid with dignity to protect the lives of those affected by the famine but left out of traditional humanitarian relief efforts. We will achieve this goal through our usual partnership model, working with two long-time partners, SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group and the Tanzania Gender Networking Program.

Our collaboration with SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group (SFMG) in Kenya builds upon our previous work together. A number of years back, UUSC funded SFMG’s Food Security Project, which taught families the skills and knowledge needed to plant crops that are drought-resistant. Fortunately, the crops planted through this past program have withstood the extreme conditions facing much of East Africa today. Families that learned to harvest these resilient crops through SFMG’s project are now coming together with whatever surplus they have to assist those most in need, and have even set up five food donation centers that provide food to orphans, widows, and the elderly.

In addition to immediate aid, families are in need of long-term solutions to address food sustainability. With UUSC’s support, SFMG will help 400 households in the larger Kakamega community in Kenya by providing seeds to plant resilient crops (e.g. cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum), and by leading community trainings on food security, environmental degradation, and proper harvesting techniques. Additionally, members of UUSC and SFMG’s past Food Security Project will visit schools to educate youth on the importance of crop diversity and environmental matters.

In the Dodoma region of Tanzania, UUSC is working with the Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP Mtandao) to provide humanitarian relief and capacity building to women-led households. The prolonged drought adversely affected crop production and livestock development in many parts of Tanzania, but Dodoma was hit particularly hard. With UUSC’s support, TGNP intends to supply three months worth of crops to around 600 female-led families. In addition to this critical support, the project will focus on increasing awareness of women’s rights, economic justice, food security, and alternative agriculture.

Our East African famine projects will be supported through UUSC’s Emergency Humanitarian Crisis Fund, which also provides critical disaster relief for those affected by the destructive cyclone in Burma last May. Please consider making a contribution to this fund today!


UUSC Applauds Ambassador Haley’s Call for Truth in Burma

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley did the right thing yesterday by publicly calling on the government of Burma (Myanmar) to allow access to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) fact-finding mission. We applaud Ambassador Haley’s statement and urge her to continue to use the United States’ position as a member of the UNHRC to call for the truth.

Since violent clashes in 2012, the Burmese government has confined more than 120,000 Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority, to more than 40 internally displaced persons camps where they are forced to rely on international food and medical aid to survive. The situation escalated late last year when the Burmese military launched a counterinsurgency campaign resulting in indiscriminate killings, mass rape, and destroyed at least 1,500 Rohingya homes, mosques, and other Muslim-owned structures. Aid workers, journalists, and independent human rights monitors have been barred from the area.

In March the UNHRC passed a resolution to “establish facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.”

Now the government of Burma, under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is denying access to the mission in an effort to shield the military from accountability. It is bitterly ironic that the very leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights advocacy, which included calling for international investigations in Burma, is now blocking access to truth and transparency in the country.

The response of Suu Kyi and her government begs the question – “What is the government and military of Burma trying to hide?” It makes this mission even more important. Ambassador Haley must continue her strong, public stand for the truth to be revealed in Burma and for the victims of relentless human rights violations at the hands of the military.

We applaud Ambassador Haley for supporting those under relentless siege in Burma. This type of diplomacy, along with U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s ongoing support for human rights in Burma is the type of leadership needed in this moment.

We Can Do So Much Together

As the end of the fiscal year swiftly approaches, we are working to reach our goal for the 2017 Annual Fund. UUSC has set an ambitious goal of $300,000 and we need your help! Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated by the UUSC team, our partners, and those whose rights are threated around the world. We need to meet our $300,000 target by June 30, 2017, so please considering making your gift today!

Your Annual Fund gift will help projects like the ones listed below and more. Please consider making a donation to support our work today.

Provide Legal Assistance to Immigrants and Asylum-Seekers on the U.S. Border

UUSC is continuing our work with RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to provide legal assistance to vulnerable women and children fleeing dangerous conditions in the Northern Triangle. Due to the current political climate, immigrant rights and safety are at risk, so UUSC’s partnership with RAICES is even more important. With your continued support, RAICES is able to provide Central American refugees with much needed resources.

Work to End Human Rights Abuses in Burma

UUSC is partnering with grassroots organizations in Burma (Myanmar) to raise awareness and take action against the on-going (and startlingly under-reported) violence against the Rohingya minority. The Rohingya, a religious and ethnic minority in Burma’s Rakhine State, are being denied basic human rights and have had their sense of security stripped away.

Earlier this year, thousands of UUSC supporters joined us in calling on Secretary Tillerson to support a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these abuses. That investigation is now underway, but due in part to a lack of global outrage and governmental accountability, the Burmese government has been able to continue carrying out horrific human rights violations. UUSC is committed to working with our partners on the ground to document violence and advocate for change in the region.

Support LGBTQI Rights

In many countries in southern Africa, homophobia remains embedded in political, religious, and social spheres–often with violent consequences. Countless LGBTQI individuals are denied safety, freedom, and dignity simply because of who they are. UUSC is working with our local partners on grassroots advocacy and faith-based tolerance trainings, which will be integral in dismantling institutionalized prejudice in countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.

If you are able, please consider making a gift in support of this important work. Whatever you can contribute will be greatly appreciated. Nothing we accomplish would be possible without you—our committed supporters—and for that, you have our deepest thanks.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading includes a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s catch up on the recent rulings on Trump’s travel bans, human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar), and immigration in the United States.

Two Federal Judges Rule Against Trump’s Latest Travel Ban, Alexander Burns, The New York Times, March 15, 2017

 “This is a great day for democracy, religious and human rights. I am very pleased that the processing of my mother-in-law’s paperwork will not stop now but more importantly that this Muslim ban will not separate families and loved ones just because they happen to be from the six countries.” -Mr. Elshikh

Two federal judges, from Hawaii and Maryland, blocked the Trump Administration’s revised travel ban earlier this week. This is the second setback since Trump issued the new executive order banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. The first block was from a federal court in Seattle. The federal judges both argued that the travel ban was discriminatory and based on religion, making it unconstitutional. In addition, the lawsuits mention that the executive order harms the operations of various organizations, schools, and hospitals overseas.

Learn more about the effects these executive orders are having on immigrant families in our blog, DHS Memos Threaten Immigrants’ Rights, Families, and Safety.

Myanmar must ‘allow Rohingya to leave camps’, Al Jazeera, March 16, 2017

Former U.N. Secretary, General Kofi Annan, was appointed to lead a commission by Burma’s (Myanmar) current de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. The commission released a report stating that Burma must close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that have been housing and trapping thousands of Rohingya, Burma’s Muslim minority, for the past five years. The Rohingya are not recognized citizens and are denied basic rights, including healthcare, education, and often, humanitarian aid. The report also recommends that the U.N. to run an independent investigation into the ongoing violence and persecution of that has been taking place over decades.

Today, UUSC President and CEO Tom Andrews, along with other human rights leaders, gave testimony on the humanitarian situation in Burma. Click here to watch the hearing and join our call for a Commission of Inquiry at uusc.org/truthforrohingya.

Donald Trump’s Crackdown On Undocumented Immigrants Is Silencing Exploited Workers, Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 8, 2017

The Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants may have opposite consequences than intended. Christopher Williams, a lawyer who works closely with undocumented immigrants states, “I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.”

In light of the recent raids, some workers are even denying back pay, afraid of providing their home addresses for fear of deportation. The increase in raids and deportations are creating unsafe working environments to an already vulnerable population.