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.

Crimes Against Humanity Escalate in Burma

[March 9, 2017: This post was updated to reflect accurate numbers of people killed, from 86 to 1,000].

Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic and religious minority population in Burma (Myanmar), are one of the most persecuted groups in the world and are currently facing extreme violence at the hands of the Burmese military.

In northern Rakhine State, on October 9, 2016, militants attacked three police outposts, armed with mostly sticks and knives, killing nine police. This triggered retaliatory attacks by the Burmese military that have included killing of civilians, including children and babies, mass rape, and a scorched-earth practice that has destroyed over 1,400 homes, mosques, and other Rohingya-owned structures. The military has claimed that this is simply a “clearance operation” against terrorists, but it has indiscriminately and disproportionately harmed large numbers of civilians. The horror is compounded by the fact that the military has barred journalists and independent human rights monitors from the area and have restricted humanitarian aid – including food and healthcare – to people living in the IDP camps.

Map of Burma (Myanmar), Rakhine State highlighted in red.Rohingya activists and the international community have argued that these most recent atrocities are part of a long-standing campaign against the Rohingya that has been called “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing,” and even “genocide.” Indeed, the International State Crime Initiative has documented the process of genocide unfolding in Rakhine State.

Since October, attacks have included state-sanctioned violence such as:

There are also reports of security forces restricting humanitarian aid, including from the World Food Program, from Rohingya IDP camps where there are no other sources of food. An estimated 3,000 children in these areas already suffer from severe acute malnutrition and will likely die without this support.

In light of this violence, 66,000 people have fled across the border to Bangladesh, where they continue to face inhumane treatment. There have been reports of refugees shot, beaten, and robbed while trying to cross the border. Those who make it often find themselves in the cramped makeshift homes of earlier refugees or struggle to survive on the roads and in the woods with no shelter.

UUSC is working directly with our grassroots partners on the ground in Burma, as well as Rohingya leaders and other allied groups who are documenting the atrocities, calling for an independent investigation into the human rights abuses and providing food and aid to those in desperate need. In early February, UUSC staff joined a broad coalition of human rights organizations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to discuss a joint international strategy to respond to the situation. We are now jointly calling for the U.N. Human Rights Council to pass a resolution to mandate a Commission of Inquiry comprising international experts to examine all human rights violations, establish facts, and assess alleged crimes under international law in Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims and other Muslims as well as Rakhine Buddhists.

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 Rights Reading covers abuses in Burma against the Rohingya, the latest on Trump’s travel ban, and the life-saving work of one of our partner organizations. 

UN report details ‘devastating cruelty’ against Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine province, UN News Centre, February 3, 2017

“The Government of Myanmar must immediately halt these grave human rights violations against its own people, instead of continuing to deny they have occurred, and accepts the responsibility to ensure that victims have access to justice, reparations and safety.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a flash report detailing human rights abuses that have been taking place in Burma against the Rohingya minority Muslim population. This report is based on over 220 interviews and testimonies collected since October 2016, though this kind of violence has been taking place for decades. Kidnapping, rape, killings, forced displacement, and houses being burned down are detailed in the report. The widespread discrimination and violence against the Rohingya are systemic and most likely considered a crime against humanity. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also expressed serious concern and have called the abuses against children “totally unacceptable.”

The report concludes that the government must take action and do more to stop these human rights abuses.

Court Refuses to Reinstate Travel Ban, Dealing Trump Another Legal Loss, The New York Times, Adam Liptak, February 9, 2017

Last week, James Robart, a federal district judge, blocked aspects of the latest executive orders to ban refugees and migrants from seven majority Muslim countries. This decision was upheld unanimously by the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The decision was based on a lack of evidence that suggests acts of terrorism would increase and that the United States would be unsafe. The decision, while temporary, is predicted to be go to the Supreme Court, which is currently still operating without the ninth Justice. This could result in a tie decision, which would leave the 9th circuit decision in place.

The travel ban, which restricted refugees from seven countries and temporarily halted even visitors from those countries, has had the effect of approximately 60,000 canceled visas. Hundreds of individuals and families are now able to resume canceled flights and be reunited with their loved ones. This court ruling had no effect on other parts of the executive order, such as the decreased number of refugees that will be admitted, which the Trump administration reduced by more than 50%.

UUSC applauds the decision by the 9th circuit. Read our full statement here.

19,444 gallons of water in the desert: how volunteers save lives at the US border, The Guardian, Carrot Quinn, February 9, 2017

No More DeathsWater jugs left in the desert for migrants crossing the US-Mex border, a humanitarian aid organization and UUSC partner, delivered nearly 20,000 gallons of water throughout the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border last year. No More Deaths, a primarily volunteer-run organization, is able to run solely on volunteers – volunteers that hike for hours in the heat or in the cold along migrant trails, leaving water, food, clothing, and other supplies in certain spots.

It is not uncommon for volunteers to find human remains during their drop-offs. An estimated 6,029 bodies have been discovered in Arizona along the border since the 1990s. This month alone, volunteers have already come across five human remains. The number of deaths that have occurred are likely much higher than the estimates, as many disappearances have never been resolved.

No More Deaths is literally saving lives from risk of dehydration and starvation. Many who cross the border, or have attempted to cross the border are fleeing extreme violence in the Northern Triangle region. The situations are so desperate that many children and minors attempt this journey alone.

Read more about UUSC’s migrant justice work and details about the continuing efforts of our partner organizations in the United States to advocate for the rights of asylum-seekers once they arrive at the end of their perilous journeys.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s articles include disturbing news from Burma, holiday celebrations from families in detention, and the dismantling of a problematic registry program. Next week, we’ll be taking a break from Rights Reading for the holidays.

At immigration detention center, every child has same Christmas wish: freedom, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, December 21, 2016

“I knew I couldn’t trust my own government in Honduras, that they wouldn’t protect us. But we came here to the United States of America thinking that this was the home of human rights, that we would find protection here. I never dreamed we would be treated this way.”

Christmas drawings from children held in detention at Berks County Detention Center.

Nearly 20 children will be spending their second Christmas in a row locked up in the Berks County Detention Center, near Berks, Penn. These children, ages two to nine-years-old, were asked what they wanted for Christmas. The wish lists had typical requests that kids would want: toys, dolls, electronics, and other gadgets; but there was one item on the list that every child wanted: to be out of detention. Whether it was to spend time with a loved one outside of detention, to be out of the Berks center, or just freedom, these children expressed the desire to be released from behind bars.

The mothers and children have fled from the Northern Triangle, a region in Central America that is considered to be the most dangerous of the world. These families have come to the United States fleeing gang violence and death threats that have become rampant in this region only to be detained for an indefinite amount of time. Immigrant groups and other advocacy groups, including UUSC, argue that there is no reason why these families should not be released, and in fact, studies have shown the psychological and emotional damage that prolonged detention has on children. These advocate groups and families are even more anxious now with the new administration threatening to deport them immediately.

For more information on the impact detention is having on families, read UUSC’s report, “No Safe Haven Here, a mental health assessment of women and children held in U.S. immigration detention.

Aldea, one of our advocacy partners, has put together an amazing Berks advent calendar, where you can take action and support these children at Berks. Help spread the word and bring hope to these families.

Obama to Dismantle Visitor Registry Before Trump Can Revive It, The New York Times, J. David Goodman and Ron Nixon, December 22, 2016

“We refuse to build a database of people based on their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”

We’re excited to share an update and victory to one of our previous Rights Reading articles, about the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (Nseers), a visa-tracking program that would essentially be used to register Arabs and Muslims. UUSC, along with 200 other organizations, signed a letter to President Obama asking him to abolish this program. We’re happy to report that the Obama administration has officially dismantled this program in preparation for the incoming administration, which has suggested a revival of this program or something similar to it.

Not only is Nseers controversial, the Department of Homeland Security also found it to be “redundant, inefficient, with no added security”. In addition, there were no terrorism convictions as a result of Nseers.

This announcement follows news of a powerful pledge from hundreds of technology companies, including Facebook and Google, declaring “they stood in solidarity with Muslim Americans and immigrants and would not use their skills for the ‘new administration’s proposed data-collection policies.” We encourage you to read the full statement.

Militants in Myanmar Spur Army Reprisals, Refugee Flight, Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2016

“Despite living in Rakhine state for generations, Rohingya Muslims are seen by many in the country not as fellow citizens but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.”

Rohingya refugee breaks down during protest.

United Nations officials are claiming that a genocide is unfolding in Rakhine State in western Burma against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. Radical, nationalist monks and their political allies in government have convinced millions that Muslims in general, and the Rohingya in particular, are a threat to their religion, their families, and their nation. Concentration-like camps have been built and entire villages are under attack. Recent satellite imagery shows that at least three have been burnt to the ground.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya are risking their lives to get out of the country as fast as possible. UUSC is working directly with our partners on the ground in Burma, as well Rohingya leaders and other allied groups who are fighting to document the truth and get food and aid to those in desperate need.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Refugees share personal stories with members of Congress” Samantha-Jo Roth, KCRG-TV9, Cedar Rapids, IA, September 29, 2016

A group of refugees from all 50 states met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., this week, sharing their stories in an effort to change opinions and encourage Congress to support increased refugee resettlement in the United States. They represent the Refugee Congress, an organization supported by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, Church World Service, the Refugee Council USA, and other nonprofits and NGOs.

Roth’s video and print coverage of the event includes stories from individual refugees such as Kalisa Ndikumwimana and Fidel Nshombo of the Congo, who now live in North Dakota and Idaho, respectively. Using his personal story to advocate for continued admission of refugees and asylum-seekers into the United States, Fidel says, “We cannot stop something to fix it. We fix it as we go, because that’s how you learn, and that’s what I want the senator to do.”

You can add your voice to those of Fidel, Kalisa, and others by writing your own senators and representative to urge them to defy hate speech, fully fund programs to admit refugees as authorized for FY 2017, and ensure that the United States makes us proud by standing up for human rights.

2. “New Report: Poor Americans of Color Drink Filthy Water and Breathe Poisonous Air All the Damn Time,” Julian Lurie, Mother Jones Magazine, September 29, 2016

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a government watchdog group, issued a report detailing multiple failures by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce its own anti-discrimination policies in communities of color from Richmond, California to Flint, Michigan, and Uniontown, Alabama. These anti-discrimination policies are based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents the spending of federal dollars from being used in a discriminatory fashion.

“EPA does not take action when faced with environmental justice concerns until forced to do so,” the report reads. “When they do act, they make easy choices and outsource any environmental justice responsibilities onto others.”

Lurie’s reporting shows that while the EPA has received 300 discrimination complaints since 1993, it has “never made a formal finding of discrimination and has never denied or withdrawn financial assistance from a recipient in its entire history.”

The report documents a case in which toxic coal ash was removed from a spill in a predominantly white community in Tennessee and dumped in a landfill less than a mile away from Uniontown, Alabama, a town that is 90% black. Uniontown residents soon reported breathing problems, rashes, nausea, nosebleeds, and other symptoms. They filed a complaint with the EPA three years ago, and have not received a response despite regulations requiring action within six months.

UUSC has been advocating for the human right to clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation for years, including publication of its 2016 research report, “The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States,” and other efforts to advocate for the human right to water. Watch for additional UUSC research and advocacy efforts regarding the human right to water in the coming months.

3. “Myanmar Refugees, Including Muslim Rohingya, Outpace Syrian Arrivals in US,” VOA News, September 20, 2016

The startling news that more refugees are admitted to the United States from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, than from Syria is both an indictment of U.S. policies on refugees from the Middle East and an eye-opening insight into the suffering of the Rohingya people at the hands of their government.

The VOA News article reports that from October 2015 through September 15, 2016, 11,902 Myanmar nationals were resettled in the United States, compared with 11,598 from Syria. It also notes that the Rohingya are persecuted because they are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Ironically, ncreased freedom of speech since the end of military rule in 2011 has permitted the expression of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the current State Counsellor of Myanmar, is widely respected for her stance in favor of human rights, for which she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. However, 125,000 Rohingya residents are currently detained in internal camps in Myanmar, and there are continued reports of demolitions of their mosques, residences, and other buildings.

UUSC has worked in Myanmar on behalf of human rights since providing humanitarian relief in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2002, and again following the earthquake of 2011. Since that time, UUSC has supported longer-term efforts with several peace-oriented projects after the country’s transition to civilian rule. More recently, UUSC has been working with partners focused on promoting religious harmony and cultural tolerance. Relief efforts aimed at the Rohingya people in 2015 included health education and child nutrition programs along with mental health care, language training, and advocacy for women’s empowerment.

UUSC partners in Myanmar have identified the need for additional national and international awareness of Rohingya issues, and engagement of international NGOs concerning stateless Rohingya people. A delegation of UUSC staff and volunteers plans to visit Myanmar in the coming months to assess the situation first-hand.