The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
U.S. Must Find Moral Clarity Regarding Burma
February 10, 2023
UUSC has worked for more than two decades in Burma to help bring peace and justice to the people of Burma. Unfortunately, recent news developments have shown that the United States continues to make vital mistakes when attempting to demand justice for Burma.
President Biden pledged his support to the people of Burma and their efforts to restore democracy after the Burmese military violently attempted to overthrow the National League for Democracy, the country’s democratically elected government in 2021. This comes after two years of the junta waging war against its own people, killing and displacing thousands of ethnic and religious minorities.
Why then would the Administration invite Burma’s genocidal military to a defense meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN), co-hosted by Thailand and the United States? Even more troubling, the invitation occurred after Biden promised to work closely with “partners and allies, including [the] Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to hold accountable all those responsible for the coup and attacks on civilians.”
The United States and other countries have a choice—rescind the invitation or publically support and enable one of the world’s worst human rights oppressors.
The choice is clear: the invitation should be revoked.
Understanding the depths of the junta’s depravity is key to understanding why the invitation is unacceptable—and why it puts the United States and other countries in direct conflict with the human rights we purport to support.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), nearly 3,000 civilians have been killed, and over 17,000 have been arrested by the military since February 2021.
These numbers alone cannot fully convey the junta’s violence.
Thirty-five unarmed civilians, including two aid workers, were burned to death in a military massacre on Christmas Eve of 2021. Last October, one of the military’s unrelenting airstrikes killed a pregnant woman and her mother. Just four days after that airstrike, another aerial attack killed at least 80 people at an outdoor concert, the deadliest assault since the attempted coup began. Last July, four pro-democracy activists were executed after being convicted in sham trials.
These events are not isolated incidents, but rather point to a pattern of abuse. Four years before the coup began, the Burmese military launched a campaign to systematically erase the country’s Rohingya Muslims, killing 6,700 people in the first month alone. Today assaults continue and have been officially recognized as genocide by numerous countries—including the United States.
Allowing the junta to participate in ASEAN’s upcoming meeting legitimizes their standing on the world stage and shows indifference to human rights abuses. Burma’s military will learn military best practices and tactics to attack and suppress its own citizens. The United States should not be complicit in this abuse.
Even more concerning, this meeting will include tabletop exercises on maritime security. By strengthening the Burmese military’s capabilities, these countries will enable further attacks on the Burmese people and better train their oppressors.
The Burmese military has acted with impunity because the rest of the world allows it. The people of Burma face these horrors because the international community has been all too willing to ignore political repression, sexual violence, ethnic cleansing, and the junta’s other crimes against humanity.
Pulling the invitation would send a strong message to the people of Burma that the international community hears their cries for justice. It would also send a clear signal to other authoritarian regimes around the world that violations of human rights will not be tolerated.
This moment is an opportunity for moral clarity, particularly for the United States. In December, Congress passed the BURMA Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This much-needed legislation included a package of sanctions designed to hold the junta accountable.
Revoking the invitation to ASEAN’s summit is a critical step towards justice for the Burmese people and accountability for the junta. It will signify to the world that the United States will not stand by as democracy and human rights are attacked, whether at home or abroad.
President Biden, we urge you to keep your promise to the people of Burma. A recent report demonstrates just a fraction of what the Burmese military is doing to its own people. The United States cannot afford to abide this violence.
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