Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Message from Tom Andrews of United to End Genocide


Thanks to you, 2016 could be the year for the lives of the ethnic minority Rohingya in Burma to finally improve. Your commitment and activism has put the plight of the Rohingya front and center, and it was just recognized by Nick Kristof in the New York Times:

Bravo to advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and United to End Genocide that have spotlighted the continuing brutality against the Rohingya.

Kudos to humanitarian groups that ease the suffering where the government allows them to: On one large island that I reached by boat, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children are providing lifelines of healthcare and education.

Yet aid groups have been barred from many areas, and the systematic destruction of the Rohingya remains one of the 21st century’s most neglected human rights catastrophes.

Nick Kristof

Beyond the nice pat on the back, what’s really critical about Nick’s piece is the recognition that now is the time to increase pressure on Burma’s new government to stop the attacks against the Rohingya.

Even as Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi prepares to take charge of the country, the conditions that resulted in the Rohingya’s massive exodus by sea this past summer still exist.

Some 140,000 Rohingya remain trapped in squalid displacement camps, while another million face ongoing severe restrictions on basic rights including the right of citizenship and self-identification. After being barred from running for office, there will be not a single Muslim member of Parliament in Burma for the first time since Burma’s independence in 1948.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, has demonstrated that it too harbors much of the same prejudice against the Rohingya as the repressive military and extremist Buddhists.

When asked about the Rohingya, senior leader U Win Htein said, “We have other priorities” mirroring the current government’s troubling sentiment that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants.

We need to change these misguided priorities. Now, more than ever, outside pressure on Burma is needed. We ended 2015 on a high note, pushing back against hate groups in Burma. Legislation was passed barring any U.S. funds to anyone that “advocates violence against ethnic or religious groups and individuals in Burma, including such organizations as Ma Ba Tha.”

And thanks to your support, we are ready for 2016. We will push President Obama to call upon Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration to protect the Rohingya when they visit the United States in February for the U.S.-ASEAN summit.

I’ll be returning to Burma later next month to assess conditions on the ground, issue reports to you and key decision makers and continue building our network of regional parliamentarians to widen the circle of pressure on Burma.

And we will be increasing our efforts to establish an International Commission of Inquiry into Evidence of Genocide against the Rohingya to ensure that troubling evidence of genocide is properly investigated and addressed.

Nick ended his piece by reminding us that what is happening in Burma “Is a crime against humanity, and addressing it is the responsibility of all humanity.” Indeed it is, and I’m so thankful for your activism and support that allows us to keep fighting for the Rohingya.

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