Monthly Archives: October 2013

PGA Panel on Burma

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On October 4, 2013 Burma Task Force USA hosted a  panel on the Human Rights Crisis in Burma as part of the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development, and Human Rights conference, timed to coincide with the UN High Level Dialogue on International  Migration and Development . It was moderated by  Adem Carroll, Burma Task Force USA, with:

Jennifer Quigley, Executive Director US Campaign for Burma

Ms. Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya activist, law student, and Director of Women Peace Network-Arakan (WPNA).

Ms. Debbie Stothard Secretary-General of FIDH and Coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma)

Ms Jenna Capeci Director of Asia Programs, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

Followed by Open Discussion of Organizing and Advocacy Strategies. For video excerpts see below:

One question that panelists were considering was why the Muslim minorities were being attacked so viciously now just as Burma is opening up to foreign trade along with some political reforms. And, disturbingly, it turns out that development policy is actually a contributing factor in the violence.

This is because over two million acres of land have been stolen from the communities after they are chased from their villages in the last two years alone. The government is able to steal land since they simply do not recognize ownership and in the case of ethnic groups like the Rohingya refuse to acknowledge their identity or their right to remain in Burma. In areas like Sandoway and still-smoldering Kyaukpyu this land expropriation is linked to mall and “mini-Singapore” infrastructure development schemes implemented by military and other elites, in some cases with foreign investors.

“It’s so important to follow the money, “ stated panelist Debbie Stothard, a human rights defender born in Malaysia and now serving as Secretary General of FIDH, one of the oldest international human rights organizations in the world (having initiated the formation of the International Criminal Court, among other achievements) . “All of this terrible and unjust persecution is made possible because of the culture of impunity in Burma. And the international community only sees the government of Myanmar as part of the solution rather than the problem. There is a gold rush situation with new investors flooding in, but meanwhile there are no labor laws. Because of the land theft some Burmese tell me that these development projects are harder to deal with than the decades of war. We need to hold the government of Myanmar accountable before we allow foreign investment to profit.”

Visit with Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

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On August 20 2013 met for over an hour with Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen, Permanent Representative for OIC at the United Nations. We discussed OIC’s role in pressuring the government of Myanmar and in building consensus around human rights and the rule of law. We also discussed the role of our Task Force and the potential for various strategies.

He very much likes the idea of Buddhist-Muslim dialogue and promoting this visibly. It need not be strong advocacy and may be better not to be at least in the beginning. He also says the government of Myanmar is not hostile to the idea. Regarding the earlier Religions of Peace statement in Bangkok, he says that there will be conference to follow up.

Ambassador Gokcen signed the Memorandum (MoC) with the government of Myanmar, after an 11 day visit in 2012, including to camps for the displaced, an experience which moved him greatly. He noted that the Myanmar government reneged on their earlier agreement to allow an OIC office in Myanmar. The “verification process” also stopped.

The citizenship issue is a “long term” challenge and of course with the upcoming census the government is playing all sorts of games. However in July in response to an earlier request they received an invitation for the OIC Secretary General and five ministers to visit Burma. This may happen around the time of the next General Assembly in late September. One way or another, OIC has been working on a resolution for the General Assembly and working to get support.

There were other discussion about allies at Alliance of Civilizations and the Commission on Freedom of Religion, which he says is “not comfortable with the green light the US has given Myanmar.” He is also in regular touch with Human Rights Watch as well as close to Dr Wakaruddin.

I was impressed by the Ambassador’s level of commitment to this issue.  One indication is that of his 170 tweets this year, 160 have been about Burma Muslims.

We spoke about Islamophobia and also about Egypt. The Ambassador noted that one Deputy Secretary General is Egyptian and the other is Saudi, and that the third is from Sudan. We also note that the current Secretary General’s term ends at the end of 2013 and the new designated successor is a Saudi.