The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Burma Criticized by Annual Human Trafficking Report

Less than one hundred days after Burma’s democratically elected government took office, the US State Department declared that it would put the country on its list of worst human trafficking offenders. The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report downgraded Burma to the lowest tier, Tier 3, where it joins the rank of countries such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Rationalizing the demotion, the report explains that “the Government of Burma does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period.”

Many view this ranking as a US criticism of the Burmese government’s treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority population within the country. The military junta that formerly held complete control over Burma firmly asserts that the Rohingya are external immigrants, referring to them as “Bengalis” because of the belief that the Rohingya originated from Bangladesh. Through government policies, such as revoking the citizenship of the Rohingya and passing discriminatory race laws, the country has taken significant measures to isolate and expel the population. Additionally, Buddhist nationalism has led many in the general population to discriminate against the Rohingya, forcing entire families and communities into government-run camps where they are denied basic human rights.

The persecution of the Rohingya has driven many to flee from the country, and, in their desperation, fall into the hands of human traffickers. According to the International Organization for Migration, in the first three months of 2015, an estimated 25,000 Southeast Asian migrantsprimarily Rohingyapiled into rickety boats and paid smugglers inordinate fees to bring them to neighboring countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. When the boats are not stranded at sea and rejected by neighboring countries, they become an easy target for human traffickers. Once captured and taken to countries like Thailand, the Rohingya are thrown in camps in the middle of the jungle where they are held until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them. In 2015, a joint military-police task force discovered mass graves at these trafficking camps, holding the bodies of dozens of Rohingya. At the time of the discovery, Thailand was also a Tier 3 human trafficking offender, but it has since made the leap to the Tier 2 “watchlist” due to its increased prosecutions of traffickers in the seafood industry.

Today, the government of Burma is no longer completely controlled by the military. In November 2015, The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the majority of seats in Parliament. While the foreign citizenship of Suu Kyi’s children constitutionally bars her from serving as president, she still wields primary control over the government. Many hoped that Suu Kyi would reverse the discriminatory policies that marginalize the Rohingya, but instead, Suu Kyi has faced heavy criticism for her silence on the issue. Recently, she even asked the US not refer to the minority as ‘Rohingya’ due to the fact that they are not recognized in Burma.

While mass migration by boat has become less common over the last few months, local communities continue to harbor a deep-rooted hatred for the Rohingya and force the minority into camps. Thus, many still face forced labor and the exploitation of human traffickers. “The chronic, chronic abuse of the Rohingya has not been dealt with at all,” a U.S. congressional aide said when asked about the TIP report. Changes must be made in Suu Kyi’s approach to the Rohingya situation if Burma is to improve its standing in the international community next year. 

101Casey Bush is a rising sophomore at Clark University, where she leads the Clark STAND chapter. She is a summer intern for STAND in Washington, DC, and is STAND’s incoming Campaigns Coordinator. Casey can be reached at cbush@standnow.org.

As Burundi Crisis Worsens, African Union Must Act to Prevent Genocide

In January, a leaked United Nations (UN) memo revealed that there is no UN plan to prevent genocide in Burundi. Since then, the crisis has only worsened. The UN and African Union (AU) have faltered on responses, and peace talks remain at a standstill.

In the 1990s, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, shaken from African inaction during the Rwandan genocide, took the lead on ending the civil war in Burundi. As the West again failed to act, Nyerere pulled together a coalition of East African leaders to denounce the military coup and organize an oil embargo and wider sanctions on the country. These sanctions were carefully planned to bring the government to the negotiating table, but not to have a negative impact on Burundian civilians. As was their hope, the economic impact on the elite drove the government to the negotiating table, eventually leading to the 2005 Arusha Peace Agreement. In comparison to the 1990s, African leadership to resolve the current crisis has been sorely lacking. In January, the AU voted to send a 5,000 member peacekeeping mission to Burundi, but when Burundi, predictably, refused to consent to their deployment, the AU backed off, failing to come up with other options to protect civilians.

Burundi zoomSince gaining independence in 1962, Burundi has witnessed a number of armed conflicts, often between the Hutu and Tutsi groups. The discord between the groups can be traced to the Belgian colonial administration, which favored Tutsi over Hutu. In 1972, as a result of this division, and continued favoritism of Tutsi in post-colonial Burundi, Hutu began attacking Tutsi with a declared attempt at annihilation. In response, what has been termed a “selective genocide,” broke out against Hutu intellectuals in 1972. After the first democratically-elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated in 1993, civil war broke out between Hutu and Tutsi, finally concluding in 2005 with the Arusha Peace Agreement.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, became president following the agreement. Since then, and even before the recent third term crisis, Nkurunziza faced accusations for his growing authoritarianism as well as his violent crackdown on opposition parties. The current crisis was sparked last spring when Nkurunziza declared his bid for a third term, which is prohibited by the Arusha Peace Agreement, and, arguably, the Burundi constitution. While Nkurunziza supporters argue that he was appointed rather than elected for his first term and, therefore, the choice is constitutional, those opposed to the third term insist that the decision violates the Arusha Peace Agreement. Additionally, while the constitutional court ruled in Nkurunziza’s favor, many believe that they were threatened to do so.

In light of the anti-third term protests, the government has shut down a number of the country’s most popular radio stations and newspapers, obstructing the movement of information within the country, and leaving citizens to rely on social media as their main source of information. The government has also arrested thousands of perceived political opponents, including journalists and over 500 students who were detained for doodling on images of Nkurunziza in their textbooks. In the past year, there have been at least 651 reported torture cases in all nine provinces of Burundi, including by electrical shock and use of acid. Testimonies show women forced to strip naked to see relatives in prison, and Human Rights Watch has reported gang-rape of women by youth militia members as part of attacks on perceived opponents. Perhaps most worryingly, hate speech is being used against political opponents – much as it was used against Tutsi during the genocide in Rwanda. UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra-ad al-Hussein stated in June that, “There are also deeply disturbing allegations of ethnic-based hate speech against Tutsis during a large public rally organised two weeks ago in the south of the country by the Imbonerakure militia. These allegations of speech amounting to incitement to violence must be urgently addressed.”

As the violence in Burundi escalates, moving towards what could be genocide, we must heed the lessons of Nyerere and his regional leadership on Burundi. That’s why we’re urging the African Union (AU) to prioritize Burundi and its people before the conflict worsens.

Specifically, we are calling on the AU to:

  1. Publicly condemn hate speech from all parties in Burundi;
  2. Urge the UN Security Council to support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal for a robust 3,000-member police protection mission in Burundi;
  3. Work with African Union member states, as well as the UN, to fulfill the agreed-upon 200 human rights and military monitors for Burundi;
  4. Urge the East African Community to support former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa as a peace talk facilitator by giving him more independence as lead facilitator; and
  5. Include non-governmental representatives from Burundi, including civil society in exile, refugees, women, youth, and other minority groups, in dialogue about next steps for peace in Burundi.

You can help us advocate for Burundian civilians by signing and sharing our petition to the AU. It’s now or never!

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Casey Bush is a rising sophomore at Clark University, where she leads the Clark STAND chapter. She is a summer intern for STAND in Washington, DC, and is STAND’s incoming Campaigns Coordinator. Casey can be reached at cbush@standnow.org.

STAND MC: Finding Purpose in Passion

Ever since 5th grade, I have been passionate about genocide prevention. Admittedly an odd interest for a 10 year old, I always knew it was my calling to make a difference. I wasn’t exactly sure how my interests would translate in the real world as it seemed  there were only a limited number of jobs for a Holocaust and Genocide Studies major. However, joining STAND changed all of that.

At the very first STAND Summit I attended, I met people from all over the world who were working to prevent mass atrocities and who worked in a number of different environments—some of which I never knew existed! These people were passionate, engaged, and (best of all) incredibly kind and welcoming. I was so inspired by this community of activists that I decided to apply to be on the Managing Committee (MC). I hoped that I could inspire others to follow their passions and change the world like the STAND members had already inspired me to do. I could not have been happier when I got the call that I had received the position of Midwest Regional Organizer (RO)!

Being a part of the MC has been both inspiring and extremely fun. The MC retreat in particular is one of my favorite memories of being on the Managing Committee thus far. The retreat, which happens twice a year in Washington DC, is where we plan for the semester, hear from speakers from various conflict areas around the world, and bond with our fellow MC members. Ordering pizza, listening to music, and learning about one another through silly icebreakers kept me laughing all night! In fact, it was so hard to leave the retreat after we all became so close!

To anyone thinking about applying for the MC, I would say: if you are passionate about genocide prevention and ready to commit yourself to the cause, then definitely do it. As a member of the Managing Committee, I have learned how to lobby, how to work with a team to lead an NGO, and how to support several chapters that are thousands of miles away from me. Because of the incredible opportunities that STAND offers students, I have gained confidence in myself and my ability to lead. It never crossed my mind that I would have the chance to speak to Congressional staffers on Capitol Hill or become friends with people going to school across the country. Because of the incredible experiences I’ve had on the MC, I feel more prepared for the next steps in my life in my work with in the anti-genocide movement.

From internships to an eventual career, I believe that STAND has opened the door to so many possibilities that I would otherwise not know about. Because of STAND, and the MC, I have stepped out of my comfort zone as a shy freshman to discover the world and change it for the better!

 

Follow this link to learn more and apply by April 1st!


101Casey Bush is a freshman at Clark University, where she is an active member of her school’s STAND chapter. She is the Midwest Regional Organizer for STAND and can be reached at cbush@standnow.org.