As we near our final days in STAND Fast we, as advocates should probably reflect on what we have done and pat ourselves on the back for what (at least I believe) amounts to a stunning show of innovation in the way we deliver aid. The divergence in philosophy that GI Net has taken in producing efficient micro-solutions, that could have major impacts in the way conflict effected people live, represents a new brand of humanitarianism, one that is smart and lasting.
This praise, however, is given more to motivate than to celebrate the finalization of something, because you and I both know that there is a tremendous amount of work to still be done. STAND has taken on a huge task in accepting Burma into its trajectory. The civil war between the ethnic Karen and the Burmese government has lasted for 60 years, longer than that of the stand off between North and South Sudan. The government is controlled by a crime cadre who have a historical legacy of unresponsiveness and paranoia toward the international community, only topped by that of North Korea. Here, it is easy to recall the memory of only a few months ago when the regime denied foreign aid to the cyclone ravaged Irrawaddy delta, in a calculated display of negligence; the act of which undoubtedly resulted in the death of thousands. And now with China coddling Than Shew’s military state more and more, penetrating Burma seems like a mission impossible.
However, we must not forget that STAND is the number one student anti-genocide organization in the US. We have readied regular college and high school students with the education necessary to become effective advocates for Darfur, and I wish we should only have to address this conflict; and in a perfect world, no conflict at all. It is obvious though, that the world is not perfect, and it is a little discouraging to find that just as we think we have mobilized our chapters on the issue of Darfur, we must throw another complex conflict at them. It’s almost like starting form scratch. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the look for confusion in the eyes of a fellow student when I try to explain Burma, and this is my speciality! In the end thought, this is why STAND is STAND. We recognize that as daunting as the task might be, it really can’t wait, immediate action is necessary now.
I have found I my time speaking to people about Burma that one of the most effective ways to reach my peers is by relating the situation to Darfur, a conflict that most of them are well versed in. Here are some good comparative points that you can use to demonstrate how Burma is similar to Darfur, and hopefully by basing East Burma around something many students already know, we can reach people much faster.
1. The genocide in East Burma of the ethnic Karen is the result of a civil war.
Just as the genocide in Darfur is a byproduct of the North-South war so is the targeting of the Karen in East Burma. The Karen have been demanding autonomy since 1948 after independence from the British (also ironically the colonizers of the Sudan). Under Burma’s short lived Republic from 1948 to 1962, xenophobic and nationalist General Ne Win, (who would become Burma’s military dictator) carried out numerous attacks against the Karen to promote national unity with impunity. Ne Win later forcibly took control of the government. The Karen have since been waging an insurgency to fight against this oppression, although their military numbers have dwindled to only a couple thousand.
2. China plays a heavy role in Burmese politics.
As in Sudan, the economic involvement of China in Burma means that the Chinese must be pressured to address the human rights abuses that their government funds. Recently, China has won the rights to build a 900 mile pipeline across Burma into Southwest China to transport oil and natural gas. The oil and natural gas will be brought to Burmese ports and then to the pipeline. The Chinese are doing this to avoid shipping through the strait of Malacca, one of the busiest in the world. China has also won the rights to explore the Burmese coast for oil. These new business deals will bring in millions for the Burmese junta.
3. The eventual solution to this conflict will come with the fixing of the countries overall political problem.
Just as STAND has worked for an "all Sudan solution," we should also work for an all Burma solution, because only then will the military be halted in their campaign. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won much support among the Karen due to the promise of a democratic process, in which Karen interest would not be marginalized. In fact, during the 1988 democratic uprising the Karen accepted many of the protesters into their bases to escape government retaliation. This became one of the main reasons General Ne Win launched a massive offensive against them. STAND should continue to stress the need for democracy in all of it’s Burma advocacy.
My hope is that this information can be used to consolidate these two topics and better communicate them to our chapters. If students can see the similarities it will become easier to see why STAND is involved in Burma, and then we can get to moving even faster. There is not time to waste. Good luck to all on STAND Fast!
-Joshua Groll, STAND’s Burma Education Coordinator