The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Redefining the Path of Women in Ethiopia

After the resignation of Mulato Teshome, the Ethiopian parliament unanimously elected its first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde on October 25, 2018. Although most of the executive power lies within the role of the prime minister, her election holds social significance. It represents Ethiopia’s path to redefining the role of women in its patriarchal society.

Zewde was born in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and attended University of Montpellier in France. She started her diplomatic career by serving as an ambassador to Senegal, Dijbouti and France. She was also a permanent representative of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Before being elected, Zewde was working for United Nations. She was appointed as the Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) by the UN Secretary General in June 2018. Here, she was also the first women to be appointed this position. During her appointment she was credited for “strengthening partnerships between the United Nations and African Union” (quoted from the UN Secretary General). On October 19, just days before her appointment as president, she celebrated the 18 year anniversary of resolution 1325. This was a “women, peace and security agenda” formed by the African Union to establish efforts to allow female voices be heard.

It is clear that Zewde will bring her interest and experience with female empowerment to Ethiopia. Even in her acceptance speech she even said, “If you thought I spoke a lot about women already, know that I am just getting started.” Her statement reflects a historically patriarchal society where women are constrained to their domestic sphere. It has been previously noted about women’s inability to participate in athletics, because they were challenged by social and religious norms. For this reason, it is controversial that Ethiopia has recently elected fourth president of the nation as its first female president. In addition to Zewde’s election, about half of the prime minister’s cabinet is women. Sehin Teferra, co-founder of the Setaweet movement, mentions that this “critical mass” will change Ethiopia’s future. She recalls that “appointing one or two women would not have made the change”.

Zewde plans to use her new appointment to raise issues to female empowerment for the next 6 years. Sehin also states that despite having as much power as Ahmed, Zewde’s diplomatic power will allow her to ultimately change power given to Ethiopian women.

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

 

Where is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed?

The election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed created hope for Ethiopia’s future. Even though it has been less than a year since his appointment, he has already instituted multiple changes and proposed  more in the near future.

Despite the hope engendered around the rise of Ahmed, his authority was questioned when ethnic violence rose in Western Ethiopia. Although ethnic violence has been consistently common and its mitigation central to Ahmed’s campaign, recent conflicts are becoming  much more violent than before. The most recent conflict occurred on the border of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz region, an area of contention for two of the nine ethnic divisions in Ethiopia. The violence reportedly began after officials from Gumuz were killed while visiting Oromia. The unrest was primarily instigated by youth gangsters wielding firearms and knives who set around 1,560 houses on fire and killed at least 44 Ethiopians. These attacks have displaced up to 90,000 Ethiopians, all who fled to save their life. In leaving their homes and belongings behind, most of these Ethiopians have had to rely on other agencies for support. The Director of National Disaster Risk Management, for example, has so far provided food and assistance to the displaced families residing in the Western zone of Oromia. The commision also reportedly called on the federal government to send troops before violence escalated but received no response.

On the other side of Oromia border, clashes continue between the Somalis and Oromos . These two areas are the largest regions in Ethiopia, sharing a border of about 1,400 km. Moyale which is adjacent to the Ethiopia-Kenya border, has witnessed some of the worst violence in the past three to four months. Moyale, although one region, is separated by the Oromia on the west and Somalis on the east. In July, tensions elevated when Oromo’s brought weapons into Somalia and razed villages to the ground. Adan Kulow, a humanitarian expert, notes that the instigation of this violence was little more than an effort to reclaim land. Many people died from the fire and many others fled. Those who have fled are reportedly still displaced, making Ethiopia a country with one of the highest rates of internally displaced peoples  in the world. One Somali victim of the attack, Mohammed Abid remembers the Oromos “laughing and taunting us in the Oromo language.” Abid claimed to see men being shot in the face in front of their wives and wonders where the prime minister was during all of this.

In response to these clashes, protests occurred on the streets of Ethiopia’s capital earlier this month. During this time, the Ethiopian government allegedly shut down the internet service for 40 hours. It was the second time the internet was shut down, both reportedly occasions of political unrest. Although Ethiopia does have a low Internet percent usage, the restriction of the internet primarily affected the journalists who needed to use it to communicate and publish their work. An Ethiopian blogger, Atnafu Berhane, reported that this shutdown aimed to control the spread of political developments within Ethiopia. However, Abiy’s has pushed against such restrictions.

As Abiya is promising change for the future, he should be doing more to address the violence instigated by the Oromos. It is clear that ethnic violence has reached an extreme with the introduction of armed groups. Instead of merely downplaying the violence and blaming unrest  on guerrilla groups, the government should address the needs of the people. Witnessing the rise of vigilantes, we’re left asking: where is Abiy Ahmed and why isn’t he keeping his promises?

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

A Possible End to Conflict in Syria

 

For the past seven years, Syria has been embroiled in civil war which has been exacerbated by the government’s use of chemical weapons against the people.  The war, responsible for at least 500,000 deaths, has consumed the attention of people around the world, not only due to its significance for the Syrian people but also because of the simultaneous rise of ISIS, the involvement of opposing world powers such as the United States and Russia, and the refugee crisis that it has sparked.  Now, after a long seven years, many believe that the war is coming to a close.

For the past two years, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran, has taken control of several rebel strongholds one city at a time.  The capture of Daraa this July has had large symbolic significance as the civil war began there in 2011, when a group of boys graffitied the words ‘the people will topple the regime’ on their school.  It served a center for rebels throughout the war, but as American forces were withdrawn, it was overtaken.  Many analysts viewed this as the beginning of the end.

Now, about three months later, the province of Idlib is the last remaining rebel stronghold.  Assad announced plans for the launch of an offensive attack on the city but was unable to actually organize the forces necessary to achieve such a victory.  On September 17, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to both patrol Idlib.  The agreement does not guarantee a cessation of violence, , but it did lead many rebel groups to withdraw their troops from the area.  It is unclear what the future of Idlib will be exactly, but it is fairly clear to most that regime control of the province would signal an end to the war.

It is unlikely that an end to official conflict will bring peace to the nation or end the suffering of the Syrian people.  The economy has been devastated by a combination of the conflict itself and sanctions, with infrastructure destroyed, production decreasing, and a significant decrease in labor. Moreover, ending the war cannot keep extremist groups like ISIS at bay.  On October 4, the terrorist group threatened to execute hostages unless the Assad regime stopped their attacks, and on October 11, it captured about 90 women and children.  In terms of the power structure, an end to the Syrian civil war could, at this point, only be one in which President Assad maintains his corrupt leadership, at least for some period of time.  Some believe that national instability will push him out of power and lead to the introduction of a new corrupt regime.

In the meantime, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura said the international community will work toward the introduction of a new constitution for Syria before he steps down next month.  A new constitution would be a significant step in ending the civil war, de-escalating tension, and producing real change. A committee is set to meet to discuss the issue next week in Damascus.  Reaching an agreement will be difficult, but it is the best hope for the next steps in Syria’s changing political structure.

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miraMira Mehta is a writer and a student at Westfield High School.  In her spare time, she enjoys debating and running on the cross country team.  This is her second year as a member of the Communications Task Force at STAND.

Denis Mukwege jointly wins Nobel Peace Prize for work on sexual violence in conflict

Denis Mukwege was performing surgery when he heard the news. He had jointly won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize along with Yazidi sex trafficking survivor and advocate Nadia Murad. A Congolese gynecologist, founder of the Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo and advocate for women’s rights, Mukwege has saved thousands of lives. Sexual violence as a weapon of war is a widespread and reprehensible human rights atrocity, and it has been going on for decades in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dr. Mukwege sees unthinkable acts of brutality every day. In a New York Times feature, he described the bleak reality on the ground in his hospital.

“When the victims come, you can tell by the wounds where it happened. In Bunyakiri, they burn the women’s bottoms. In Fizi-Baraka, they are shot in the genitals. In Shabunda, it’s bayonets. Some of these girls whose insides have been destroyed are so young that they don’t understand what happened to them. Why would you ever rape a 3-year-old?”

Dr. Mukwege works in eastern Congo, a region wracked by violence under the jurisdiction of a national government filled with corruption. In 2010, a UN official described the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the “rape capital of the world.” Since then, international attention has strayed —  but the issue is far from resolved.

The conflict between armed groups in the area — and the severe violence against women committed by rebels and government soldiers alike — has been going on for decades. According to a UN report, progress in reducing the DRC’s sexual violence has been stalled by an “unstable political environment, unprecedented levels of displacement, continued armed clashes and weak State structures.”

But Dr. Mukwege has created some hope amidst the chaos. He started the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in 1999 as one of very few facilities in the country equipped to handle rape with extreme violence (REV). It now employs 370 nurses and doctors and offers a wide range of vital services for rape survivors, going beyond physical treatment to address spiritual and psychosocial needs. The hospital has served over 85,000 patients despite lacking reliable funding and resources.

In addition to his extraordinary work at the Panzi Hospital, Dr. Mukwege has also contributed to education and advocacy, both in the DRC and internationally. The Panzi Foundation invests in grassroots organizations all over the DRC in an effort to “address the root causes of violence and rebuild Congolese communities on principles of human rights and gender equality.” The Mukwege Foundation collaborates with the Panzi Foundation in the DRC, but focuses its efforts on ending wartime sexual violence worldwide.

Dr. Mukwege has also speaks out and writes about the issues he tackles in his daily work at Panzi Hospital. In 2012, he gave a speech to the UN in which he criticized lax government and called for perpetrators to face justice. Two months later, he found himself under fire, targeted for assassination as his daughters were held hostage. He and his family escaped to Belgium, but returned just a few months later to a hero’s welcome.

As a leading voice in the fight against sexual violence in conflict, Dr. Mukwege provides “extraordinary insight into interlinkages between the unspeakable physical harm he repairs in his surgical wards, the lack of responsible governance, and the upstream factors that create the conditions for sexual violence.”

One such “upstream factor” is illegal trade in high-value minerals which finances armed groups, often referred to as conflict minerals. STAND, which identifies the DRC as one of its six key areas, has worked toward ending this market by partnering with the Enough Project to create the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative.

The selection of Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murad for the Nobel Peace Prize indicates that Nobel Committee understands the importance of their work to end sexual violence as a military strategy. It’s time the rest of the world starts paying attention.

 

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Kayla

Kayla Benjamin is a first year student at American University in DC, studying journalism and political science. Prior to college, she spent 10 months completing over 1700 community service hours with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) around the southeast United States. She is passionate about human rights, equal rights, and the power of good journalism and public policy to make a positive impact.

Elections in Kashmir Threaten World’s Most Militarized Zone

The northernmost state of India is one of the most picturesque regions in the world. Marked by grassy valleys and snow-covered mountains, it is no wonder that Kashmir is one of the top tourist destinations in India. However, 71 years after gaining independence from the British and the subsequent conflict in the area, Kashmiris continue to face violence and the country remains the most militarized zone in the world. The first local elections in Indian-administered Kashmir since 2005 could threaten all steps made towards peace in the past decade.

Once a stop on the Silk Road, Kashmir today is a hotspot of conflict largely between Muslims and Hindus that followed from the British partition of India in 1947. When India and Pakistan were granted independence, borders were haphazardly drawn amongst religious lines. India was mainly constituted of Hindus while Pakistan held a majority-Muslim population. The partition was determined a full two days after independence and displaced over 14 million people as Muslims and Hindus migrated to their respective countries. Large-scale violence that resulted from the mass movement caused the deaths of between 200,000 and 2 million people as British soldiers stationed in both countries stood idly by except when acting to save British lives.

Kashmir found itself in the center of this conflict as the region at the time of the partition was a Muslim-majority border state run by a Hindu maharaja, or king. India claimed that the maharaja chose to join India, but Pakistan disputed the claim. This began the Indo-Pakistani War, sometimes referred to as the First Kashmir War, which lasted just over a year. In the end, both sides reluctantly agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire and subsequently decided line of control— though still no official border was declared. In 1962, China invaded Kashmir from the Northeast, gaining control of the Aksai-Chin region of Kashmir, which they still rule today.

In 1965, India and Pakistan fought another war over Kashmir and in 1999 narrowly avoided a third war. In the midst of a fragile ceasefire, the region remains fraught with violence. Just over a year ago, armed militants attacked an Indian Army base near the Line of Control, killing 19 Indian soldiers. The climate of fear has increased with the rise of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist group which operates in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir with the goal of “liberating” Muslims residing in Indian Kashmir.

Most recently, India-administered Kashmir has seen violence surrounding the first local elections since 2005 which took place in four phases throughout the first half of October. 45 candidates withdrew their nominations following threats from terrorist groups who claim the elections are an illegitimate exercise under military occupation. One separatist leader claimed, “people’s participation in polls are propagated as a verdict in India’s favor.”

Already the world’s most militarized zone, 50,000 additional soldiers have been deployed to ensure safety at the polls. Additional measures seemingly to protect civilians include the enactment of a curfew, the shutdown of the internet, and the closing of shops, businesses and most schools.

Kashmir’s main pro-India political parties are also boycotting the elections “to safeguard an exclusive citizenship law, known as Article 35-A” which protects citizens as part of a historical pact between Kashmir and India allowing the state a special status in India. If this law is not protected, pro-Indian politicians fear that Kashmir would lose its special status in the Indian Constitution and thus leave them open to further attacks from outsiders.

The elections concluded on October 16 witnessed about a 3-8% poll percentage due to threats and major protests, the first phase being the highest at 8%. In total, approximately 69% of voting locations did not witness any polling at all. In one municipality, a woman was injured by shotgun pellets fired by government forces, and others were injured by stone-throwing. As the results are finalized before announcement on October 20, the world must pay attention to the conflict in Kashmir and local officials must ensure that civilian rights and safety are protected.

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casey head shotCasey Bush is STAND’s co-Student Director. Currently, Casey is pursuing her B.A. in History and Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University and is finishing an Honors Thesis on forgiveness after the Holocaust.

STAND Statement on the Refugee Resettlement Cap

Today, world displacement levels are at an all-time high, with at least one person displaced for every 112 people around the world. With this as the reality, STAND is dismayed at the Trump administration’s announcement recently that the U.S. will cap refugee admissions at only 30,000 next year — an all-time low for the United States’ refugee resettlement program. Over the past several years, STAND has opposed continued iterations of both the Muslim Ban and previous resettlement cutbacks, and now stands fervently opposed to this move to further lower the U.S. refugee resettlement ceiling. Now, more than ever, such a decision represents a complete abandonment of the nation’s moral responsibility to host and assist those who have been forced to leave their homes due to conflict, atrocities, and natural disaster.

According to the United Nations, today there are more than 68.5 million displaced people, including more than 25 million refugees. We cannot turn our backs on these, as one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Facing the loss of their homes, families, and livelihoods, refugees look to the United States for a fighting chance at life. To restrict their entrance is to abandon the victims of global crises – crises that often the global community has failed to prevent.

We, the young people of STAND, continue to support the fight against anti-refugee actions taken by the United States. A country with such great wealth, potential impact,  and history of humanitarian assistance, has a moral obligation to do their part and accept refugees from around the globe.

As always, we stand #WithRefugees.

STAND Statement on Anniversary of Peak Violence Against Rohingya

One year ago today, the Burmese military intensified a systematic campaign of violence against the minority Rohingya population, killing 6,700 and causing over 723,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh.

We, the student leaders of STAND, recognize that the wide-scale violence being taken against the Rohingya is genocide as defined legally by the 1948 Genocide Convention. We call on the international community to hold the Burmese government and military accountable for their actions.

In addition to a recent increase in violence, the Rohingya have historically been a marginalized group within Burma. In 1962, the Muslim minority group were stripped of their citizenship and labeled “illegal immigrants” by the government who speculated that they had arrived from Bangladesh. However, independent reports have recognized their pre-British colonial presence in Northern Arakan. Thus, the Burmese government must recognize and respect the inalienable right of the Rohingya to live in their country.

Recently, in its campaign to ethnically cleanse Burma’s Rakhine State, the military has burned villages, tortured and killed civilians, and raped hundreds of women. Even when refugees make it out of Burma, they live in overcrowded camps that struggle to provide basic living necessities and where the spread of disease is inevitable.

As a student-led organization dedicated to ending genocide and mass atrocities wherever they may occur, STAND acknowledges the suffering of the Rohingya in Burma as genocide and urges the international community to take the necessary steps to ensure that the Rohingya— as well as other ethnic minorities in the country— are not persecuted based upon their ethnic or religious identity.

Soccer for Peace: The World Cup you haven’t heard of (yet!)

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” -Nelson Mandela

As the World Cup teams finished up group rounds, fans from across the world gathered in Russia in support of their respective home countries. From South Korea to Panama, these fans donned the colors of their national flags, bowed their heads at the sound of their national anthems, and sang loudly the chants of their national languages.

Simultaneously, 4,000 miles away in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, another soccer tournament was taking place. This match was not attended by thousands, the players may not have trained for years or had the same professional resources as those competing in Russia, and there were no national anthems to sing or national flags to wave.

Instead, their jerseys proudly display the letters RFC or RFM— Rohingya Football Club or Rohingya Football Malaysia. These teams are made up entirely of Rohingya, a Muslim minority group who are have been,and continue to be,persecuted and denied citizenship in the predominantly Buddhist country of Burma (Myanmar) and neighboring Bangladesh. Though these players, who are also refugees from Burma, have found respite in Malaysia, they are still formally considered stateless and, therefore, do not have the same rights as people with statehood – right that include the ability to legally work or travel outside of the country.

In spite of their harrowing journey out of Burma and the prejudice they continue to face, RFC and RFM players have found refuge in the game of soccer. “Since my birth, I haven’t known freedom,” said Farouque, one of RFC’s leaders. “We can openly play football here. In [Burma] we are not even allowed to go out of our houses. I had to leave my country to save my life.”

We can openly play football here. In [Burma] we are not even allowed to go out of our houses. I had to leave my country to save my life

RFC hopes to make a better life for future generations of Rohingya by bringing awareness to the crimes taking place in Burma as well as proving that the Rohingya can achieve greatness if only given the opportunity. “We want to tell Rohingya youngsters that they can be whatever they want in the world. We want to promote the social development of our people,” said RFC co-founder Muhammad Noor.

The Rohingya are not the only peoples for whom soccer has been a haven. The Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA), is an organization of 47 teams all comprised of minority ethnic groups, refugees, diaspora, stateless persons, and nations not recognized by FIFA. One of the most well-known teams that participates in the CONIFA World Cup each year is Darfur United, a team of refugees from Darfur, Sudan, who have been resettled in Östersund, Sweden.

Many non-Arab citizens of Sudan have faced years of government persecution due to their identity. About 15 years ago, the conflict in Darfur was recognized as a genocide by the United States government, but, despite continuing violence against Darfuris, it has since lost media attention. Coach Souliman states, “Football, to me, is everything. Football is support. Football is health. It means relationships and it means peace.”

For many years sports, and soccer in particular, have been used to heal individual pain and reconcile fractured communities. After the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, organizations such as Football for Hope, Peace and Unity were established to bring together Rwandan youth and ensure that violent conflict would not take place in the country again. Similar tactics have been employed in the post-conflict countries of South Africa, Colombia, Bosnia, Liberia, and countless others.

Soccer brings people together— it’s an activity in which to find a community, to gain confidence, and, for many, to escape the harsh realities of life. It’s a chance for individuals to shed their victim status and focus on personal improvement. For generations, soccer has been used as a healing program to foster peace, unity, and reconciliation in post-conflict countries. From post-genocide Rwanda and Bosnia to contemporary conflicts in Burma and Sudan, soccer has proved beneficial in empowering traumatized individuals and bringing together devastated communities. So, if you’re enjoying watching this year’s World Cup, check out one of the many inspirational teams not recognized by FIFA!

casey head shotCasey Bush is one of STAND USA’s Student Directors. She is a senior at Clark University, where she studies History and Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She has previously served in several roles with STAND, including as a summer intern and as Campaigns Coordinator, and she has also served as the chapter president of Clark’s STAND chapter. Casey is currently interning at the Buchenwald Memorial, a former concentration camp in Weimar, Germany.

The Legacy of the Holocaust in Preventing Genocide in the Modern World

On December 1, 1938, The Arizona Daily Star ran the story, “Nazis Order Secrecy as to Number Killed by their Policies.” In the matter of four short years, large-scale persecution escalated to complete annihilation, as the American people were made aware that “Nazis Seek to Slay All Jews in Europe Now.” These articles represent only a small fraction of the thousands of media reports that came out during World War II. Still, Americans today look back on the events of the Holocaust and wonder how we could have missed the warning signs that violence in Europe was imminent. Additionally, we question why we did not take the necessary steps to mitigate and end the atrocities once they became obvious.

“Wherever men and women are

persecuted because of their race, religion,

or political views, that place must – at

that moment – become the center of the universe.”

– Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate, Political Activist, and Holocaust Survivor

Today, we are seeing similar warning signs of mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in countries such as South Sudan and Burma. How can we work to ensure that we do not make the same mistake that past generations have made by ignoring the warning signs? How can the average person take action to prevent another genocide?

In addition to supporting on-the-ground actors, the most important step that Americans can take to prevent and respond to atrocities in the modern era is to support legislation that ensures our government does not ignore its commitment to human rights. One such policy is the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Act (S. 1158, H.R. 3030). Named after Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor, activist, and author Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928 in Sighet, Romania. In 1940, when Hungary was annexed by Nazi Germany, Wiesel’s family was forced into a ghetto and four years later, with the consent of the Hungarian government, Romanian Jews, including Wiesel and his family, were transported to Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. After three weeks of forced labor in the camp, Wiesel and his father were taken on a 620-mile death march to Buchenwald, another concentration camp, where his father was beaten to death. Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945, at the age of 17. After liberation, Wiesel went on to write a memoir entitled Night about his experiences as a teenager. In 1955, he moved to New York, where he continued to write and teach and was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, being called a “messenger to mankind.” Before his death in 2016, Wiesel founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity with his wife Marion to “combat indifference, intolerance and injustice.”

The Congressional bill that bears his name seeks to do just that. By creating a Mass Atrocities Task Force, improving Foreign Service Officer training, and institutionalizing the Complex Crises Fund to provide timely funding for rapidly emerging atrocity issues, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (GAPA) will bolster the ability of the U.S. to contribute to ending and preventing genocide and mass atrocities wherever they occur. The Mass Atrocities Task Force, modeled after today’s Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), would meet regularly to strategically determine a whole-of-government strategy to prevent and respond to emerging atrocities in at-risk countries.

Since its inception in 2012, the APB has repeatedly proven its importance in the genocide prevention field. For example, through careful risk assessment and broad diplomatic engagement, the APB successfully helped limit violence in Burundi. In this instance, as well as in the Central African Republic and Jordan, APB processes have shown to be strategic and efficient in ensuring that genocide will no longer be ignored by the U.S. government.

“We must always take sides.

Neutrality helps the oppressor,

never the victim. Silence encourages

the tormentor, never the tormented.”

-Elie Wiesel

As an activist and champion of human rights advocacy, Elie Wiesel worked his entire adult life to combat violence against civilians. You can support this landmark legislation today: Sign and share our petition.

Ready to take the next step? From calling Congress to writing an op-ed, you can make a difference. For more ways to get involved and make your voice heard, check out our website!

Casey Bush is the Fundraising and Development Coordinator on the Managing Committee of STAND. As a senior studying History and Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, Casey is writing her undergraduate thesis on individual forgiveness and its effects on a post-Holocaust world.

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.