The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Student Activists Celebrate Signing of Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act into Law

Last month, STAND activists celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, the landmark treaty that defined genocide as an international crime and committed signatories to working to prevent genocide and punish its perpetrators. In celebrating, we recognized the urgent need to recommit ourselves to its aims. Yesterday, after four years of dogged advocacy, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump. The signing of this legislation represents the most tangible progress the United States has made towards genocide and atrocities prevention since President Reagan signed the Genocide Convention in 1988.

Named after Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocity Prevention Act will bolster the ability of the US to contribute to ending and preventing genocide and mass atrocities wherever they occur. First introduced in 2016, the bill requires training for Foreign Service Officers placed in areas at risk of atrocities in order to better recognize and respond to early warning signs. It also supports interagency coordination through structures such as the Atrocities Prevention Board, to facilitate a whole-of-government approach to prevent and respond to emerging atrocities in at-risk countries. Finally, the Act requires regular reporting to Congress regarding these efforts.

Since 2009, when STAND students advocated for the passage of S.Con.Res 71, a resolution affirming U.S. national interest in preventing genocide, we have recognized the need to improve U.S. foreign policy approaches to emerging atrocity issues. Today, as an organization committed to building a world in which the global community is invested in preventing, mitigating, and sustainably resolving genocide and mass atrocities, we affirm this crucial, bipartisan effort towards achieving this vision.

This victory would not have been possible without the long-term commitment of our activists and our partner organizations, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, Jewish World Watch, In Defense of Christians, Peace Direct, and many others.

Read the full text of the legislation here.

Casey Bush is the co-Student Director of STAND. Casey recently graduated with her BA in History and Holocaust and Genocide Studies from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts and is preparing to pursue a masters at the same institution. She is available for comment at cbush@standnow.org.

STAND Statement on Mass Protests in Sudan

As a student-led organization born in 2004 during the movement to end genocide in Darfur, we stand in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Sudan. Since December 19, protests with the slogan “peaceful peaceful” have been staged across much of the country. Initially sparked by dramatic price hikes and fuel shortages, the rallies have escalated into broader anti-government protests demanding the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir. Bashir, who has ruled Sudan for 29 years, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide. Despite multiple arrest warrants, the international community has failed to bring him to trial and Bashir has continued to act with impunity.   

According to Amnesty International, 37 protesters were killed by Sudanese police in the first five days of demonstrations. Large numbers of security forces have been deployed across the country to subdue protestors by throwing tear gas, arresting journalists and opposition leaders, and opening fire on crowds. Opposition sources report that an estimated 45 civilians have now died, over 1,000 have been tortured, and an additional 2,000 have been detained.

As has been historically true in Sudan, the demonstrations have largely consisted of women, teenagers, and students. On December 23, 32 students from the University of Sennar were arrested, beaten, and accused of sabotage on state television as security forces attempted to coerce confessions of wrongdoing. Several peers have stated that the vast majority of these detainees were not politically active, and were “peaceful” and “highly respected students within the university.” This is not the first time student life has been disrupted at the university – in September, up to seven students were injured in an attack by student supporters of the NCP, and in November, 14 students were detained under the pretext of violating a ban on political activity.

In a speech celebrating Sudanese independence on January 1, Bashir justified the government’s suppressive tactics and promised increased economic development in 2019, claiming the recently-approved national budget would help Sudan “brave through the current crisis.” As the NCP presidential candidate for the 2020 presidential elections, if the protests wane, Bashir will be allowed to continue to consolidate his power.

Young people in Sudan have a powerful history of mobilizing for political change. Most notably, the October Revolution in 1964, which overthrew Sudan’s first military dictator, was prompted by an attack on student organizers at the University of Khartoum; and the April Intifada of 1985 led to the overthrow of Sudan’s second military regime. Protests have also flourished more recently. In December 2011, Darfuri student leaders were arrested at Red Sea University, leading to mass student-led protests and in June and July 2012, women at the University of Khartoum sparked massive anti-austerity protests. In 2013, thousands of demonstrators called for Bashir’s removal. These recent protests have been put down violently, leading to the increased public discontent that has predicated today’s popular uprising.

Nothing can justify the use of live ammunition on peaceful protesters. We are dismayed by the brutal suppression of demonstrations in Sudan and call on the international community to urgently and strongly condemn the regime’s response. Most importantly, we stand behind the thousands of Sudanese people who are demanding change.

Celebrating 70 Years of Genocide Prevention

We are so thankful for our activists across the country who have taken action, hosted events, and fundraised for us throughout fall semester. As the fall term wraps up, we wanted to give STAND supporters an update on one of our biggest campaigns of the semester: “A Cause for Celebration,” and invite you to join us!

STAND’s “A Cause for Celebration” campaign celebrates the 70 year anniversary of the UN Genocide Convention, a landmark event that categorized genocide as a crime and began to focus on genocide prevention in the global community. Adopted on December 9, 1948, the Convention has made huge strides in recognizing mass atrocities worldwide; however, humanity continues to witness the loss of innocent lives in mass volume, and still has a large amount of work to do.

To celebrate the progress made since 1948, STAND has contributed in its own ways to prevent genocide and further mass atrocities. We’ve been raising money to support STAND’s student programming to end mass atrocities, educating our representatives on the importance of atrocities prevention, and celebrating what the UN Genocide Convention has accomplished since it was signed into action. We poured our hearts into this campaign because STAND truly believes that it is students like us who will one day put an end to identity based atrocities across the globe.

The best way to get excited about atrocities prevention is to throw a party! The most exciting component of “A Cause for Celebration” is that STAND is asking you to celebrate. Pick a day in December, get together with your chapter on your school’s grounds and have a blast celebrating Raphael Lemkin and the Convention. Eat pizza, have a cake eating contest, even “cake” your teachers and professors. Use this opportunity to party and bring attention to atrocities prevention. For more ideas, check out our toolkit.

Since our founding as an organization, STAND has been led by passionate student volunteers. We have been able to invest in students across the globe, preparing them to be future leaders in atrocities prevention. With one permanent staff person, STAND has made a tremendous impact in the atrocities prevention community with the help of many passionate student volunteers. However, many of our resources cost money that we do not have. Raising money for STAND is not about paying anyone’s salary. It’s about making copies of one-pagers for representatives to receive on Capitol Hill, training our student volunteers in policy and STAND specific actions, and ensuring that we can continue to be a leader in atrocities prevention. We ask that you consider raising money for STAND this year as a component of “A Cause for Celebration”. You can do this by having a bake sale, event, or fundraiser at your school, asking local businesses to support STAND National, or buying our apparel on Bonfire (a percentage of your purchase goes right to STAND and its programming and you get to look cool in a STAND shirt of your choice).

Again, we are so thankful for your participation in our campaigns and advocacy actions this term. It has been a pleasure working with you. Don’t forget to tag @STANDnow in your party pictures on Instagram. We cannot wait to see how you and your chapter choose to celebrate.

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.

 

__________

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.

____

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.