The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Setting the Bar Too Low in Burma

By Christine Ly, National Media Task Force

A statement from Physicians for Human Rights effectively summarizes the potential problem of a new flood of investment into Burma: "Companies that are poised to be the first in the country are keen to invest in Burma’s extractive resource sector, which lacks transparency and suffers from pervasive corruption. Profits generated by the sector are known to have funded military operations in ethnic areas and contributed to the exacerbation of these conflicts. Additionally, the cronies who have controlled this sector for the last several decades routinely engage in forced labor practices, land confiscation and evictions of indigenous communities, and a host of other human rights violations.” Now that investment restrictions are gone on virtually all sectors except explicitly military or military-owned companies, it could be a free-for-all for investors who will go in without considering the reverberating effects on civilians and domestic businesses.

Now that U.S. economic sanctions on Burma have been lifted by the Obama administration though, there is no other alternative but to impose some kind of requirement for US-based firms to report on their activity. These self-reporting requirements were created by the U.S. Department of State in July 2012. However, these requirements lack specificity about enforcement and consequences for non-compliance. Many sections are also vaguely worded and allow for too much leeway. For example, there is a $500,000USD cap in which companies do not have to report. This should be made lower to order to catch investors who can work the system. In order to better prevent human rights abuses like those described above, many NGOs (including STAND’s parent organization, United to End Genocide) and investor groups addressed the State Department during a “public commenting period" (exactly what it sounds like). The following additions are meant to strengthen the currently lax requirements: reporting on worker rights, environment, human rights, anti-corruption measures, company procedure for handling complaints about human rights impacts, community and stakeholder engagement, special protections for indigenous peoples whose free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is needed for projects that may negatively affect them, policies and procedures relating to property and land acquisition, and disclosure of all payments investors make to the Burmese government (source: EarthRights International).

Those who support a free-market approach to investment in Burma are usually not aware that the average person in Burma has no access to a bank account. On the other hand, senior military officers and/or rent-seeking elite do and will generally be the ones benefiting from these transactions. In addition, the existing banking infrastructure is mostly owned by people with ties to the former military junta, making the economy more vulnerable to speculation and rumors. The public is extremely hesitant to engage with banks too due to many years without unbiased information from independent media. Building public trust amongst average people, banks, and the foreign investors that will deal with them both will take a long time. Some recommended actions: 1) ask for stricter reporting requirements to promote accountability; 2) the World Bank and NGOs such as Revenue Watch should help Burmese ministries develop better financial skills, and in turn, these organizations should be willing to help.

For more information, you can read the International Crisis Group’s report entitled “Myanmar: The Politics Of Economic Reform." There is also another analysis by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). 

Any1Can We Want Peace Concert and Art Show – October 16

South Sudanese artist and activist Emmanuel Jal will be performing at a benefit concert in Fayetteville, GA on October 16. Check out the press release below and drop by if you’re in the area!

Fayetteville, GA, September 26, 2012 – Fayette County’s first Any1Can WE WANT PEACE Benefit Concert and Art Show will take place Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at the Southern Ground Amphitheater, Fayetteville, GA. Tickets for lawn, general admission and VIP seats are available online. Doors open at 6:00 p.m., one hour before the music begins.

The festival-style event and benefit to raise money for schools in South Sudan will feature award-winning global recording star Emmanuel Jal, recipient of the 2011 Common Ground Award for his peace building work. Mr. Jal performed at Nelson Mandela’s ninetieth birthday celebration and with Beyonce for a special event at the United Nations. His widely acclaimed pro-peace, hip-hop anthem “We Want Peace” is a statement against genocide and call for world peace. The video features Alicia Keys and Peter Gabriel, George Clooney and President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Jal’s latest album “See Me Mama” was released in the U.S. in September 2012.

During the Oct. 16 concert, Mr. Jal will perform We Want Peace and singles from his latest album. For select songs, he will be joined by specially invited members of bands, orchestras and choruses from Fayette County High School, Whitewater High School, Sandy Creek High School, Flat Rock Middle School, and Bennett’s Mill Middle School. In this musical collaboration, students will be recognized as “Voices of Change.”

“The voices of youth are very important to achieving a peaceful world,” said Mr. Jal. “The Atlanta area is a region known for the arts. I’m glad to be part of such a ‘peace happening’ and have talented young people in Fayette County jam with me for peace.” While here for the concert and art show, Mr. Jal will also speak at Emory University and The Carter Center.

Keep Your Eyes on Darfur

The following post by Niemat Ahmadi originally appeared on the blog of United to End Genocide, STAND’s parent organization. 

In Darfur — for almost 10 years now — innocent men, women and children have been subjected to unspeakable suffering. The systematic attacks orchestrated by wanted war criminal, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and his allied Janjaweed militias, have forced millions of people off their land and into displacement camps. In a devastating pattern that continues to repeat itself, this direct targeting of civilians by the armed forces has been coupled with the systematic deprivation of food and other life-sustaining necessities.

In an interview with the Darfur-based Radio Dabanga last week, U.S. Senior Advisor on Darfur, Dane Smith, expressed concern over the worsening security situation. According to Smith:

In comparison with 2011…the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated…there are particular concerns about North-Darfur that lead me to think that the situation there is less stable than last year.

I continue to hear devastating news from the ground every day. Our families are still battling the same unspeakable horror I witnessed seven years ago. Those of us who have been forced to leave our own country have been using our voices to tell the stories of their suffering in hopes of spurring action. Together, we have cried for protection, peace and justice for our people in Darfur. Our cries have fallen on deaf ears and the political and humanitarian crisis has worsened in recent years.

The ongoing lack of attention and the international community’s failure to respond has only enabled Bashir to continue committing crimes. Now, the violence is targeted at not only the people of Darfur, but the Sudanese population at large, including those at risk of starvation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The international community cannot afford to forget about Darfur. Any successful solution to bring about an end to the violence must address Sudan’s core problem: Bashir and his regime.

Is This Really Happening? Seeing Aung San Suu Kyi

 By Danny Hirschel-Burns, Swarthmore College STAND

My journey to see Aung San Suu Kyi on her first visit to the United States since she was released from house arrest, which she had been under for the better part of twenty-four years, began with a train from Swarthmore to Phildelphia, and then the Megabus to DC. That was followed by an hour and a half walking around Washington trying to find Daniel Solomon’s house. I finally, and after a period of unconsciousness that was too short, on a couch with the same problem, I started my early morning walk to Bender Arena at American University where ASSK was due to address D.C.’s Burmese community. I had been told that the whole event was going to be in Burmese, but I decided it was still worth it to see this incredible woman who had resisted every attempted by the Burmese government to break her spirit over the course of more than two decades.

I knew no one at the event, so I found a seat and waited an hour until The Lady appeared. A huge cry went up from the crowd when she entered via a side door, and even though the president of AU spoke first, all eyes were on her. After receiving an honorary degree from AU, she gave a brief address in English, in which she talked about a need for an inclusive Burmese society for all Burmese. She then moved into the question and answer portion, in which she answered questions in English and Burmese. In a response, she praised the United States for accepting so many Burmese Americans, and expressed her hope that one day all those Burmese who had felt it necessary to give up their citizenship could come back to their homeland. She answered most of the questions in Burmese, but judging from both the applause of the audience and the laughter of the Burmese family behind me, she was both funny and articulate.

I had to leave the event prematurely to catch a cab to the Newseum, where ASSK was due to speak next at an event hosted by Amnesty International. Though it was a shame I had to leave the event early, it was a bonus talking about the political situation in Ethiopia following Meles Zenawi’s death with my Ethiopian cab driver. At the Newseum I met up with Shomya Tripathy (#DJSTANDMOM), STAND’s Community Manager, and several other senior members of STAND and United to End Genocide. As Shomya and I sat there in the heavily over-air conditioned auditorium, we kept looking at the chair thirty feet in front of us with disbelief; Aung San Suu Kyi, who had remained a mythic idol of principle and bravery in our minds would physically inhabit that seat in a few minutes. After introductions by Amnesty International staff and Alex Wagner (the NBC host who moderated the discussion, and who is half-Burmese herself), The Lady herself came on stage to thunderous applause. ASSK was presented with flowers by the husband and four-year-old daughter of one of the imprisoned Pussy Riot members. Even if she had not uttered a word, her presence in that auditorium would’ve had a transformative effect on every member of the audience.

The event format consisted of a short address by ASSK with a question and answer period that followed that alternated between questions posed by students and those posed by host Alex Wagner. In her address, The Lady focused on the task for the next generation of human rights advocates. She urged students to not only condemn hate and injustice (which lead to the political prisoners), but to try to understand their root cause, fear. She challenged students to think critically about why we are suspicious of those different from ourselves and how we can eradicate that dynamic.

The question and answer segment touched on numerous issues. She asked for American help in helping to build democratic institutions in Burma, as well as the mental liberation that former oppressors would have to experience to truly change Burma. She argued against a cultural relativist interpretation of human rights, saying that these excuses were the very ones used by the Burmese government to justify decades of military rule. ASSK also stated, quite emphatically, against the use of violence in any form. She said that violence and human rights are opposite, and that the defense of human rights with violence is both a futile and counterproductive endeavor. For her, the defense of human rights in a distinctly nonviolent effort, saying that those who wish to promote human rights must be prepared to endure violent repression. She asked businesses that invest in Burma to do so responsibly, and predicted a future change in the Orwellian language used by the Burmese government that is so common of authoritarian governments. While we all saw the symbol of defiance and hope we all knew, we also saw glimpses of the savvy politician that perhaps less of us anticipated. When asked how she could forgive the military for imposing house arrest, she responded saying that she had no reason to forgive the military, and that she was actually quite fond of the Burmese military. She cited positive memories of her father in uniform as well as the good treatment she received from military figures while under house arrest. While it is certainly possible that this woman is so incredible that she does not feel resentment for experiencing so many years of house arrest, it is more likely that doesn’t wish to offend her colleagues in government.

While ASSK was articulate and inspiring throughout most of the program, there were some awkward moments. The elephant in the room from the beginning were the Rohingya, and a student according asked ASSK, “Who are the Rohingya and why are they persecuted by the Burmese government?” The Lady immediately and strongly rejected the use of the word "persecuted," arguing that the issue needs to be seen in the framework of communal violence and human rights instead. She stressed that the rule of law needs to be restored in Rakhine state. She said that all Burmese who are eligible for Burmese citizenship under the current law should receive it, and even hinted that the law should be re-examined. Finally, ASSK argued that the Bangladesh-Burma border needs to be strengthened to prevent illegal crossings in either direction. This answer, while certainly not satisfying to the audience, has to be placed in context. The majority ethnic group in Burma, the Burmans, of which Aung San Suu Kyi is a member, largely support the government’s persecution of the Rohingya. This then puts ASSK in a tough position, in which she has to carefully walk the line between a symbol of international human rights and a popular domestic political figure. For example, she didn’t explicitly call the Rohingya illegal immigrants (as many Burmans do), but made statements that will please both sides. Her recommendation to strengthen the Burma-Bangladesh border will appease those who wish to see the Rhingya persecuted, while her implication that the Burmese citizenship law should be re-examined (the Rohingya collectively lost their citizenship in 1982) will be read by Western human rights advocates as a step in the right direction. Despite her seeming silence on the Rohingya, she has in fact spoken out against discrimination against ethnic minorities, with is not common in Burmese politics. Hopefully, she is simply biding her time until she feels secure enough to correctly address the Rohingya issue.

I never expected I would get the chance to see Aung San Suu Kyi in person, and the chance to be within just a few feet of one of the world’s most courageous individuals had a powerful effect on everyone at both events. For the Burmese Diaspora, it was a symbol of hope from their troubled homeland, and for American human rights activists, it was genuinely inspiring experience to be able to share a room with a person who literally personifies the defense of peace, equality, and human rights worldwide. Her stance on the Rohingya demonstrated that even our greatest heroes have flaws, but also that we must look at everyone with a fair and balanced eye. Her impact on me and fellow youth activists was immense, and it is a moment that will live in our memories for the rest of our lives. 

Fall Preview, Part 3: Investing in Student Thought Leadership

This is the third in a series of three posts previewing STAND’s upcoming national campaigns for the fall of 2012.

Fall 2012 Essay Contest

In order to promote student thought leadership on atrocity prevention policy, STAND will offer $500 prizes for the best 1000- to 1500-word essays on the following prompt: "Pick an ongoing mass atrocity event anywhere in the world. Explain why it is important for the United States to address this instance of mass atrocities, and describe specific ways in which U.S. policy could contribute to mitigating the atrocities."

Two prizes will be awarded, one in the high school category, and one in the college category. Submissions are due Sunday, November 4, at 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time. The STAND Managing Committee will choose finalist essays. From these, the winning essay in each category will be chosen by Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. In addition to the monetary prize received by the two winners, all finalists will receive a letter of recognition and be offered the opportunity to have their essays featured on the STAND blog. 

Fall Preview, Part 2: Getting Up to Speed on Sudan

This is the second in a series of three posts previewing STAND’s upcoming national campaigns for the fall of 2012.

Sudan: Where Are We Now?

STAND was founded in response to the genocide in Darfur. Now, eight years later, things have changed dramatically in Sudan: even as atrocities continue in Darfur, the secession of South Sudan has led to new border-state conflicts characterized, once again, by the targeting and displacement of civilians. Concurrently, while the regime of Omar al-Bashir maintains a seemingly intractable grip on power, citizen protests reminiscent of the Arab Spring have arisen throughout the country.

In order to continue acting as effective advocates for peace in Sudan and South Sudan, STAND students will be working to educate ourselves and our communities about the current situation. In addition, we will seek to deepen connections with members of the Sudanese diaspora community and ensure that their voices are incorporated into our education and advocacy efforts. Resources and action opportunities associated with this campaign will include:

  • Members of the STAND Education Team will lead monthly webinars, each focusing on a different aspect of the crisis in Sudan.
  • The STAND blog will feature a series of short video interviews with members of the Sudanese diaspora.
  • STAND’s Regional Organizers will connect interested chapters to diaspora communities in their areas to collaborate on educational events and facilitate the establishment of long-term relationships with these communities.
  • We will continue to pressure our representatives to support H.R. 4169, the Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act.

 

Fall Preview, Part 1: Standing Up for Foreign Aid

This is the first in a series of three posts previewing STAND’s upcoming national campaigns for the fall of 2012.

Aid and Prevention: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The foreign aid budget funds numerous programs that are crucial to civilian protection. We cannot support atrocities prevention without supporting adequate funding for these programs. Indeed, funding of preventative programs today reduces the risk that we will need to spend money tomorrow to mitigate the effects of mass atrocities. Atrocities prevention and foreign aid, in other words, are truly two sides of the same coin. STAND students will use the presidential and congressional elections to raise awareness on their campuses and in their communities about the importance of this funding, and urge the next administration and Congress to protect it from cuts.

Specific action opportunities associated with this campaign will include:

  • STAND chapters will host watch parties on their campuses during the October 22 foreign policy debate. In addition, we will participate in a nationwide effort to ensure that a question about foreign aid, preferably as it relates to atrocity prevention, is asked at one of the debates.
  • In the weeks leading up to the election, we will write op-eds for our campus newspapers and other local media explaining the connection between foreign aid funding and atrocity prevention.
  • Immediately after the election, we will collect signatures on an online petition to the next administration urging that the foreign aid budget not be cut.
  • In addition to collecting petition signatures, STAND students around the country will hold coin drives to help ensure that STAND has the resources to continue pressuring the next administration and Congress to enact and fund an atrocity prevention agenda. 

 

Using the Library to Promote Genocide Awareness

By Annalee Tutterow, Davie County High School STAND

As an event to conclude the 2011-2012 school year, my STAND chapter chose to emphasize Holocaust Memorial Day. After I received numerous donations of books from my local community, our chapter decided that exposing other students to literature relating to mass atrocities was crucial. On April 19, the day commemorating those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, Davie High STAND dedicated a section of the school library to genocide awareness. Now, all books relating to genocide or mass atrocities wear the symbol of a five-pointed star on the binding. Hopefully, students will immediately recognize the content of the book with such a physical designation and actually give a second thought to genocide and mass atrocities.

We held the “dedication” in the school library before school, and the attendance was small and intimate. This was the first “formal” event held by my chapter and through this experience I learned many “dos and don’ts” of event planning. Each member of the club took a turn lighting a candle for a particular group targeted in the Holocaust. A helpful tip for any candle lighting ceremony – determine beforehand if the lighter actually works. There was a moment of panic but the problem was solved shortly (always bring a replacement). Surprisingly, such a simple act as the lighting of a candle can convey a powerful message to an audience. Even considering the little glitches in my planning (this coming from a perpetual perfectionist), I still feel that my STAND chapter achieved our goal—promoting genocide awareness in our school.  

STAND Camp Day 3: Exhausted but Excited

By Southeast Regional Organizer Hannah Finnie

By Sunday morning, STAND Campers were exhausted but excited—exhausted by the countless trainings and late night bonding sessions, but excited by the prospect of another day of leadership and advocacy training that they could bring back home to improve their chapters.

We started the day off with a policy briefing from Advocacy Coordinator Daniel Solomon, who delved into the nuances of the conflicts in Sudan/South Sudan and Burma, as well as more general comments on foreign aid and genocide prevention. Throughout the briefing, STAND Campers asked informed, complex questions. Some asked about the role of the Rohingya population in Burma, and others wondered about the effectiveness of foreign aid.

Up next was a lobby training session designed to to teach everyone the critical skill of lobbying to bring back to their chapters, as well as to help those participating in Tuesday’s lobby day prepare for their meetings. I led the session and emphasized that lobbying can be thought of as relationship-building, and as such, leaving a one-pager, providing contact information, and following up are important steps in creating a successful lobby meeting. Education Coordinator Mac Hamilton and Student Director Mickey Jackson then role-played a bad lobby meeting, where Mac drew off of past bad lobbying experiences (like being late) and Mickey pretended to be a staffer who had no interest in the subject. Grassroots Outreach Coordinator Ashley Jowell saved the day with an example of a wonderful lobby meeting with Daniel Solomon, who made it as hard for Ashley as possible.

Before breaking for a much-needed lunch, STAND’s National Student Coordinator Ashley Kroetsch led an introduction to campaign development, which provided STAND campers with effective tools to plan campaigns at their chapters and within their communities.

Lunch was filled with hilarious storytelling and jokes, such as a recap of Saturday night, when one student believed he was dreaming about an awesome rock concert. In reality, someone was knocking on his door. Another student talked about how he was forced to hop out of the shower to open the door, and the hilarities that ensued.

Afterwards, we reconvened for a management crash course led by the founder and former Executive Director of the Genocide Intervention Network, Sam Bell. Sam provided us with the tips on how to effectively lead and guide STAND chapters, such as the importance of delegating and designating one person as the “owner” of a project. Many students told me this was the most helpful session all weekend, as they were given tangible worksheets to help them act as more effective managers. Student Director Mickey Jackson also found the session useful, and said that he wished he had received the training immediately upon his appointment as Student Director (we still think he’s been doing a pretty okay job!)

We then broke out into small groups by region, where the Regional Organizers led a session on best practices with regard to recruitment and sustainability in STAND chapters. My breakout, however, was more of a conversation in which STAND campers discussed past successful and unsuccessful attempts at recruitment and sustainability. One student mentioned going to freshman classes and talking about STAND as a successful mechanism to increase membership. Another talked about the difficulties in creating visibility for STAND at her public school because of all of the bureaucratic red tape.

Next, we had a briefing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fabrice Musoni, a UEG policy analyst, spoke with first-hand knowledge, as he had been born in the DRC. He also mentioned his resentment of the description of the DRC as the “rape capital of the world,” especially when there are largely non-violent areas of the DRC. The session was mostly “Q & A” style, with students asked informed questions, such as the role of M23 and Rwanda in the conflict in the DRC. Finally, we heard from engaging panelists about the Conflict Free Campus Initiative (CFCI), which informed chapters of the possibility of making their campuses and/or communities conflict free.

From there, STAND campers were free to go to sleep, but most ended up bonding with other students. I played STAND Hangman for a long time, with words such as “wonk” and “yarmulke” (a reference to Daniel Solomon’s watermelon yarmulke) appearing. Afterwards, we played “Keep it Up” while sitting and narrowly missed hitting people multiple times. Another group of students went for a dip in the lake at one in the morning, where there was an obstacle course that they somehow completed in the dark of night.

At the end of the day, I left with many new tools and resources and even more new Facebook friends. All in all, it was a very successful day at STAND Camp.

STAND Camp Day 2: Let’s Do This!

By Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer Ryan Brenner

Day Two was jam packed with a number of compelling workshops. It opened with something in which many upSTANDers are already experts: social media. Our very own Emma Goldberg led Social Media 201, going over everything from Tumblr to Twazzup and of course how to write the perfect tweet.

That out of the way, former National College Outreach Coordinator Katie Ashmore taught us the importance of moving conversations offline. She demonstrated how to engage with another person in a one-on-one conversation in order to get them involved with STAND. I thought this was so interesting because most of the time it is those first conversations that are the hardest to have. Katie reminded us to take a step back and listen when all we want to do is go, go, go.

Later in the afternoon Katie joined a panel of her former STAND colleagues to take our questions about overcoming the challenges that we as a movement face today. By far the coolest segment of this panel was their stories of how they got involved in STAND. From Swarthmore to Georgetown, all the STAND alumni’s legacies live on not only in the chapters that exist to this day at their alma maters, but also in the work they are doing out in the real world. We truly are the next generation of leaders who will lead the change to a world in which human rights are respected everywhere.

Finally, after dinner we heard from Niemat Ahmadi, United to End Genocide’s Director of Global Partnerships, and Khalid Girase, co-founder of Nubia Project. Both shared their stories of how they were personally affected by the ongoing conflict in Sudan. Their personal stories were deeply moving, and served as a great reminder of why, ultimately, we do what we do.