Demonstrators Protest Against Thein Sein in New York

By Lalit K Jha 28 September 2012

WASHINGTON—While Burmese President Thein Sein was addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, separate rallies were held nearby—two by members of the Kachin community and one by a Burma NGO in support of the Rohingyas—to protest the conflict in Burma and alleged human rights abuses by the Burmese army and the security forces.

The civic group Kachin Alliance organized two demonstrations in New York on Thursday, one outside the UN headquarters scheduled to take place at the time the Burmese president was addressing the General Assembly; the other outside the Burmese Permanent Mission in the city.

In a memorandum submitted to the UN, the Kachin Alliance urged the world body to send personnel to observe the situation on the ground in Burma’s conflict zones. It also urged the UN to facilitate a free flow of humanitarian aid to Kachin IDPs (internally displaced persons) and refugees along the Sino-Burmese border, and to facilitate a process leading to a peaceful resolution.

“Members of the Kachin community came from as far as Nebraska, California, Michigan and other parts of the country. We want an end to civil war in Kachin State and an end to human rights violations,” Brang Hkangda of the Kachin Alliance told The Irrawaddy.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Burma’s President Thein Sein said that the fighting in Kachin State had caused much destruction, and that his government had set up a working committee which has held several rounds of peace talks with the Kachins.

Later at the Burmese Permanent Mission, a Kachin delegation submitted an open letter to two Burmese ministers. The letter was addressed to President Thein Sein.

While lauding his efforts to bring about political and economic reform in Burma, the open letter said the US Kachin community is deeply concerned that the civil war being waged in the Kachin area has remained unabated since the resumption of hostilities in June 2011.

“This has caused untold misery to tens of thousands of our kinsmen who have had to flee homes and villages, and are in dire need of the most basic of human needs. They are having to live in constant fear and uncertainty, driven back into conflict zones from camps along the China border, and their rights are violated, even in the sanctity of church-run camps in government-controlled territory,” the letter said.

The Kachin Alliance called on Thein Sein to open political dialogue leading to a genuine federal union guaranteeing equality and self-determination for ethnic nationalities, and initiating an end to the offensive war against all armed ethnic nationalities by issuing a public statement to that effect.

The letter also urged the president to show kindness to Burmese soldiers by not sending them into harm’s way to fight in an unjust war.

“Stop the harassment, interrogation, and detention of innocent Kachin civilians by the local authorities,” the Kachin Alliance said, and called for a free flow of domestic and international aid to Kachin IDPs, saying the solution to the IDP problem needs to be a prerequisite to any and all future talks, military or political.

The Kachin Alliance also urged the Burmese president to allow the presence of UN observer teams or intermediary teams in conflict zones and IDP camps to monitor and prevent human rights abuses.

Outside the Asia Society headquarters, the Burma Task Force USA held a protest rally against alleged human rights violations against the Muslim Rohingya community. In a statement, the Burma Task Force USA said Thein Sein seemed “spooked and flustered” when he found his entourage surrounded by the protesters chanting against the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas when he stepped out of his car. He was quickly ushered away from the protesters by his security detail.

“The military junta has brainwashed generations of Burmese to hold the darker-skinned Rohingya in contempt. It is the only genocide in the world where the twin evils of racism and religious bigotry are at work,” said Habeeb Ahmed, a board member of BTF-New York.

Dr. Shaik Ubaid, the convener of BTF-New York, demanded that the Burmese government fully cooperate with the international community to immediately cease the arbitrary arrest of Rohingya men.

Demanding that international media and humanitarian organizations be given unconditional access to northern Arakan State to provide enough food and shelter to prevent starvation and disease during the current monsoon season, Dr. Ubaid called for the dissolution of the government’s Commission of Inquiry, saying that it includes some of the Rakhine masterminds of the recent violence against the Rohingya. No Rohingya representatives are appointed onto the commission.

Over the last week, the Burma Task Force has held rallies in multiple cities across the US and Canada on the occasion of Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit, showing solidarity with her struggle and asking her to speak up about the persecution of the Rohingya community. More rallies are planned in the coming days, including in Boston, Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Task Force said.

Meanwhile the US Campaign for Burma expressed its disappointment over the US Congress and Obama administration’s decision to lift the remaining sanctions on Burma, arguing that this is not the right time to take such a step.

Last week, the US Congress fast-tracked the passing of legislation that authorizes the US to provide financial assistance and loans to Burma through international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.

“The lifting of sanctions on Burma de-legitimizes ethnic nationalities’ demands for a cessation of hostilities in Kachin State, and prematurely rewards the Burmese regime while the military undertakes a clear escalation of violence,” said Aung Din from US Campaign for Burma.

“The absence of sanctions removes the motivation for the government to engage in further and serious negotiations with ethnic groups as well as political reform leading towards the 2015 election. The removal of sanctions condones the violence, exacerbates the conflict, destabilizes the negotiations, and sets back the peace process,” he said.

Aung Din said that the US Congress and administration will be responsible for generously rewarding the regime if the war in Kachin State and human rights abuses in ethnic areas do not end, hundreds of remaining political prisoners are not released, and political settlements between the regime and ethnic resistance groups are not realized.

In a related development, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a meeting on Friday of his “Group of Friends” on Burma to discuss the democratic reforms in the country, as well as the issues of ethnic conflicts and the Rohingya crisis.