Background and Achievements:
Burma Task Force has worked since 2012 to mobilize support for the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority of Burma. Though a Burmese anti-Muslim movement had been gaining strength in recent years, this human rights crisis came most dramatically to the world’s attention three years ago when hundreds of Rohingya villages were attacked by the Burmese army and over 750,000 Rohingya men, women and children fled into Bangladesh.
As the Burmese military increasingly embraced genocide, mass rape, land-grabbing and displacement, our NGO has worked to bring together leaders from the impacted community and policymakers, pushing for stronger sanctions against the Burmese government, supporting formal genocide determinations, international justice, humanitarian aid, and full restoration of rights to the Rohingya. We have had some success in all these areas, except the last. While the Burmese government resists compliance with international laws, we face a major challenge with many dimensions.
Burma Task Force engages regularly with influential officials in US Congress, State Department and the White House, and also in the United Nations, and to keep momentum have coordinated with leaders and civil society in certain nations (including Canada and some EU nations) that have taken a special interest in this human rights disaster.
Our grassroots efforts include weekly “Action Alerts” that help build a committed constituency and a movement for human rights in Burma.
In 2018 and 2019 our quite successful “advocacy days” in Washington brought us into the offices of hundreds of lawmakers and convened numerous refugee leaders from Burma to encourage solidarity and cooperation among diverse persecuted minorities in Burma. Without such solidarity, it is unlikely that the Rohingya will ever be accepted and included in Burma. Without such pressure on Congress, even via online meetings, the issue will not be prioritized. As it is, the House of Representatives voted to call the situation a genocide in December 2018. The Republican National Committee and the Canadian Government have also made the same determination.
On humanitarian aid, last year the US Congress voted to provide $400 million in aid and Canada to provide $300 million. With the economic impact of the global pandemic we will have to make a major push this year to keep these funding levels. No matter who wins the next elections, we face educating a new class of policymakers.
We also engage with Bangladeshi officials in conferences, in media, at the UN and elsewhere, to encourage continued support of the refugees and an end to harsh restrictions on their camps. Pressure works. The Bangladesh government recently agreed to lift internet restrictions on these camps. Free and full communications are especially important during the pandemic. Taking advantage of the new technologies during the pandemic, Burma Task Force is an integral part of the online television programming produced by Justice for All. In addition, we have produced several online panel discussions this year, including an all-day conference with 20 expert speakers, a rally against genocide with a similar number of speakers from around the globe, and a Burma leaders’ roundtable. We plan to expand this online effort to mobilize students, interfaith allies, and congregations, to strengthen and sustain our movement for human rights.
We urgently require strong continued financial support to continue this work, especially coordinating and strengthening partnerships to attain the ultimate goal of successful repatriation with restoration of all rights:
- International Courts: We retained barristers at the International Criminal Court to further develop a case against Burmese government; Collected and translated 160 personal testimonies from Rohingya victims of atrocities; and filed a civil lawsuit against the Burmese government. Earlier this year, we celebrated the first successes of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) both in the Hague and in our own dinners for the lawyers involved in the case. But this long process is not complete and if Rohingya are really going to have justice we need to confront Burma’s evasions and lack of transparency.
- Media work: In 2019 and 2020 we fundedtwo prize-winning documentaries that aired on national cable news outlets like CNN. A strong Burma program will be able to support strong reporting. Media rapid response helped stop attacks against Rohingya on 4 occasions.
- Analysis: During the last few years, Burma Task Force has drafted “white papers” for use by policymakers in Congress and at the State Department, including five 2020 studies relating to Burma’s lack of compliance with the ICJ rulings noted above. Policymakers have expressed appreciation and we need sufficient staff to be able to continue.
- Advocacy: As the sole entity working on the Burma/Rohingya issue to have retained lobbying & PR firms on these matters, we need to continue to have bipartisan “insiders” on our team, especially at a time of great political polarization. They have helped mobilize evangelical Christians to sign statements of support, with the latest statement on Burma issued by the influential Southern Baptist leadership in August 2020. At the UN, we have met over 35 times with the presidents of the UN Security Council and spoken on panels. We have consulted several times with the Special Envoy, the Special Rapporteur, the Special Fact-Finding Mission and with UN Mission staff, refugee agencies and other experts. We hope to continue to keep the Rohingya issue alive at the UN, despite the challenges ahead.
- Education: We must continue our essential role of raising awareness through Action Alerts and extensive social media work, to involve young people in defending human rights. We plan to continue expanding online television programming as well as promoting Rohingya and Burmese ethnic speakers, encouraging essay contests and other initiatives.
- Partnership Building: We emphasize our interfaith efforts on behalf of religious freedom, our regular participation in the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, close coordination with US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders. We help mobilize diverse faith communities. We have trained Buddhist monks and other faith leaders to act on behalf of the Rohingya; and in 2019, trained diverse Burmese youth to be peacemakers and organizers and improve leadership skills. We seek to continue this important role.