DEMOCRACY SLEEPS : BURMESE REFUGEE WEEPS

Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights
and Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
” Human Rights in Burma: Fifteen Years Post Military Coup “

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS WASHINGTON, D.C October 1, 2003

TESTIMONY BY Naw Mu Si
Intern, Refugees International
1705 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for giving me this important opportunity to speak on behalf of millions of people in my country, especially for those who, by no means, could reach this floor to tell us the stories of their lives under the most brutal and racist military regime. 

I thank Senators McConnell and Feinstein, and the members of the United States Senate as well as the Congress, particularly Congressmen Joe Pitts, Tom Lantos, Henry Hyde, Peter King and other colleagues, for working so hard to get the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act passed. By supporting this legislation, a clear message was sent to the people of Burma that their struggle, our struggle, for freedom is well supported.

My name is Naw Mu Si and I am an ethnic Karen from Burma.  I was born in the Delta Region.  However, I actually grew up in the refugee camp along the Thai-Burma border as my parents were fleeing from the persecution by the military government.  I went to school in the refugee camp called Hway K’loke until I finished my high school in 1995. 

We are all aware of what happened to our leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, on May 30, 2003. I think it is important that this Committee is also informed on what else has been happening simultaneously in and around the Thai-Burma border to the ethnic people of Burma.   

Recent reports from human rights and aid organizations along the Thai-Burma border indicate that the human rights situation is getting worse not only in Rangoon, but also it is worsening in frontiers that ethnic minorities call home.  My family, my father and siblings, continue to live in the refugee camp as well as inside Burmese forests.   

As a result of the ongoing war in minority group areas and deteriorating economic conditions in Burma, more than two million people have fled Burma to Thailand, excluding people who fled to India and Bangladesh, and an estimated 1.5 million more remain inside Burma as internally displaced people. Of the population that fled Burma, approximately 155,000 reside in refugee camps in Thailand and Bangladesh and several million more are forced to live as illegal migrant workers in Thailand, Bangladesh, India, China, and Malaysia.

Mr. Chairman, while working with EarthRights International in Thailand as a Women’s Rights Project Coordinator, I have documented hundreds of women’s human rights abuses committed by the military regime; most of the stories are hard to hear. Women, in particular, are singled out as human shields and mine sweepers during their tenure as forced laborers, as the regime’s army, the Tatmadaw, believe they are less likely to draw enemy fire, thus treating them as if they are expendable. Furthermore, women conscripted as forced laborers are sometimes required to perform twenty-four-hour guard duty, since they are deemed unfit for any other work. These women, as many other women engaged in forced labor, are often subject to sexual abuse including systematic rape at the hands of the soldiers.

For thousands of women from Burma’s ethnic minority groups, our social, economic, and cultural rights are diminished by our refugee status. Or, to be even more precise, if we are forced to flee our country due to oppression and persecution to Thailand, we are not even acknowledged the status of refugees, as Thailand has not signed the refugee convention. Socially, we are people without a country; economically, we are people without livelihoods; and culturally, we are people without a community. We cannot teach our children properly, and there is no chance to develop and propagate our culture. We cannot feed our families, and must rely on the well-meaning but insubstantial donations of kind-hearted NGOs. As this esteemed body well knows, human rights must go hand in hand with regular access to meals.
The Burmese regime has destroyed tens of thousands of villages deliberately in areas that were home to members of ethnic minorities. Mr. Chairman, the regime’s use of ethnic cleansing policies against the minorities, namely the Karen, Karenni, and Shan on its eastern border and the Rohingya on its western border, are well documented and qualify the regime to be held accountable for crimes against humanity. Ethnic cleansing, rape as an official tool of repression, heroin and HIV/AIDS as primary exports, and slave labor are only some of the crimes to mention under international law. Thousands upon thousands of civilians have died and continue to die in the course of this over-50-year old unacknowledged civil war.

It has also become clear to the world that rape is used expressly against non-Burman ethnic women as a weapon of war. This was most recently documented by Refugees International in their report, No Safe Place. In addition to the ever increasing number of refugees in the camps along the Thai-Burma border, the estimated one million or more internally displaced persons (IDPs) whose condition of existence is even below that of the poorest of human beings – illustrates the depth of humanitarian crisis in Burma. On a daily basis, these IDPs are literally hunted down like animals by the repressive Burmese army. The Public Health authority in Thailand complained repeatedly that illegal Burmese migrant workers are the human carriers of infectious and communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The information that I have mentioned above is the result of military rule in Burma for decades.

Burma today has reached the highest state of emergency in its chaotic political history.  The current situation in my country is a test for the international community to challenge Burma’s pretend commitment to the cause of peace, freedom, and justice.  It is also a challenge for us, the people of Burma, to continue our resistance and to never give up on the hope – the hope for Burma as a free and prosperous country where diversity presents the beauty and uniqueness through the peoples and the cultures in Burma.

As a refugee from Burma, I would like to make four recommendations to help bring change to Burma. First, on behalf of the people in Burma, I would like to thank the United States for passing legislation increasing economic sanctions against Burma’s military regime. So, we would like to ask the United States again to not only simply put sanctions on Burma but also help pressure the neighboring countries in the ASEAN States to cooperate with the US on sanctions.

Second, the United States should press the United Nations Security Council to immediately take action on Burma by citing the urgent need for a nation-wide ceasefire; the United States should provide leadership here.

Third, the United States should consider earmarking funds for Internally Displaced People.  We have heard rumors that the United States is unlikely to do so. There are over one million people in Burma running for their lives in the jungles like animals; they urgently need help, perhaps, more than refugees who are currently in Thailand.

Finally, the United States should continue to pressure Thailand to allow refugees to enter Thailand and give them assistance and protection. We don’t want to cause problems for the Thais, but we have nowhere else to go. We are running for our lives.

Thank you very much for all of your support and leadership on this issue.  We hope you continue to help us until Freedom, Peace and Justice are achieved in Burma.
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courtesy : www.refugeesinternational.org

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