August 14, 2018
Wilberforce A!ert: The other victims of Burma’s ethnic cleansing campaign
In Burma, a large ethnic group in Southeast Asia referred to as The Karen people, have suffered decades of religious and ethnic persecution at the hands of the military-led regime. Tens of thousands now live as refugees around the world.
Recently, some 15,000 Karen refugees stood on the West steps of the United States Capitol in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Burma. Even more remarkable, they stood in unity for all persecuted religious and ethnic minorities in their home country. This is significant, as the Burmese military has consistently used the state-run education system to pit minority groups against one another and foment hatred between indigenous communities.
The systematic persecution of the Karen and other ethnic minorities in Burma has resulted in mass migration of refugees. In the last ten years, one in four U.S.-bound refugees have come from Burma. More than 70,000 Karen people have resettled in St. Paul, Minnesota, Omaha, Nebraska, New Bern, North Carolina, Buffalo, New York and Des Moines, Iowa. They follow the news about Burma with disappointment, watching the government of Aung San Suu Kyi and the intensified attacks of the Burmese military after sanctions were lifted in 2016.
The Karen and other minorities are clear targets of their own government, victims of ethnic cleansing. It is becoming more apparent that the calculated way in which these groups have been targeted bears the hallmarks of genocide. It was the 20th century lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent, Raphael Lemkin, who first named genocide. He defined it as a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. We need look no further than Burma to watch genocide unfold before us. The same horrific actions taken against the Rohingyas by the Burmese military — and widely reported in the international media — also are being meted out against the Karen, the Kachin, and the Shan.
The United States government has an opportunity to lead on this important human rights issue. Congress should adopt a resolution condemning the genocide occurring within Burma. Likewise, the U.S. government and civil society should continue to advocate on behalf of all persecuted groups within Burma, including the Karen, the Rohyinga, the Kachin, and the Shan. Standing in unity for all persecuted minorities strengthens the case against the military’s brutal tactics and demonstrates our commitment to ending human suffering for all.
The United States government also should use the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction brutal military leaders within Burma and cut them off from support of the West. By sanctioning leaders who have committed human rights abuses, we are able to apply pressure to the military as a whole and make it clear we will not stand for genocide.
As the Trump administration continues to advocate for persecuted Christians and minorities around the world, let us not forget the Karen people and all ethnic minorities within Burma. We have an opportunity to advocate against a brutal military regime and stand in the gap for so many who have suffered for decades.
Frank R. Wolf, Distinguished Senior Fellow