Resettled Ethnic Refugees in the U.S. Call for Greater Action to End Systematic Human Rights Abuses against Ethnic People in Burma (click to view PDF)

Attached: Photo of petition delivery

(Washington DC, March 22, 2012) Refugees who fled Burma and resettled in the United States today delivered a petition to Ambassador Derek Mitchell, urging him to use his position as U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma to pressure the Burmese regime to stop committing widespread and systematic human rights abuses against ethnic people. The petition was delivered to Ambassador Mitchell in his office at the U.S. Department of State by Aung Din and Myra Dahgaypaw, Executive Director and Campaigns Coordinator respectively for USCB, and Gum San Maung, President of the Kachin National Organization U.S.A. The petition was signed by nearly 5,000 people, from 8 different ethnic groups in Burma, and living in over 67 cities in the United States.

"It is exciting that these former refugees are now using their rights in the U.S. to speak out for their friends and families left in conflict zones in Burma," said Myra Dahgaypaw. "When I meet with these communities, they all told me how worried they are for their relatives and villagers back home. For many ethnic people in Burma, they have not gotten better. In many cases it has gotten worse," Dahgaypaw said; herself a former refugee who spent over twenty five years as an internally displaced person in Burma and as a refugee along the Thai-Burma border.

Most of the refugees from Burma that have resettled in the U.S. come from ethnic nationality areas where Burma's army has systematically used forced labor, forced relocation, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and more to control populations and resources for decades. Recently, renewed fighting in Kachin State has increased in severity, with Human Rights Watch reporting this week that some 75,000 ethnic Kachin have been displaced and desperately need aid. Human Rights Watch further reported that the Burmese Army has burned villages, forcibly conscripted child soldiers, tortured civilians, and pillaged properties.

The letter to Ambassador Mitchell from the resettled refugees says, "As people from ethnic nationalities in Burma who have been subject to severe atrocities, we are grieved that the rights of people continue to be abused, especially while the international community asserts that positive change is happening. We are particularly concerned that while the main focus of international diplomatic efforts has been on some limited reforms affecting central Burma, insufficient attention is being paid to developments in ethnic states.

Ambassador Derek Mitchell was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma in August 2011. The U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator is tasked to promote a comprehensive international effort, direct dialogue with Burma's regime and democracy forces, consult with the European Union, ASEAN, Burma's neighboring countries and regional powers, and coordinate sanctions. Ambassador Mitchell was in Burma last week and met with senior Burmese officials in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.

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Text of the Petition: Ref: Concernfor theethnicminorities1rightsinBurma  

Dear Ambassador Mitchell,

As refugees who have fled human rights abuses in Burma, we are very grateful to the U.S. government for allowing us to resettle in the United States, a place of safety where we can try to rebuild our lives. We welcome your appointment as Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma and thank you for your hard work so far. We hope your efforts will bring true reconciliation to the country so that our friends, families, and communities still in Burma do not have to live in fear of attacks and abuses from Burma's army.

As people from ethnic nationalities in Burma who have been subject to severe atrocities, we are grieved that the rights of people continue to be abused, especially while the international community asserts that positive change is happening. We are particularly concerned that while the main focus of international diplomatic efforts has been on some limited reforms affecting central Burma, insufficient attention is being paid to developments in ethnic states. The world needs to pay attention to the serious violations of international humanitarian law and growing humanitarian crisis in the ethnic areas. We hear from our communities how more new people are being forced to flee their homes and cannot get access to much needed aid. We ask you to use your position to push the Burmese regime and the international community to pay more attention to the plight of the ethnic peoples of Burma.

The military dominated government has broken three ceasefire agreements in the past year leading to renewed fighting in Kachin, Shan, and Karen areas. During the new fighting, the Burmese Army has deliberately targeted civilians. Ethnic organizations have well documented the widespread use of forced labour, force relocation, human shields, and even the use of rape as a weapon of war. We urge you to tell the Burmese regime that the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians and end war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma if this regime continues to fail to end its atrocities against ethnic nationalities.

International efforts to secure dialogue in Burma must prioritize the inclusion of ethnic representatives, including the ethnic democratic forces that are not in parliament. There can be no long-term peace and security in Burma without the inclusion of ethnic representatives in the dialogue process. We urge you to make this a priority for the US government, and to meet ethnic leaders, including those outside Parliament, on all your visits to Burma and the region. We also urge you to ensure other governments and international organizations do the same.

We want to live in a federal democratic Burma, without fear of military attacks because of our ethnicity and our religion. Our lives and our rights are not less valuable than those in central Burma. We hope that you will ensure we are no longer treated as if we are less valuable.

Sincerely,