CSW Sponsors Burma Conference

Last Wednesday, Church World Service and partners sponsored a conference where more than 150 activists, government officials, researchers and representatives of non-governmental organizations gathered to discuss human rights abuses and urge increased attention to Burma.

The day-long conference titled, “Burma: Looking Forward,” was held Oct. 26-30 at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., as part of the annual Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an association of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and displaced people of Burma seeking to address humanitarian needs among other topics. Co-sponsors of the conference include Church World Service (CWS), Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Burma has suffered from well-known internal problems such as a repressive military regime, a failing economy, and a lack of even the most basic political and social rights, reported CWS.

According to TBBC, internal conflict and human rights violations by the Burmese military has forced the migration of 1.25 million people with 2,800 villages in eastern Burma destroyed, relocated or abandoned from 1996 to May 2005.

CWS also noted that there are about 1,100 people held as political prisoners, including 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy. The country is also battling a growing HIV/AIDS pandemic and narcotic trafficking.

The recent conference featured experts on the situation in Burma as well as U.S. specialists on issues such as international peace, human rights and development programs. Key speakers included: Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for international affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Other speakers were from organizations including National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, United Nations Development Program, Human Rights Watch, Thailand Burma Border Consortium, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Four sessions were held during the one-day conference – “Why Burma Matters,” “Responding to Critical Issues Facing Burma and the Region,” “Displaced Persons,” and “International Policy Responses.”

Some participants of the conference expressed their support for sanctions against Burma’s military regime while other debated whether engaging with the regime and sending humanitarian aid would help improve the country more. All agreed that they want Burma to receive increased attention from the both the United States and the United Nations.

CWS is a founding member of the 21-year-old TBBC – an alliance of non-governmental organizations working together with displaced people of Burma to respond to humanitarian needs, strengthen self-reliance and promote appropriate and lasting solutions in pursuit of their dignity, justice and peace.

CWS partners provide aid to displaced Burmese at the refugee camps in Thailand, where they receive food and shelter from the Burmese Border Consortium. In 2004, CWS provided $250,000 to supply food, blankets, mosquito nets, and shelter for the more than 140,000 refugees at the border camps.