|1/14/2008: Burma: USCIRF Urges President Bush to Implement New Policies to Advance Democratic Reform, Respect for Human Rights|
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON—The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has sent a letter to President George W. Bush urging his administration to make extra efforts to advance democratic reform and respect for human rights in Burma. “U.S. leadership is desperately needed to keep the international focus on demands for democracy and the protection of human rights in Burma,” Commission Chair Michael Cromartie wrote in the letter.
The Commission has found that egregious violations of religious freedom are central to the military junta’s attempts to maintain its power. Following a hearing on Burma that it convened last month, the Commission recommended among other things that the U.S. government establish an interagency taskforce on Burma under the National Security Council (NSC), appoint a Special Coordinator on Burma to further coordinate bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts, and continue its firm support for various UN diplomatic efforts.
The text of the letter follows.
January 11, 2008
The Honorable George W. Bush
Dear Mr. President:
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom respectfully urges that you make extra efforts to advance democratic reform and respect for human rights in Burma as a major priority of your Administration and implement new policies to address one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Given the brutality of the recent crackdown by the military junta and the reluctance of many countries in the region firmly to condemn the Burmese military’s egregious human rights abuses, the Commission believes that political reconciliation and reform will not be realized without determined U.S. leadership. The Commission commends the steps you have taken recently to support the democratic aspirations of the Burmese people, including bolstering U.S. sanctions on Burma and urging the United Nations to take resolute action in the Security Council.
Last month, the Commission received testimony on the Burmese military’s violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks and its ongoing abuses against Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians. At the hearing, the Venerable Ashin Nayaka, a prominent Burmese monk, told us that his country is at a critical moment in history. A number of prominent monasteries have been closed, he said, others emptied. Monks have disappeared and the global outcry has waned. In his words, “Strong, effective and timely intervention by the international community is urgently needed. This is a moral crisis that Americans must stand for.” The Commission has found that egregious violations of religious freedom are central to the military junta’s attempts to maintain its power. Thus, the protection and promotion of religious freedom should be a critical component of U.S. diplomatic efforts and any road map for political reconciliation and democratic reform.
U.S. leadership is desperately needed to keep the international focus on demands for democracy and the protection of human rights in Burma. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has said that a return to the status quo ante in Burma is not acceptable. U.S. leadership is therefore crucial to focus international attention on peaceful democratic change and reform in Burma.
The Commission therefore respectfully recommends the following actions regarding Burma for your consideration and implementation.
1. Establish an interagency taskforce on Burma under the National Security Council (NSC), headed by a senior ranking official, to coordinate U.S. government policy and actions on Burma, including sanctions, humanitarian aid, democracy promotion, counternarcotics, trafficking in persons and other policy objectives.
The taskforce on Burma should provide regular briefings to the State Department, the NSC, the White House, and congressional leaders that track the activities and the effectiveness of all departments of the U.S. government in:
2. Appoint a Special Coordinator on Burma, with the rank of Ambassador, to further coordinate bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts and serve as the Administration’s point person for efforts to bring about political reconciliation and democratic reform in Burma.
The Special Coordinator should be responsible for coordinating diplomatic efforts and building support for:
The Special Coordinator should hold consultative meetings with representatives of non-governmental organizations that implement programs involving religious freedom and other human rights in Burma, representatives of the Burmese opposition, and other experts, including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Special Coordinator should also be responsible for directing U.S. personnel, including the diplomatic and intelligence communities, to collect information on efforts by the Burmese military to circumvent sanctions and create lists of individuals who bear responsibility for human rights abuses and others who may assist in, or be complicit in, the evasion of sanctions by targeted individuals.
3. In its diplomatic interactions with the government of Burma, the U.S. government should press the government of Burma to:
4. The United States should continue its firm support for various UN diplomatic efforts including:
Mr. President, the Commission is convinced that pressing for the protection of fundamental human rights and political reform in Burma will greatly strengthen peace and stability in Southeast Asia. The United States must take a leading role in this effort to demonstrate our resolve that peaceful progress toward democracy and the protection of human rights, including religious freedom, is in the best interest of all nations.
cc: Steven J. Hadley, National Security Advisor