UN’s Libya action must be reproduced

A petition sent yesterday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that carried 84,000 signatures was a desperate appeal from Karen civilians who have lived in fear of the Burmese army for their whole lives, as have their parents and grandparents before them.

People from Burma have watched in disbelief at how swiftly Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council have acted in response to Colonel Gaddafi’s attacks on Libyan civilians. It took just two weeks for a unanimous Security Council resolution to be passed, demanding an end to the attacks, imposing sanctions, and referring Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Attacks against Karen and other ethnic civilians have been going on for more than sixty years, with no action taken by the international community.

Since Burma got independence from Britain in 1948, our Karen people have been targeted for planned, widespread and systematic attacks by the ruling governments in Burma. These have forced hundreds of thousands of us into hiding, refugee camps and to other countries.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the largest political organisation representing the Karen people of Burma, organised this petition at the request of the Karen civilians. We are asking UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take effective action to immediately stop the Burmese regime’s military operations and human rights violations in Karen areas. This petition is supported by KNU branches and Karen communities around the world. The petition was signed by 83,950 Karen civilians from Burma, aged from 16 to 103 years, who are victims and survivors of military attacks and human rights abuses by the Burmese army.

The dictatorship in Burma continues to target civilians in their military operations in our homeland. These attacks are in breach of the Geneva Conventions, and require immediate international action. Our Karen community in the UK fully supports the KNU, not only for defending the Karen people and finding ways to listen to them, but also for leading the Karen struggle for our rights, protection and security to establish a federal democratic Burma where everyone can live side by side in peace.  The crisis in our country requires high level international attention in order to influence the dictatorship.

The elections held on 7 November 2010 did not represent any kind of progress towards democratisation, national reconciliation, or peace and stability in Burma. The election was designed only to legitimise the continuation of the military rule, under civilian guise. The constitution that this election brought in gives no protection to the ethnic people. As our General Secretary, Zipporah Sein has said, it is a death sentence for ethnic diversity in Burma.

In order to solve the political problems in Burma, the KNU has always called for dialogue with the ruling regime. This is in line with calls from the international community, including the United Nations, European Union and the US, to solve the problems through dialogue. However, the dictatorship ignores this call and continues its military offensives against the Karen people.

Ban Ki-moon has never made the strong statements on Burma that he has with Libya. This is why Karen communities worldwide also delivered copies of the petition to presidents and prime ministers across the world, calling on them to also take action. We asked them to use their influence to support Ban Ki-moon to secure a nationwide ceasefire as a top priority, leading to meaningful and inclusive dialogue to achieve genuine national reconciliation and a federal Burma. We also called on them to pressure the regime to enter into dialogue with the KNU and other ethnic political parties, together with the rest of the democracy movement in Burma.

The international response to what has happened in Libya has been swift and strong. It has been the opposite with Burma. Are the lives of Karen people and others from Burma less valuable than the lives of people in Libya? Of course the answer is no. In which case, Ban Ki-moon must listen to the 84,000 people who appealed for his help yesterday. We are suffering just as much as the people of Libya. He must put the issue of a nationwide ceasefire at the top of his agenda for Burma. If he continues to fail to act, the cost will be counted in more lost lives, more rape, more torture, and more burnt villages.

Nant Bwa Bwa Phan is the UK representative of the Karen National Union.

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