Recently, Justice Trust, an organization that seeks to use existing judicial systems in emerging democratic countries through local lawyers, came to Washington, DC. During their two days they held a number of meetings to discuss their new report, Hidden Hands, which examines the communal violence in Burma and found that outside actors and hardline military elements may be involved, particularly in Mandalay. And that communal violence is not as spontaneous as the international community believes.
In company with Justice Trust were Buddhist monk U Tikha Nyana and lawyer U Aung Thane (who is a member of Justice Trust’s Steering Committee), who recently sued the Burmese government, specifically Home Affairs Minister and Burmese military General Ko Ko. This unprecedented legal action was taken as a response to the Letpadaung copper mine crackdown in November 2013, where police used white phosphorus munitions against peaceful protestors who were primarily monks. There has been no justice or accountability for individuals like the Minister of Home Affairs who ordered the attack, nor have the victims received any compensation for their grievous injuries that require long-term, ongoing medical care. U Tikha Nyana was there when it took place and was one of the few monks so severely burned that he had to spend time in a Bangkok hospital. U Aung Thane has represented more than 150 political prisoners from the Saffron Revolution and 88 Generation, and now the Letpadaung copper mine crackdown. He is a Supreme Court advocate and a long-serving member of the National League for Democracy’s Legal Committee.
During their stay in D.C., the group met with many Congressional offices, Administration officials, hosted a panel, and had an honest discussion with long-time Burma champions Rep. Joe Crowley (D-New York) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). Alongside discussions about the Hidden Hands report, U Tikha Nyana was able to tell his story as an eyewitness of the Letpadaung crackdown, how the munitions have permanently marred his body, and that he will not stop until justice is realized. U Aung Thane described the process of using the existing legal system for this particular case, mentioning that even though the initial file was rejected by the local police (mostly because sign-off by President Thein Sein himself is required, which was not received). He will return to Burma to deliver a writ appealing the rejection with the local courts, and states that he will go to the Supreme Court if necessary to have this case heard.
The question most asked by Congress was: what do you need from us? Their answers were:
1. That the U.S. Government add the Home Minister General Ko Ko to the sanctions list (SDN list), making a statement that the United States will not tolerate brutality and violence against civilians;
2. That the U.S. Administration and U.S. Congress establish benchmarks to which the Burmese government must adhere for a legitimate, credible, inclusive, free and fair election coming up in November 2015;
3. That the international community understands that Burma is not a success story yet, given the continued abuse of journalists, crackdowns on students and protestors, ongoing conflicts with ethnic minorities and questionable “communal” violence against religious minorities.
Take action today with Justice Trust and two brave Burmese citizens willing to challenge authoritarian rule by signing a petition requesting the U.S. Government add General Ko Ko to the sanctions list.