Press Release: Western Union – Stop Funding Genocide in Burma  

Press Release: Embargoed For: 31st October 2019; 9am US ET

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), Burma Campaign UK, and International Campaign for the Rohingya

On the eve of Western Union announcing its 3rd quarter results, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), Burma Campaign UK, International Campaign for the Rohingya, and 33 other organizations today called on Western Union to end its business relationship with Burma’s military. The Burmese military has been accused by United Nations investigators of being responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Western Union is in a business relationship with a military-owned bank in Burma, which it uses as one of its agents in the country. Myawaddy Bank is a subsidiary of a giant military business conglomerate called Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL). Profits from Myawaddy Bank benefit the military.

The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar (also known as Burma), set up by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in Burma, has called for sanctions on military-owned companies and for companies not to do business with the military.

To date, Western Union has not responded to approaches by Burma Campaign UK and the International Campaign for the Rohingya regarding its business relationship with the Burmese military.

“Western Union’s business partner in Burma, the Burmese military, has raped thousands of Rohingya women and killed hundreds of Rohingya children. Western Union is funding the military that committed genocide against my people. How can any company claim to be ethical when they help pay for genocide?” stated Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK).

“There are plenty of alternative non-military companies in Burma with which Western Union can partner in Burma,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “There is no justification for putting money into the pockets of Burma’s brutal military.”

“Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek is admirable for speaking out for the rights of refugees. However, Western Union has partnered with Burma’s army that forced over 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, creating the world’s largest group of refugees,” stated Simon Billenness, Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya and Campaign Director of No Business With Genocide. “But by partnering with Burma’s genocidal generals, Western Union puts at risk the reputation of its company and its top executives.”

For more information contact:

Tun Khin
President, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)
Mobile (UK): +44 (0)7888714866
tunkhin80@gmail.com

www.brouk.org

Mark Farmaner
Director, Burma Campaign UK
Mobile (UK): +44 (0794) 1239640
Twitter: @MarkFarmaner
mark.farmaner@burmacampaign.org.uk
www.burmacampaign.org.uk

Simon Billenness
Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya
Campaign Director, No Business With Genocide
Mobile (US): 617-596-6158
Twitter: @Rohingya_ICR
simon.billenness@rohingyacampaign.org
www.rohingyacampaign.org

Sources:

Western Union website (accessed October 2018)

On its website, Western Union calls a Myawaddy Bank branch “MWD Mandalay,” even though the address is that of a Myawaddy Bank Branch.

Myawaddy Bank website (accessed October 2019)

The Myawaddy Bank website states: “Using Western Union at Myawaddy Bank is a straightforward with a guranteed [sic] service.”

Western Union website: profiles of corporate leadership

For More Information:

“Dirty List: Western Union,” Burma Campaign UK

The economic interests of the Myanmar military,” United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, September 2019

Resetting Myanmar Policy,” Global Witness, September 2019

Organizational signers of the letter to Western Union

Action Committee for Democracy Development
ALTSEAN-Burma
Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters- HRDP
Association Suisse Birmanie (Swiss Burma Association)
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Task Force
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)
CodePink
Collectif HAMEB
Dana Investment Advisors
Free Burma Campaign (South Africa)
Friends Fiduciary Corporation
Fund Our Future
Global Witness
Independent Old Catholic Church, Office of Ecumenical, Interfaith, and Global Engagement
Info Birmanie
Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International Center for Rights and Justice
International Interfaith Peace Corps
Investors Against Genocide
Justice For All
Karen Organization of America
Never Again Coalition
No Business With Genocide
Odhikar
Partners Relief and Development UK
Pax Christi Metro New York
Progressive Voice
SharePower Responsible Investing
Swedish Burma Committee
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
US Campaign for Burma

Open Letter to Western Union President and CEO Hikmet Ersek

We represent 33 organizations calling on Western Union to end its business relationship with Burma’s military. The Burmese military has been accused by United Nations investigators of being responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Western Union is in a business relationship with a military-owned bank in Burma, which it uses as one of its agents in the country. Myawaddy Bank is a subsidiary of a giant military business conglomerate called Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL). Profits from Myawaddy Bank benefit the military.

The United Nations-mandated International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has urged the international community to “sever ties with Myanmar’s military and the vast web of companies it controls and relies on” as “any foreign business activity involving the Tatmadaw (military) and its conglomerates MEHL and MEC poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.”

Western Union is doing business with a military responsible for the rape of thousands of women, and the killing of thousands more. There are plenty of alternative non-military companies in Burma that Western Union can use in Burma. There is no justification for putting money into the pockets of Burma’s brutal military.

We commend Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek for speaking out for the rights of migrants and refugees. However, Western Union has partnered with Burma’s army that forced over 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, creating the world’s largest group of refugees.  By partnering with Burma’s generals, Western Union puts at risk its reputation and that of its top management.

We urge Western Union to end its partnership with Myawaddy Bank. We further urge Western Union to adopt a policy of not doing business with any Burmese military-owned or military-controlled companies and conduct the necessary thorough due diligence to ensure that it does not partner with such companies again.

Signers

Action Committee for Democracy Development
ALTSEAN-Burma
Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters- HRDP
Association Suisse Birmanie (Swiss Burma Association)
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Task Force
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)
CodePink
Collectif HAMEB
Dana Investment Advisors
Free Burma Campaign (South Africa)
Friends Fiduciary Corporation
Fund Our Future
Global Witness
Independent Old Catholic Church, Office of Ecumenical, Interfaith, and Global Engagement
Info Birmanie
Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International Center for Rights and Justice
International Interfaith Peace Corps
Investors Against Genocide
Justice For All
Karen Organization of America
Never Again Coalition
No Business With Genocide
Odhikar
Partners Relief and Development UK
Pax Christi Metro New York
Progressive Voice
SharePower Responsible Investing
Swedish Burma Committee
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
US Campaign for Burma

Sources:

Western Union website (accessed October 2018)

On its website, Western Union calls a Myawaddy Bank branch “MWD Mandalay,” even though the address is that of a Myawaddy Bank Branch.

Myawaddy Bank website (accessed October 2019)

The Myawaddy Bank website states: “Using Western Union at Myawaddy Bank is a straightforward with a guranteed [sic] service.”

Western Union website: profiles of corporate leadership

For More Information:

“Dirty List: Western Union,” Burma Campaign UK

The economic interests of the Myanmar military,” United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, September 2019

Resetting Myanmar Policy,” Global Witness, September 2019

How Universities Can Join the Movement to End Genocide

How can you make your university take action to end genocide?

Students and faculty have an honorable tradition of organizing to uphold human rights. By organizing to persuade your university to enact a policy to end genocide, you are following in the footsteps of similar campaigns, such as the South Africa anti-apartheid movement (1980s), Free Burma movement (1990s), Save Darfur campaign (2000s), and fossil fuel divestment movement (today).

International Campaign for the Rohingya and STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities, have developed a campaign for students and faculty to press their university to enact a comprehensive campus policy to help end genocide. The campaign focuses on harnessing how the university uses the power of its investments and the power of its purchasing.

Universities as investors

Educational institutions invest trillions of dollars, primarily through their endowments. As shareholders, universities are partial owners of thousands of publicly traded companies. Through those ownership stakes, unviersities can put pressure on corporations to stop doing business with governments engaged in genocide. This kind of shareholder activism can be more powerful than selling – or divesting – stock in companies.

Does your university own stock in Chevron? It likely does because Chevron is a very widely held company. For two years, shareholders of Chevron filed a shareholder resolution putting pressure on the oil company, the largest U.S. investor in Burma (Myanmar), to adopt a policy of not doing business with government engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity. In 2017 and 2018, that resolution received the votes of approximately 6% of shareholders at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting.

In response to this pressure, Chevron has raised issues of human rights directly with the Burmese government. This year, shareholders reached an agreement with Chevron to drop the resolution in return for a dialogue with Chevron over what companies can do to pressure governments engaged in or at risk of commiting genocide and/or mass atrocities.

International Campaign for the Rohingya is working with shareholders owning over $50 billion in assets to put pressure on all of the oil companies in Burma. This shareholder group has also pressed major jewelry retailers not to buy gems that profit the Burmese army. This Fall, investors will engage Western Union, which is in partnership with a bank controlled by Burma’s army.

How can you successfully press your university to join the growing number of shareholders taking action to end genocide? You can start by asking your university treasurer some key questions.

  • What stocks does the university own? Does it own Chevron or Western Union?

Many educational institutions, especially public universities, make public their stock holdings. Many others will simply provide that information on request. Some will only reveal their holdings after feeling pressure from a campaign asking for disclosure.

Zero in on your university’s direct holdings of shares. Those are shares that your university owns outright and can vote in favor of shareholder resolutions such as the one at Chevron.

  • Does the university have a policy guiding how it votes its shares?

Some universities have developed a policy guiding how they vote their shares on resolutions raising environmental, social, and governances (ESG) issues. Ask for a copy of the current policy and request that it include a provision that the university vote in favor of resolutions asking companies to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • How has the university voted its shares in the past?

Some universities publish a report showing how they voted on each shareholder resolution. Whether this is public or not, find out whether your university held Chevron stock in 2017 and, if so, how it voted those shares on the resolution in 2017 and 2018 pressing the company to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • Does the university work with other shareholders to promote corporate responsibility?

Some universities are members of US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Reponsible Investment, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Principles for Responsible Investment, or the Council of Institutional Investors. If your university is a member, ask what help and resources they are receiving to address issues concerning ending genocide.

  • Would the university adopt a formal policy of using its investments to help end genocide?

Ask your university to join the growing “No Business With Genocide” campaign. International Campaign for the Rohingya is working with a growing coalition of investors and NGOs. We are ready to work with you and your university to develop policies and practices that help end the genocide of the Rohingya.

  • How can students and faculty influence the university’s investment policies and practices?

Some universities, such as Harvard, have an advisory committee on shareholder responsibility that helps develop policies and practices. Ask to participate.

If your university lacks such an avenue to influence its investments, launch a campaign to pass a resolution in your student government, faculty council, and/or board of trustees. Develop petitions and hold rallies. Meet with your university administration. Use every pressure point to persuade your university to step up and help end genocide.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition publishes how-to guides  for students and faculty on university endowmentsdivestment, and shareholder advocacy. Read them to prepare yourselves on how to best influence your university to help end genocide.

Universities as purchasers

Universities buy billions of dollars of goods and services from corporations from around the world. That enormous purchasing power can be used to press companies to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or mass atrocities.

Again, there are powerful examples of how students and faculty have successfully influenced their university’s purchasing policy. The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative (CFCI) is a joint initiative of the Enough Project and STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities. By encouraging universities, which are large purchasers of electronics and powerful spokespersons, to commit to measures that pressure electronics companies to responsibly invest in Congo’s minerals sector, students are voicing the demand for conflict-free products from Congo.

How can a university use its purchasing power to help end genocide?

A university can, in its purchasing RFPs and contracts, require contractors to disclose any company policies regarding doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.

A university can also in its purchasing RFPs and contracts further require contractors, within two years, to have a written and formally adopted company policy stating that they will not do business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.

These provisions can apply to any contractor with the university with annual revenues of a certain amount, such as $100 million or greater.

Taking Action

International Campaign for the Rohingya and STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities, have developed a campaign for students and faculty to press their university to enact a comprehensive campus policy to help end genocide.
It’s time for universities to make a difference in ending genocide, starting in their own campus. Working together, students and faculty can be the builders the grassroots campus movement to end genocide.

Open letter to the UN Secretary General on UN operations in Myanmar

International Campaign for the Rohingya has joined fifteen NGOs on an open letter to the UN Secretary General following the publication of the inquiry into UN operations in Myanmar.

The letter calls on the Secretary General to learn from the UN’s past failures in Myanmar and take bold action to strengthen support for human rights in the country, and throughout the UN system.

The letter references the recent report by Gert Rosenthal, “A Brief and Independent Inquiry into the Involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018.”  The Rosenthal report describes the UN’s failure to stop, mitigate, or even draw attention to violence that the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission found amounted to crimes under international law including crimes against humanity, and warrants an investigation of the crime of genocide against Rohingya.

The letter further states:

We note that the mandated scope of Mr. Rosenthal’s inquiry was extremely limited, was undertaken by one individual, did not include field visits, and excluded individual accountability. These limitations do not satisfy the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a “comprehensive” investigation, and are not reconcilable with the extraordinary magnitude of the crisis and the urgency of gathering “lessons learned” to improve the UN’s response in Myanmar and in similar high-risk situations going forward.

 

[W]e encourage you to take bold action, beyond the recommendations outlined in the Rosenthal report. These actions should include:

• promptly implementing reforms to prevent the recurrence of the “systematic” failures and “obvious dysfunctional performance” outlined in the report, and ensuring accountability for those failures as required;
• re-energizing the Human Rights up Front initiative prompted by the Petrie report;
• returning to your office a senior staff member dedicated to ensuring Human Rights up Front is fully implemented throughout the UN system;
• taking practical steps to hold accountable those UN officials responsible for failures before, during, and since the 2017 ethnic cleansing campaign;
• supporting the Resident Coordinator to ensure they have authority to implement a comprehensive Human Rights up Front strategy that takes into account the views of national and international NGOs, community-based organizations, and the human rights community, and is reflected and implemented at country level;
• using your leadership to take concrete steps to improve coordination at all levels of the UN on the situation in Myanmar; and
• committing to publishing annual updates on progress in adopting the recommendations of the Petrie and Rosenthal reports until they are fully implemented.

 

It is vital that your office act once again and quickly. Specifically, we call on you to set a clear, unifying strategy for the UN Country Team in Myanmar that places human rights concerns at the center of its strategy.

 

Talking to Your Treasurer About Genocide

How can you make your university take action to end genocide?

One way would be to press your university to use the power of its investments.

Educational institutions invest trillions of dollars, primarily through their endowments. As shareholders, universities are partial owners of thousands of publicly traded companies. Through those ownership stakes, unviersities can put pressure on corporations to stop doing business with governments engaged in genocide. This kind of shareholder activism can be more powerful than selling – or divesting – stock in companies.

Does your university own stock in Chevron? It likely does because Chevron is a very widely held company. For two years, shareholders of Chevron have filed a shareholder resolution putting pressure on the oil company, the largest U.S. investor in Burma (Myanmar), to adopt a policy of not doing business with government engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity. In 2017, that resolution received the votes of approximately 6% of shareholders at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting. Since then, it is reported that Chevron has raised issues of human rights with the Burmese government.

International Campaign for the Rohingya is working with shareholders owning over $50 billion in assets to put pressure on all of the oil companies in Burma. This shareholder group has also pressed major jewelry retailers not to buy gems that profit the Burmese army.

How can you successfully press your university to join the growing number of shareholders taking action to end genocide? You can start by asking your university treasurer some key questions.

  • What stocks does the university own? Does it own Chevron?

Many educational institutions, especially public universities, make public their stock holdings. Many others will simply provide that information on request. Some will only reveal their holdings after feeling pressure from a campaign asking for disclosure.

Zero in on your university’s direct holdings of shares. Those are shares that your university owns outright and can vote in favor of shareholder resolutions such as the one at Chevron.

  • Does the university have a policy guiding how it votes its shares?

Some universities have developed a policy guiding how they vote their shares on resolutions raising environmental, social, and governances (ESG) issues. Ask for a copy of the current policy and request that it include a provision that the university vote in favor of resolutions asking companies to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • How has the university voted its shares in the past?

Some universities publish a report showing how they voted on each shareholder resolution. Whether this is public or not, find out whether your university held Chevron stock in 2017 and, if so, how it voted those shares on the resolution pressing the company to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • Does the university work with other shareholders to promote corporate responsibility?

Some universities are members of US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Reponsible Investment, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Principles for Responsible Investment, or the Council of Institutional Investors. If your university is a member, ask what help and resources they are receiving to address issues concerning ending genocide.

  • Would the university adopt a formal policy of using its investments to help end genocide?

Ask your university to join the growing “No Business With Genocide” campaign. International Campaign for the Rohingya is working with a growing coalition of investors and NGOs. We are ready to work with you and your university to develop policies and practices that help end the genocide of the Rohingya.

  • How can students and faculty influence the university’s investment policies and practices?

Some universities, such as Harvard, have an advisory committee on shareholder responsibility that helps develop policies and practices. Ask to participate.

If your university lacks such an avenue to influence its investments, launch a campaign to pass a resolution in your student government, faculty council, and/or board of trustees. Develop petitions and hold rallies. Meet with your university administration. Use every pressure point to persuade your university to step up and help end genocide.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition publishes how-to guides  for students and faculty on university endowmentsdivestment, and shareholder advocacy. Read them to prepare yourselves on how to best influence your university to help end genocide.

 

Press Release: Historic New “End Genocide Bill” Introduced in Maryland General Assembly

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Maryland Delegate Bilal Ali (Baltimore City – District 41) has introduced an historic new bill to ensure that Maryland spends and invests taxpayers’ money in a manner that reflects Maryland values of upholding human rights and opposition to genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Maryland End Genocide Bill (HB 1787) will require that the State of Maryland spend and invest taxpayers money in accordance with Maryland values. It seeks to ensure that the State of Maryland, through its spending and investing of taxpayers’ money, uses its influence to press corporations to adopt a formal policy of refusing to do business with governments that engage in genocide or crimes against humanity.

Maryland Delegate Bilal Ali (Baltimore City – District 41)

“With this bill, we will ensure that Maryland citizens’ tax dollars will be spent ethically and invested responsibly. It is an expression of Maryland citizens’ values that we use our taxpayer dollars to press companies to refuse to do business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.”

Simon Billenness, Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya

“We welcome the State of Maryland in using its influence to press companies to reconsider doing business with the government of Burma (Myanmar). We hope that this pressure will help end Burma’s genocide of the Rohingya people.”

Wa’el Alzayat, Chief Executive Director, Emgage Action

“Governments require corporate investment and trade. But no government can expect to do business as usual if it engages in genocide or crimes against humanity. We can deny corporations our investment and our purchases until they refuse to support governments that engage in these grave abuses of human rights.”

Contacts:
Maryland Delegate Bilal Ali (Baltimore City – District 41)
(410) 841-3268
bilal.ali@house.state.md.us
http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/06hse/html/msa17369.html

ABOUT MARYLAND DELEGATE BILAL ALI
Mr. Bilal Abdul Malik Ali serves as a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly representing Maryland’s District 41. He serves on the House Ways and Means committee.[2] He is a member of the Baltimore City Delegation and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.

Simon Billenness, Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya
(617) 596-6158
simon.billenness@rohingyacampaign.org
www.rohingyacampaign.org

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR THE ROHINGYA
The International Campaign for the Rohingya advocates and amplifies the voice of the Rohingya with international organizations, governments, corporations, and civil society. Its mission is to help the Rohingya secure peace, security, and their rights wherever they reside. As a member of the “No Business With Genocide” campaign, International Campaign for the Rohingya presses corporations to speak out to end the genocide of the Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar).

Iman Awad, National Legislative Director, Emgage Action
(443) 417-0139
iawad@emgageusa.org
www.emgageusa.org

Emgage Action mobilizes Muslim Americans in support of key issues from criminal justice reform to healthcare to human rights, and prepares them for effective advocacy based on principled positions that uphold our values as Americans and as Muslims.

Key Provisions of the Maryland End Genocide Bill (HB 1787)

Full text of the bill: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2018RS/bills/hb/hb1787F.pdf

Procurement
The Maryland End Genocide Bill (HB 1787) will direct the state government, beginning on January 1st, 2020, to enter into contracts with only those corporations that have adopted a formal policy of refusing to do business with governments that engage in genocide or crimes against humanity.

Investment
The bill require the State Treasurer to ensure that any shares held by the State are voted in favor of shareholder resolutions that ask companies to adopt a policy of refusing to do business with governments that engage in genocide or crimes against humanity.

Market Participation
In both the procurement and investment provisions of the bill, the State of Maryland will act as a market participant. The State of Maryland will act in the marketplaces for goods, services, and capital just as any other consumer or investor does, free to apply both financial and ethical criteria in its purchasing and investing.

Establishment of the Maryland Commission on Genocide Prevention
The bill will establish the Maryland Commission on Genocide Prevention to research which governments are at risk of committing genocide or crimes against humanity, identify corporations that do business with those governments, and hold hearings on the implementation of the Act.

Overall Impact
Overall, the impact of the bill will be to use the State of Maryland’s procurement and investment processes to create market incentives for corporations to adopt a policy of refusing to do business with governments that engage in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • The State of Maryland will join the citizens of Maryland and around the world who use ethical purchasing practices to influence corporations to help end genocide.
  • The State of Maryland will also join the shareholders of Chevron who in 2017 voted more than 72,000 of their shares in favor of a resolution asking the company to adopt a policy of refusing to do business with governments that engage in genocide or crimes against humanity.
  • The State of Maryland will also highlight and develop further ways in which the State can help end genocide through the work of its Maryland Commission on Genocide Prevention.

About End Genocide Laws

During the American Revolution, town meetings adopted resolutions calling for a boycott of British-made goods. The Boston Tea Party seized on the spirit of these resolutions through its historic act of dumping British tea in Boston Harbor. This revolutionary campaign is captured in T.H. Breen’s book “The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.” It was in part through this “boycott British” campaign that the American colonies united and rose up to secure their independence.

City and state “End Genocide” laws build on this American tradition. These laws follow in the footsteps of other similar successful campaigns. In the 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement forced corporations to divest from South Africa under pressure from municipal and state laws. In the 1990s, over 100 corporations withdrew from Burma (Myanmar) after Massachusetts and over 20 cities passed laws effectively boycotting companies doing business in the country. In the 2000s, the Save Darfur campaign mobilized pressure on oil companies in Sudan. Today, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is succeeding in mobilizing state and local government to tackle climate change.

By passing a Genocide Prevention Law, a city or state can express its citizens’ values while also ensuring that, by its spending and investment of taxpayer dollars, it represents its citizens’ values as an actor in the marketplace for goods, services, and capital. In so doing, the city or state will also act in solidarity with people at risk of genocide or other grave human rights abuses.

For more information, read “End Genocide, Starting With Your Hometown.”

End Genocide, Starting With Your Hometown

By Simon Billenness, Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya

We have an honorable American tradition of our cities and states upholding human rights. Now is the time for us to demand that our taxpayer dollars don’t contribute to genocide.

During the American Revolution, town meetings adopted resolutions calling for a boycott of British-made goods. The Boston Tea Party seized on the spirit of these resolutions through its historic act of dumping British tea in Boston Harbor. This revolutionary campaign is captured in T.H. Breen’s book “The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.” It was in part through this “boycott British” campaign that the American colonies united and rose up to secure their independence.

City and state “end genocide” laws build on this American tradition. These laws follow in the footsteps of other American campaigns and movements. The American abolitionist movement worked with local and state governments on measures to help end slavery. Starting in the 1950s, the movements for civil rights and women’s equality successful lobbied for municipal, county, and state preferences and requirements for certain contractors to develop plans to subcontract to minority and women-owned businesses.

In the 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement forced corporations to divest from South Africa under pressure from municipal and state laws. In the 1990s, over 100 corporations withdrew from Burma (Myanmar) after Massachusetts and over 20 cities passed laws effectively boycotting companies doing business in the country. In the 2000s, the Save Darfur campaign mobilized pressure on oil companies in Sudan. Today, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is succeeding in mobilizing state and local government to tackle climate change.

By passing an end genocide resolution or law, a city, county, or state can express its citizens’ values in its spending and its investment of taxpayer dollars as an actor in the marketplace for goods, services, and capital. In so doing, the city or state will also act in solidarity with people at risk of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other mass atrocities.

By passing an “End Genocide Law,” we can ensure that our hometowns will help end genocide through the spending and investment of our taxpayer dollars. We can ensure that our cities and our states will use their power as consumers and an investors to put effective pressure on corporations not to do business with regimes perpetuating genocide.

How Does This Help End Genocide?

The mission of our “No Business With Genocide” campaign is is to pressure key corporations to adopt a policy of not doing business with regimes complicit in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.  We can achieve this by using our power as shareholders, consumers, and citizens. 

Governments rely on the investments and services of foreign corporations. Consequently, any threat of withdrawal by key corporations can serve as a deterrent to prevent governments from crossing certain lines, such as committing genocide.

Our power is not just as individuals. We also have considerable power as citizens to demand that our city and our state also use the consumer and investor power​ of the billions of our taxpayer dollars.

What would be the impact of our local “End Genocide” campaigns? In the course of our campaign to make your hometown enact an “End Genocide Law,” we could achieve the following:

  • Educate our neighbors about the risks of genocide across the world and what they can do about it in our hometowns;
  • Highlight corporations that support governments engaged in or considering committing genocide and/or crimes against humanity;
  • Put billions of dollars of our tax dollars to work influencing corporations to, in turn, pressure governments to avoid committing genocide or other crimes against humanity;
  • Provide a foundation for you and your neighbors to engage as citizens with your local city and state representatives;
  • Make our hometowns play their part in a growing global movement to end genocide.

 What Do “End Genocide Laws” Do?

A city, county, or state “End Genocide Bill” is made up of four parts:

  • Findings and Definitions
  • Procurement Provisions
  • Investment Provisions
  • Establishment of Genocide Prevention Commission

In the findings, the city or state declares how the bill puts into practice its citizens’ values. The wording can include:

  1. Whereas, the citizens of [city/state] hold as their values universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  2. Whereas, the [city/state] routinely purchases from and invests in corporations with global operations and supply chains;
  3. Whereas, the citizens of [city/state] recognize the important role local communities can take to promote the practice of ethical procurement and ethical investment in accordance with their values.

The bill should use the definition of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention. Crimes Against Humanity should be defined according to Article 10 of the Rome Statute.

Procurement Provisions

The city or state would use its power as multi-million or multi-billion dollar consumer of goods and services to put pressure on corporations in the marketplace for goods and services.

Effective immediately, in its RFPs and contracts, the city or state would require contractors to disclose any company policy that they have of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.

Within two years, in its RFPs and contracts, the city or state would require contractors to have a written and formally adopted company policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity.

These provisions would apply to any contractor with the state with annual revenues of certain amount, such as $100 million or greater.

Investment Provisions

The city or state would use its power as a shareholder – or part owner – of corporations to put direct pressure on corporate management.

The city or state will require that its investment managers:

  • vote the city or state’s shares in favor of shareholder resolutions that ask companies to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity
  • file an annual public report with the City Comptroller or State Treasurer on the investment manager’s use of shareholder advocacy with the city or state’s portfolio companies to persuade those companies to adopt and implement a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide and/or crimes against humanity

Establishment of an “End Genocide Commission”

The city or state will establish an “End Genocide Commission.”  For State commissions, two members could each be appointed by the Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Senate President, and Assembly Speaker. City commissions could be appointed half by the mayor and half by the city council.

The purpose of the “End Genocide Commission” would be to:

  • Research and publish annual report on:
    1. countries committing and/or “at risk” of committing genocide and/or crimes against humanity
    2. city or state contractors doing business in those countries
  • Convene periodic hearings on how city or state officials are implementing the procurement and investment provisions of the End Genocide Law
  • Create a local institution with government funding that can further the goals of the broader local, national, and international movement to prevent genocide and/or crimes against humanity

Now is the time for us to step up and make a difference. We can do this starting in our home towns. Working together, we can be the grassroots campaigners who will build the global movement to end genocide. 

To join the campaign to end genocide, click here to contact the International Campaign for the Rohingya.

We can provide you with advice, materials to share with your city council member and state legislator, and connect you with activists around the world campaigning to enact their local “End Genocide Law.”

Press Release: ARSA Ambush No Excuse For Further Violence Against Rohingya

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ARSA Ambush No Excuse For Further Violence Against Rohingya

January 7, 2018

International Campaign for the Rohingya condemns the ambush on January 5, 2018, by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) of a military vehicle in Burma’s Rakhine State, which wounded five members of the Burmese security forces. Today, ARSA issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack.

International Campaign for the Rohingya condemns violence by all sides in Rakhine State and remains resolutely committed to using only peaceful means to end the repression and violence by Burma’s army against Rohingya communities in Burma (Myanmar).

The Burmese army exploited similar attacks by ARSA in August 2017 as a pretext for military operations that included attacks on Rohingya civilians. Those attacks by the Burmese army drove over 600,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh and were rightly condemned as “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations and the United States.

“International Campaign for the Rohingya is deeply concerned that the Burmese army will exploit this ambush as a pretext to speed its march towards genocide of the Rohingya people. International Campaign for the Rohingya will respond to any act of violence against Rohingya civilians by the Burmese army by working to increase the sanctions by governments and citizens on the Burmese army, military officers and commanders, and business interests of the Burmese military,” stated Simon Billenness, Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya.

Simon Billenness
Executive Director
International Campaign for the Rohingya
(617) 596-6158 (cell)
simon.billenness@rohingyacampaign.org
www.rohingyacampaign.org

Joseph K. Grieboski
Board Chair
International Campaign for the Rohingya
(202) 594-8999 (cell)
jgrieboski@gjccorp.com

No Genocide Gems! Burma’s Military Takes a Hit From Citizens Sanctions

By Emily Claire Goldman and Simon Billenness

On December 6th, Cartier made the dramatic announcement that it would stop its purchase of gems from Burma (Myanmar). This sudden shift was due to consumer pressure on Cartier to stop selling “genocide gems.” This demonstrates the growing power of “citizens sanctions” on the Burmese army’s business interests.

Cartier faced mounting pressure from more than 70,000 consumers organized by International Campaign for the Rohingya and SumOfUs, some of whom posted their opposition on Cartier’s Facebook page to its sale of “genocide gems.” In response, Cartier announced on its Facebook page that, “as part of [its] continuous review process to ensure ethical sourcing, Cartier has decided to stop purchasing gemstones from Myanmar, which will become fully effective as of December 8.

The Sunday Times (UK) quickly picked up on the story with its article “Taint of Burma’s Genocide Gems.

The Case For Sanctions on Burma’s Army

Since August, Burmese military forces have carried out a textbook example of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. This systematic, targeted and deliberate campaign of violence against civilians – what human rights experts have called crimes against humanity – has sparked international condemnation and raised concerns that the Burmese military is marching on the path to genocide.

In the past year alone, Burma’s army has forced more than 626,000 people from their homes in attacks reminiscent of those in Bosnia and Rwanda in the early 1990s. Despite Burmese government officials’ efforts to restrict UN investigators’ and journalists’ access to affected areas, reports have consistently documented grave human rights abuses committed by Burmese military forces, including “deliberately burning people to death inside their homes; murders of children and adults; indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians; widespread rapes of women and girls; and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques.”

Burma’s incomplete transition to democracy has been marked by a power-sharing agreement between the civilian government – led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) – and the military. Under this agreement, the NLD government operates under the military-written constitution that allows the army to retain significant control over the country’s political and economic affairs. The military avoids civilian oversight and judicial scrutiny, allowing it to avoid accountability for grave human rights abuses. This is evident with the recent self-exonerating report released by the military, claiming that an independent investigation into allegations of grave human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine State cleared them of any wrongdoing in the atrocities.

Burma’s Military-Commercial Complex

Burma’s military has built up extensive commercial interests in mining and extraction over fifty years of military rule.

Military-owned companies include Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a secretive conglomerate owned by the defense ministry, and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), both of which are heavily involved in the country’s gemstone sector. Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE), a state-owned enterprise run by former military men, is responsible for gemstone production through its control of permits, licensing, collection of royalties, and joint venture partnerships.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan of Transparency International told the Financial Times in February, 2017, that the military’s modus operandi has always been to “insert themselves in various parts of the economy and use this to enrich their shareholders,” the Burmese army.

The military projects MEC and MEHL as potential partners for foreign multinationals seeking to invest in Burma. Hla Myo, a former army major and a general manager at MEHL, told the Financial Times that the company is “very passionate” about adding U.S. and European companies to MEHL’s roster of joint ventures with Asian corporate partners.

The Financial Times reported that MEHL’s top ten directors all hold military ranks. The board is overseen by seven of the Burma’s top military officers, headed by the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing.

Burma’s Mogok Valley is renowned for producing some of the highest quality rubies and sapphires, with the country supplying the majority of the world’s rubies and jadeite. According to Global Witness, MEHL’s has a prominent position in the jade trade, worth as much as $31 billion to Burma in 2014. At the 2014 Myanmar gems emporium, the official government auction, MEHL’s Myanmar Imperial Jade subsidiary recorded record sales figures of almost $150 million.

Ending the “Genocide Gems” Trade

The United States enacted a ban of imports of gems mined in Myanmar in 2003. However, few high-end jewelry retailers opted to boycott Burmese gems at that point in time. Instead, the companies chose to take advantage of a loophole in the legislation that allowed for the importation of Burmese gems that were cut and polished in another country.

Tiffany & Co. announced in 2003 that it would no longer purchase Burmese gems regardless of where the stones were cut or polished, thereby refusing to profit off of human rights abuses. By contrast, its competitors, such as Cartier, continued to buy Burmese gems until international outrage pressured it to adopt similar policies in 2007.

When the US lifted sanctions on Burmese gems in 2016, Tiffany & Co. maintained its commitment to responsible gemstone sourcing. Cartier, like many other high-end jewelry retailers, quietly ended their boycott of Burmese gems when the opportunity to maximize profits presented itself once again.

The Rise of “Citizens Sanctions” on Burma’s Military

Governments are considering sanctions against Burma army in the wake of its most recent campaign of violence against the Rohinyga. Americans can urge their Members of the  U.S. Congress to support and co-sponsor House (H.R. 4223)  and Senate (S.2023), bills that would reinstate the ban of imports into the U.S. of Burmese gems.

But we don’t have to depend on lobbying our Members of Congress. We can put direct consumer pressure on the jewelry retailers that are fueling the military’s atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Burma, including the Karen, Shan, and Kachin.

Cartier’s decision to stop buying Burmese gems demonstrates how ordinary people can directly sanction Burma’s army. Let’s make it crystal clear to the jewelry industry that there’s no market for genocide gems.