BHM was recently contacted by a US official requesting an interview. This request raised a lot of questions for us and has led to discussion regarding what information we share with whom and whether we want our organization’s profile to become so well-known.
As a result, BHM crafted security guidelines for the first time – our bottom line intention that we work in a sensitive part of the world and never want our efforts to undermine the safety of our partners or our own capacity to help them.
But then we deepened the dialogue to explore whether it is even appropriate for us to have and express an opinion about the political situation in Burma.
As a humanitarian organization it would seem that we should simply do our best to support the lives of the people we serve in order for them to have a baseline of health and education from which to seek their own political solutions, but as international players become ever more interested in Burma, it is hard to separate these interests from our capacity to support the lives of the people of Burma.
It also becomes difficult to separate advocacy for health from advocacy for self-determination for the ethnic minorities in Eastern Burma because without the ethnic minorities having a share in the political process, how can they (and we) ever trust that their human rights and health will ever be respected? And further, isn’t the root cause for the need for humanitarian and medical assistance because the minorities are excluded from any part of the internal political process.
Yet should we express an opinion on whether the US should lift sanctions on Burma, or should we simply direct people who ask us, to seek those answers from the partners and organizations that BHM respects and supports? If so, how do we decide which organizations? Our opinion is still layered within, so why pretend it doesn’t exist?
BHM recently organized a screening in Salt Lake City of ‘Into the Current’ a film about the political prisoners of Burma. Community organizers in the bay area sent to me a resolution calling for all political prisoners in Burma to be freed before the US lifts sanctions, along with the request that BHM advocate that the SLC council pass the resolution.
My intuitive response was not to get involved with this resolution. It felt too political. Yet when a friend recently told me that he recently saw the mayor of Park City and that the mayor’s son was just visiting Burma and that he thought that the resolution would go over very well in Park City right now, I found myself humoring the idea.
And how does this differ from my asking the USCFB to send out their petition for me to share with the ethnic minority refugees from Burma here in SLC asking that the US not lift sanctions until the minorities are included in the democratic process?
Does the resolution become more appropriate if my role is simply to facilitate local refugees and former political prisoners bringing it to the city councils rather than doing it myself?
If we do not express our opinion when others are asking us, are we missing an opportunity to advocate for well being of the Karen and ethnic minorities? And, if we who have such dear friends among the Karen and personal experiences working with them do not share their voice, who will? How will they be heard?
What do you think our balance should be?