The Common Good

Ethnic Cleansing of Burma's Karen Refugees Continues

On May 24th, 2009, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) junta-backed troops attacked numerous villages in Paan District, Burma, causing the flight of at least 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many of the villagers fled, making their way to the Thailand-Burma border where they are scattered in several locations within Thailand.

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According to an inside source, whose name I've withheld for security reasons, yesterday's delivery of relief supplies, consisting of rice and soybeans, was woefully inadequate. Many of the families are now living under plastic tarps donated by the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees. The people, cold and wet from the heavy rains, live in daily terror as they carefully scan the riverbeds, dreading the advancement of junta soldiers who are positioned directly across the river from them.

With the eyes of the world on Iran lately, the term "human rights" has made its way into the living rooms of millions of Americans through newspapers, talk radio, cable news, and the blogosphere. Typically the term is used to describe things like jailing political dissidents, shutting down the free press, or heavy-handed tactics by riot police. All of these things are terrible, and in no way do I want to make light of the situation the Iranian people are facing today. But when it comes to the plight of the Karen people in Burma, it seems that the term "human rights abuse" falls woefully inadequate. What's happening to the Karen people is mass murder.

When the Karen villages are "ethnically cleansed," the junta (or the DKBA) then place land-mines in the villages. Those that are left behind are usually forced into slave labor, sometimes having to perform the task of a "mine-sweeper" (use your imagination). Like the situation in Eastern Congo, rape is often used as a weapon of war, along with torture and a host of other crimes. To top it off, the Burmese regime also repeatedly uses "child soldiers" to carry out their most horrific crimes.

As I write this today, nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains locked in Burma's most notorious prison for the crime of winning a democratic election nearly 20 years ago -- and for helping a clueless man from Missouri who begged her to stay the night in her home after swimming across a river to see her. I'm glad the media gave this situation its due attention. The problem is that without giving the broader context of the ethnic cleansing of the Karen people, it's very easy to relegate Aung San Suu Kyi's false imprisonment and phony trial to the category of just another "human rights abuse" when in fact there are things far worse going on in the country. The larger story unfortunately gets lost.

With everything that's happening in the world today, please let us not forget the plight of the Karen people in Burma. They need our financial support, our advocacy, and most importantly, our prayers.

If you'd like to lend your voice to the cause of democracy in Burma, check out

Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with A Jihadist: A Biblical Response To Holy War. To contact Aaron, you can e-mail him at or visit his Web site at

For more on Burma and the media's blind spots, read "Out of the Media's Eye," a commentary in the July issue of Sojourners magazine.

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