On Burma: An Interview with Michael Miller
Recently I discussed some problems plaguing South Sudan and announced my husband will be working with that country as a research associate for PILPG. But there’s a second country he’s assisting, too: Burma!
Since he just finished his first year of law school, he has some time on his hands for a few weeks. So I decided to talk with him about the situation in Burma and what he hopes to accomplish for the people there by working with PILPG.
JCM: Tell us a little bit about what’s happening in Burma.
MM: I was just reading stories about how, even though there’s not active armed conflict against the ethnic minorities there at all times, a lot of time the Burmese army will come into the villages and commit all sorts of abuses against the people.
There have been incidents of rape and of extrajudicial killings. They’ll go into villages and force the villagers to give them a pig or chicken, or else they’ll beat people until they give it to them.
A really common practice is forced portering – the Burmese army will get a bunch of people from the village and force them to carry their loads for them for a long way.
Those are all things that seem very under the radar, but groups like the Free Burma Rangers are reporting it.
Most of the stuff you hear these days is the big stuff – the stuff going on with the government and all the progress being made by allowing ethnic minorities some representation in Parliament, and the election of Aung San Suu Kyi for the NLD party. Those are all positive things.
There are also a great deal of environmental crimes that have been committed against people through Chinese businesses that have gone in to different places and engaged in horribly destructive mining practices or built oil pipelines that destroy fisheries and pollute rivers. People lose any way of surviving after that.
There’s always conflicts that result, where the people will demand that some of the natural gas be used to power their homes, or things like that. Of course they get refused. They don’t have any rights to that natural gas, because they don’t own it. But if they had rights to the destruction caused to their health, to their lives, that would be a different matter. That’s something they do own.
JCM: You requested to work with Burma and South Sudan, right?
JCM: What made you want to work with Burma specifically?
MM: Well, it was the religious persecution and the persecution of the different ethnic minorities that I’d heard stories about: a refugee couple that resettled in Memphis and that we became friends with – hearing their stories. Hearing about our friend Mike’s stories while he was filming a documentary over there. But before him, the amazing work of a missionary friend of ours. A lot of the work he’s done is still undercover, but he actually was responsible for convincing one of his contacts to start the Free Burma Rangers.
I really care about the different ethnic minorities that are being persecuted. I’d like to be a part of helping create peace and making the people who are in power held accountable before the law.
JCM: Can you say anything about the kind of work you’ll be doing?
MM: Well, not really. I can say this: we’ll be promoting peace between the government and ethnic minorities.
JCM: Thanks for the interview. See you tonight after work. Don’t forget your lunch!
Michael Miller is a law student at American University’s Washington College of Law, a research associate at the Public International Law and Policy Group, and the Director of Development for the Environmental Integrity Project. His interest in international law and human rights will take him to the Hague this June for work and study. A Gillett-Mussey scholar and Dean’s List member, he’s just now catching up with the rest of us and joining Twitter, where you can follow him for updates on international law, human rights, and more.
(Photo: Lake Inle in Burma/Myanmar, by Samoano)