< Distinguished speaker series

Tom Andrews & Wai Wai Nu

Tom Andrews
U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar
​”Is the world letting Myanmar down?”

Wai Wai Nu
Rohingya Burmese activist and former political prisoner
“Atrocity and Genocide Prevention in Myanmar”

"Is the world letting Myanmar down?" & "Atrocity and Genocide Prevention in Myanmar"

DATE: September 15, 2022 6:00 pm

Event information

Is the world letting Myanmar down?

Myanmar’s best-known champion of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to the place once known as Burma. Her National League for Democracy party won the 2015 elections, the first openly contested election in 25 years, and in the November 2020 election, won in a landslide. The military rejected the result and staged a coup. Today she sits in jail in solitary confinement.  On Sept. 2 she was sentenced to three years at hard labor on top of other sentences, all by secret trial.

This is Myanmar today: 11,500 people in jail for opposing the coup, 700,000 including 250,000 children displaced from their homes, 1400 children arrested. In late July, the Junta executed four democracy activists despite worldwide protests.

Myanmar was in the headlines five years ago for deporting 900,000 Rohingya in what U.S. State Department says was a genocide.  The military leaders behind the genocide are the military leaders of the current Myanmar Junta.

Our coming speaker, Tom Andrews, fears the world has forgotten Burma. The former Democratic congressman from Maine, who’s currently the U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar. notes that the junta has picked up support in the region and beyond, with arms flowing in from China, Russia and Serbia and diplomatic support from India. He says it’s not enough for major powers to sanction the “gangsters.” There needs to be a coordinated international strategy to isolate the junta and to pressure it in a very public way.

Our second distinguished guest speaker is Wai Wai Nu, who spent seven years as a political prisoner in Myanmar. Her crime was that she’s a Rohingya from Rakhine state whose father is a political activist. She founded the Women’s Peace Network and has traveled the world speaking about the plight of Rohingya women and girls. She told the U.N. Human Rights Council this summer that some 600,000 Rohingya live in apartheid like conditions in  Myanmar. The junta has attacked them with airstrikes, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence and killing.

The picture is grim. But anyone who cares about human rights in Asia should hear Tom’s and Wai Wai’s presentations to learn what’s going on in Myanmar.


Introductory History of Myanmar:


Bordering Bangladesh, China, Laos, India, and Thailand, Myanmar is a majority Buddhist state in Southeast Asia with a population of more than 50 million people. With more than 130 ethnic nationalities, 2/3rds of its people are known as Bamar. Gaining independence from British rule in 1948, the majority of the country’s history has been under military dictatorship. After a brief period of democratization in the 2010s, Myanmar’s military staged a coup d’état in February 2021—overtaking Aung San Suu Kyi and her decisively elected National League for Democracy (NLD). Since then, the people of Myanmar have faced incredible violence and oppression by the ruling regime.

Tom Andrews—Short Background of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar:


Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar:


“What are we waiting for? The longer we delay, the more people die.” In his report to the UN General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews describes the human rights abuses occurring in Myanmar since the February 2021 coup d’état. Evidence of large-scale violence, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, denial of healthcare, airstrikes, blocking of aid, sexual abuses, restriction of press freedoms, and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people are the primary findings in this report.

Tom Andrews speaking to the UN Human Rights Council:


“The failure to take strong, meaningful action, will be a death sentence for untold numbers of people.” In an appeal to the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews makes calls for all states to readjust and reassess their policies and behaviors toward Myanmar. With over 2,500 civilians murdered by the junta, over 1 million internally displaced people, and over 11,000 arbitrarily detained prisoners, the situation in Myanmar begs for a response by the international community.

Wai Wai Nu—Short Biography of the Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Peace Network:



The Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing:



The Rohingya are a majority Muslim ethnic group who have historically lived in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Since 1982, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, making the 1.1 million Rohingya people one of the largest stateless groups in the world. Since the 1970s, the Rohingya have been persecuted and/or oppressed constantly, but a new round of violence against them beginning in 2016 has forced the international community to investigate claims of genocide. Facing indiscriminate killings, rapes, tortures, arsons, and denial of rights by the Myanmar government, more than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Others are trapped within Myanmar’s Rakhine state, not allowed to leave, and made to live in dire conditions.

Violence against Healthcare Workers in Myanmar:  


Since the coup d’état by the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military), the people of Myanmar have been subject to mass-targeted, but also indiscriminate, violence. One group being particularly persecuted are healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals have been subject to over 411 attacks since February 2nd, 2021, leading to the deaths of 29 workers and a near-collapse of the country’s healthcare system. The military has targeted the healthcare industry, especially in pro-democratic areas, so that injured protesters may not be treated. An abnormally low number of medical staff (even pre-coup), attacks by the military, brutal COVID waves, and strikes by 90% of medical professionals have ensured a wave of preventable deaths in Myanmar and unimaginable amounts of suffering.

Losing a Generation: Tom Andrews on how Myanmar’s Children are Suffering:


           Even though systems to monitor human rights abuses have been disrupted, reports coming out of Myanmar demonstrate crimes against humanity—including mass abuses of children. Since the coup, at least: 382 children have been killed, 142 children have been tortured, and 1,400 children have been arbitrarily imprisoned. The junta has launched attacks on at least 260 schools—bombing, attacking with aircraft, and firing upon educational facilities throughout the country. Now, 7.8 million children in Myanmar are out of school, 4.5 million are food insecure, and 5 million require humanitarian assistance. This will only lead to more violence and abuse, as children in these dire conditions are often forced into conflict recruitment or human trafficking.

Myanmar’s Coup—Why Now?: 


After winning the country’s “freest and fairest vote seen in 25 years” in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party were re-elected by the people of Myanmar in 2020. Even though the NLD won by a landslide vote, the USDP (the military-backed party) alleged claims of election fraud. Declaring a state of emergency, the military soon took over the government and returned to rule as undemocratically elected leadership. It is no coincidence that the military took over the day the NLD’s second term was supposed to begin. This has sparked huge amounts of protests and backlash by the people of Myanmar.

US and Myanmar:



           The United States denounces the brutality of the current regime in Myanmar, and supports a “peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma.” On March 12, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security designated Myanmar for Temporary Protected Status—meaning that citizens of Myanmar residing in the United States could apply for protected status. USAID redirected $42.4 million of aid away from industries that benefitted the regime, instead turning those funds toward programs that supported the citizens in need. In addition, the US assisted in the investigation and victims of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing. Since the coup, the US has had to backtrack on increasing economic cooperation with Myanmar—now, the Asian state is subject to a variety of economic sanctions.

Russia and Myanmar:



Since the coup, Myanmar and Russia have solidified relations by increasing trade and public cooperation. After the two militaries paraded together during Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day, the junta has expressed support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is Myanmar’s number one weapons supplier, and Myanmar offers raw materials that the increasingly isolated Russian state has had trouble acquiring. 

China and Myanmar:



After initially showing caution in support for the new regime, China has now fully expressed support for the junta’s rule in Myanmar. Perhaps pressured by Russia’s increasing support for China’s neighbor, Beijing has announced that it will back the new government of Myanmar. This political association is being furthered economically—as progress toward the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and cross-border industrial zones continue. 

India and Myanmar:



Two main factors have driven India to take a more engaging diplomatic stance with the new Myanmar government: growing Chinese influence in Myanmar and border security issues. Although its stated goal is to have a “twin-track approach”—working with the military junta and promote democracy in the state—India’s option to refuse a full relationship with the military government is dwindling as China and Russia exert growing influence in Myanmar. Additionally, India may need support from the regime in calming the border disturbances between the two states.