The Rohingya crisis saw 730,000 from the Muslim minority group flee Myanmar's Rakine state.(UNHCR: Andrew McConnell)

U.S. Congress Finally Appropriates Funds to Help Burma

Following a landslide election win by the pro-democracy NLD party on 1 February 2021, the Burmese military seized control of Burma. In Myanmar, what started as civil disobedience quickly became a civil war. The Rohingya and many of Burma’s largely Christian ethnic groups have endured decades of abuse, persecution and ethnic violence. The Biden administration has formally determined that Myanmar’s military has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya minority.

During the 117th Congress in 2021 and 2022, the House and Senate introduced legislation aimed at assisting Burma and its people. Bills never made it out of committee, but in the midnight hour, Congress included Myanmar language as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 that was signed into law in late December. Ye Myo Hein, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said at the time that “the bill will definitely set a new course for the U.S. policy on Burma.”

It’s been almost two years since the Burma Act passed yet no funding was authorized to support the legislation. During that time 21Wilberforce worked with the Burma Advocacy Group (churches, associations and community groups) and other partners to advocate for funding U.S. initiatives that will support religious minorities in Burma. And now some good news. In mid-March of 2024, Congress appropriated $121 million in the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations Act for financial year 2024 to fund the following initiatives in Burma:

  • the protection of civilians from military attack;
  • the delivery of humanitarian assistance;
  • investigations into and prevention of genocide and human rights violations committed by the Burmese military;
  • local governance and the provision of services in areas outside the control of the Burmese military; and
  • programs to support deserters from the military junta.

Led by 21Wilberforce’s Advocacy and Training Coordinator, Trent Martin, and in partnership with The Burma Advocacy Group, we used collaborative technology to mobilize over 5000 Burmese diaspora and other concerned citizens to send 11,060 messages to their Members of Congress in support of funding this vital legislation for Burma. Further, we reached out to a coalition of Texas pastors who supported this bill by writing to Rep. Granger as Chair of the Appropriations Committee. In addition, we met with Congressional staff and provided statements for Congressional hearings to advocate for funding the Burma Act.

The Burma Advocacy Group recently noted, “We would like to give a special thanks to our friends at 21 Wilberforce for partnering with us as we defend freedom and justice in Burma.”