Burma’s President Thein Sein, right, is pictured alongside US President Barack Obama as they participate in a group photo at the East Asian Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Nov. 19, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)
WASHINGTON — A federal court in the United States has issued a summons for President Thein Sein and several Burmese ministers to respond to allegations of human rights violations committed against the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.
The summons was issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York following a lawsuit filed by the Burma Task Force USA, a coalition of 19 Muslim American organizations.
Thein Sein and several members of his cabinet will be in the United States this week to attend the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York. Burma’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.
Filed on behalf of three plaintiffs, all US resident Rohingya refugees who claim to have experienced torture, discrimination and displacement, the lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
The case was submitted under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ACTA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), and charges Thein Sein and his ministers with crimes against humanity, extra-judicial killing, torture, mental and physical trauma.
“Much of the media is focused on the migrants from Syria, and understandably so, but how many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have been fleeing persecution in Burma?” asked Shaik Ubaid of the Muslim Peace Coalition, a member of the Burma Task Force.
“UN Development Goals cannot be achieved when a segment of the population of Burma is rendered stateless,” added Adem Carroll, New York Director of Burma Task Force. “A peaceful future depends on an embrace of pluralism and a rejection of the politics of fear.”
This is not the first time that a head of state has been issued a summons by a US court on allegations of human rights abuses. In late 2014, Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi was called to respond to a lawsuit regarding religious riots in 2002. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, was summoned in 2013 for violations during counter-insurgency operations in the 1990s.
In both cases, the US government told the courts that the accused had diplomatic immunity as heads of state. The State Department is expected to respond similarly to the charges against Thein Sein and his cabinet.