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Statement of EarthRights Executive Director Ka Hsaw Wa

January 6, 2021, Washington, D.C.– “Today, I watched in horror as anti-democracy insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol to undermine the certification of the electoral college results. But it was not the first time I have watched a government incite violence and chaos.

“In 1988, I joined the student uprisings in my home country of Burma (Myanmar). Thousands of people, including youth activists, marched in the streets to fight for democracy. The military took control, and I was detained and tortured for speaking out against the country’s totalitarian government. I never expected to see the president of my adopted country–one founded on democratic principles–so blatantly undermine election results to maintain power. From my perspective, as a person who has experienced a coup first-hand, that is what we are currently witnessing in the United States. It is terrifying.

“I do not wish to see the same bloodshed that took place in Myanmar take place here. When governments undermine elections, democracy suffers. EarthRights supports the right of Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights, including that to protest. That is why we are proud members of the Protect the Protest coalition. But a peaceful protest is not what we are witnessing. Millions of people peacefully cast their ballots this year, and countless government officials defended their right to do so, refusing to overturn the election results. Yet, their good-faith efforts to demand clear change were met with violence. When groups turn protest into insurrection, our collective right to peacefully protest erodes.

“I have fought to uphold human rights and democracy since I was 17, and I plan on doing so for the rest of my life. Over the years, I have observed civic space worldwide shrink and attacks and criminalization against activists intensify. Corporations are exploiting our natural resources and undermining the human rights of those who speak out. This systemic abuse is driving our climate crisis. We still need to come together to protect the planet and speak out against these injustices; we cannot abuse our right to protest. We must protect that right by using it responsibly, which today’s protestors did not do.

“We look forward to a new day and a new presidential administration that will hopefully value human and environmental rights, and the right to protest. We hope they will fight for policies that uphold these values while reversing our climate crisis.”

Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 257.0057