Health and Food Insecurity in Burma & War Crimes in Libya

Hello all! My name is Erica Goldstein. I am a rising junior at Tufts University, double majoring in Engineering Science and Biology. I am passionate about global health and human rights. This summer, I have the pleasure of interning at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in Cambridge, MA. PHR uses science and medicine to advocate for human rights, performing investigations to prevent mass atrocities, protect civilians, and prosecute the guilty. Please see my blog for more detailed posts.

In January 2011, PHR published an epidemiological report on the prevalence of crimes such as murder, torture, rape, and group persecution in the Chin State of Western Burma, an area typically neglected by human rights organizations and news reporters. The governing junta in Burma has committed many of these crimes, targeting ethnic Chins. PHR surveyors interviewed 702 households and determined that forced labor was the most prevalent crime. The regime forced families to execute unpaid labor, giving them fewer working days, and forced some families to work on jatropha farms, decreasing the number of edible products.

Upon arriving at PHR, I began the sequel to that report, which will document how the crimes in Chin State have affected health and food security. I gathered research from the last year and a half from several sources: UN reports, human rights organizations’ reports, news reports, and Burmese government documents.

After this research was completed, the Burma project was momentarily set aside as a more urgent investigation – one to Libya – began. The UN began documenting reports of violations such as mass rape, attacks on civilians, the use of humans to shield weapons, and the use of indiscriminate weapons. PHR also began receiving first-hand reports from contacts in Libya. To validate reports and advocate for the appropriate next steps, PHR began an emergency investigation.

As the office prepared for the investigation, I helped prepare a list of contacts on the ground and gather recent statements from Libyan officials. Then, after the investigators left for Libya, I performed background research for the report and started to draft the following sections:

-a chronological narrative of the conflict in Misrata,

-a timeline of important international events regarding Libya

-Libyan domestic legal frameworks

-weapons used in Libya (landmines, phosphorous weapons, AK-47s…)

-background on previously documented violations

The research was different from anything I had done as an engineering student, but the work was rewarding. Soon after my internship concluded, I was able to see the final product from my internship. On 30 August 2011, PHR published the report on Libya, Witness to War Crimes: Evidence from Misrata, Libya. in which I was acknowledged for my contribution. Please check it out and contact me if you want to know more!


-Erica Goldstein


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