From Portland to Myanmar, former Maine congressman Tom Andrews has saved combating for human rights

Mar. 9—In case you’ve caught any protection of the disaster in Myanmar this winter, chances are high you’ve got seen or heard the United Nation’s impartial human rights skilled interviewed in regards to the navy coup and violent crackdown on protesters, ethnic minorities and the political opposition within the nation in Southeast Asia.

The U.N. “particular rapporteur” has been all around the world media, denouncing the Feb. 1 coup on CNN, drawing consideration to the usage of stay ammunition towards protesters on NPR, and calling for more durable financial sanctions towards the regime on Fox Information.

What you could not have seen is that particular person is none apart from Tom Andrews, who as soon as represented Portland on the State Home and Maine’s 1st District in Congress earlier than shedding the competition to fill George Mitchell’s Senate seat to Olympia Snowe, Maine’s 2nd District congresswoman.

The Bowdoin Faculty graduate made a reputation for himself within the late Seventies and early Eighties as a Portland-based social activist who took on town for getting buses that disabled individuals could not use, pressed the state to raised detect most cancers clusters and helped expose the abuse of scholars on the Baxter Faculty for the Deaf.

Now he is doing a lot the identical on a global stage: organizing campaigns to confront these in energy on behalf of these affected by their actions or inaction.

“It would not shock me in that he is at all times been an activist and a little bit of a rabble-rouser,” says political marketing consultant Dennis Bailey, who was Andrews’ congressional marketing campaign press secretary within the early Nineteen Nineties. “He is nonetheless pushing towards established energy and combating for human rights and decency.”

Andrews, reached at his dwelling in Fairfax, Virginia, agreed with that evaluation. “I have been a human rights advocate and organizer my entire life, and whereas the venue for that advocacy adjustments, the work has been primarily the identical,” he says. “From advocating for accessible transportation in Portland to Congress to working for justice and human rights in Myanmar, it is the identical core work.”


Andrews, 67, was appointed a yr in the past to his present place by the U.N. Human Rights Council and charged with monitoring the human rights state of affairs in Myanmar — additionally referred to as Burma — and making suggestions to the U.N. Safety Council and world neighborhood on the identical. Andrews receives no wage and, to make sure his independence, operates independently from the U.N. forms however has the backing of the worldwide physique.

“Their bills are coated, however they do it due to their ardour for the job,” explains Myanmar skilled Christina Fink, a professor at George Washington College’s Elliot Faculty of Worldwide Affairs in Washington, D.C. “Andrews has performed an instrumental function in getting Myanmar entrance and heart for all U.N. our bodies and notably the U.N. Safety Council. And since he is on Twitter, he is had a huge impact contained in the nation as nicely.”

The systematic brutality of the navy junta is as soon as once more on horrific show all through Myanmar. I urge members of the UN Safety Council to view the images/movies of the stunning violence being unleashed on peaceable protesters earlier than assembly in Friday’s close-door session.

— UN Particular Rapporteur Tom Andrews (@RapporteurUn) March 4, 2021

Andrews has sought to make fact-finding journeys however even earlier than the coup was denied permission to enter the nation, supposedly due to the coronavirus pandemic. He is relied on digital conferences with journalists, activists, human rights employees, businessmen, and members of parliament, worldwide organizations and the diplomatic corps to research and draw consideration to situations there. His suggestions can affect the selections made by the U.N. Safety Council and calls for made by the U.N.’s particular envoy to Myanmar — its senior diplomat — the Swiss diplomat Christine Burgener.

“The distinctive factor about this place is that I am a part of the U.N. but in addition impartial of it, so no person can inform me what I can say or not say, however I even have the group’s assist,” Andrews says. “My constituency are the people who find themselves besieged in Myanmar, and I’ve entry to member states, their governments and their overseas ministries, which implies I’ve a platform the place I can actually have interaction on their behalf.”

When he was first approached by the U.N. Human Rights Council, Andrews was already nicely acquainted with Myanmar, which had spent a long time recovering from a 1990 navy coup that resulted in the home arrest of opposition chief Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter. The coup — which adopted the opposition’s triumph in an election — made a deep impression on Andrews as a result of it had occurred across the identical time he had been elected to Congress.

“I received my election and bought to go to Congress, whereas Aung San Suu Kyi’s celebration received an enormous victory and went to jail,” he notes.

Many would-be members of Myanmar’s parliament wound up in exile in the US, and 10 years later Andrews was employed to function a media and authorities relations marketing consultant for his or her provisional authorities in exile, a gig that was itself an outgrowth of a human rights consultancy he’d created shortly after shedding the 1994 Senate race to Snowe.

“We have been from a really remoted nation and did not have worldwide expertise, so Tom was capable of help us in worldwide relations, U.N. relations, and Congressional relations,” says Bo Hla Tint, who was the exiled authorities’s overseas minister on the time. “He confirmed us how to have the ability to increase our voices throughout the globe.”

Their voices have been raised to a shout in December 2001, when Andrews managed to prepare a rally in Oslo, Norway, on the sidelines of a symposium marking the a hundredth anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. Thirty dwelling Nobel Peace Prize laureates — together with Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama — stood within the chilly rain in entrance of the Norwegian Parliament Constructing and denounced Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued detention on what was additionally the tenth anniversary of her successful the prize. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke by way of satellite tv for pc hyperlink from Washington whereas the prime minister of Norway oversaw the assembly.

Shortly thereafter, the junta launched 100 political prisoners and allowed Aung San Suu Kyi’s political celebration to reopen its workplaces. “Do not underestimate the ability of individuals organizing and calling for justice and human rights,” Andrews says of the occasion, which drew on abilities he honed as a younger activist in Portland.


Andrews grew up on a farm in Easton, Massachusetts, and, in his personal telling, had a fairly typical childhood till, at age 16, his life turned the other way up.

“I had not had a lot of a care about something apart from who would win the ballgame that weekend and who I might date, after which I discovered myself flat on my again having been recognized with most cancers,” he recollects. “I can keep in mind vividly mendacity in my hospital mattress and questioning that if this was it, what had been the purpose. And as I did not have a solution to that query I made a kind of traditional offers with the Almighty: ‘In case you let me stay, I’ll make it worthwhile in order that the subsequent time I’m mendacity in that mattress I’ll have a solution.'”

“I’ve have been making an attempt to maintain my finish of the discount ever since … and She’s saved hers,” he provides.

Andrews finally had his proper leg amputated and has walked with a prosthetic ever since. He got here to Maine to attend Bowdoin Faculty, graduating in 1976 with a level in philosophy and faith, moved to Portland, and was quickly organizing campaigns towards injustices he noticed round him. He based a low-income advocacy group, We Who Care, after which the Maine Affiliation of Handicapped Individuals, which rallied towards the cities of Portland and South Portland over their choices to purchase new buses that have been inaccessible to disabled individuals. They sued the state to make courtrooms accessible and uncovered allegations of gross abuses of kids on the Baxter Faculty for the Deaf that turned out to be terribly true.

“He was an unabashed progressive, which is why I typically consider him because the Bernie Sanders of Maine, solely 20 years earlier,” says Alan Caron, who was then a younger activist and who helped employees Andrews’ 1982 marketing campaign for state legislature. “I keep in mind the large drawback we had within the marketing campaign was having too could volunteers prepared to drop every thing to assist him out.”

He received the legislative seat and, to everybody’s shock, defeated the institution’s state Senate candidate, Gerard Conley Jr., within the 1984 Democratic main and went on to the higher chamber. “He had this terrific smile, might mild up a room, and was one of many higher audio system to return out of Maine, and I’ve heard all of them,” provides Caron, who grew to become a prime political marketing consultant within the state on this period. “He was this rising star within the celebration, and no person knew what the ceiling was.”


Andrews repeated this feat in 1990, defeating Legal professional Normal James Tierney and future Maine Home Speaker and Senate President Libby Mitchell within the congressional main, after which crushing Republican Dave Emery — who had held the seat for 4 phrases within the late ’70s and early ’80s — with 60 % of the vote within the basic election.

In Washington he co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus with Sanders of Vermont, California’s Maxine Waters and three different members, and served on the Armed Providers Committee through the contentious post-Chilly Battle course of to cut back the variety of U.S. navy bases.

Andrews had referred to as for a discount on navy spending, and when an impartial panel put Limestone’s Loring Air Power Base — constructed to drop atomic weapons on the by-then-nonexistent Soviet Union utilizing B-52s that had been made out of date for this function — on the chopping block, Andrews was the one member of Maine’s congressional delegation who did not demand they rethink. “There was no pork-barrel politics, no sleight of hand, no backroom offers,” Andrews advised The Boston Globe on the time. “We bought a good listening to.”

Many northern Maine voters did not see it that method and punished him for it when he tried to run for an open Senate seat in 1994. Though outgoing Senate Majority Chief George Mitchell had endorsed Andrews to exchange him, he misplaced the race to Snowe.

“He had taken this very principled stand in regards to the closure of Loring and Olympia was ready to make use of it towards him like a hammer,” says Bailey, who was marketing campaign spokesman for the victorious gubernatorial candidate that yr, Angus King. “His attraction was that he was somebody who would problem the established order and shake issues up, however I feel he most likely overreached on the bottom closure.”

Andrews agrees Loring most likely damage him however notes that 1994 was a horrible yr for Democrats: an election when a brand new crop of fiery Republicans beneath Newt Gingrich toppled Democratic management of the Home and Andrews’ vacated Home seat was captured by Republican James Longley Jr. “Folks did not know me in CD2,” he provides, “and Olympia was an excellent candidate.”


He started commuting to Washington, D.C., not lengthy after the election and commenced a sequence of jobs main antiwar and human rights campaigns, together with as nationwide director of Win With out Battle (which opposed the invasion of Iraq) and president of United to Finish Genocide (which confronted atrocities in Sudan, Myanmar and different nations). He moved to Washington full time within the early 2000s, however saved his Maine camp, the place he spends “as a lot time as potential.”

As U.N. Particular Rapporteur, Andrews final Thursday issued a report back to the Human Rights Council denouncing the coup and calling on the U.N. Safety Council “to take decisive and unified motion towards the navy junta, together with focused sanctions, an arms embargo, and a referral to the Worldwide Felony Courtroom to research and prosecute atrocities.”

This Thursday, Andrews will launch a extra detailed annex detailing human rights violations that preceded the Feb. 2 coup. It would present that Myanmar’s safety forces have “continued to homicide, torture and hearth indiscriminately on Rohingya civilians, whereas persevering with to disclaim them equal entry to citizenship rights” in violation of an order from the Worldwide Courtroom of Justice.

“I sincerely hope that the worldwide neighborhood will rise to the event of this second of historical past by following the lead and the inspiration of the individuals of Myanmar,” Andrews says in an announcement issued by his workplace Thursday. “And, that justice, dignity and human rights will lastly prevail for all.”

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