Congress Is Ramping Up the Pressure on Myanmar — the Trump Administration and the International Community Need to Follow Suit

By Ryan Mace, Grassroots Advocacy Refugee Lobbyist

The time for outrage and condemnation has come and passed. The time for action is now.

Since late August 2017, the world has borne witness as over 604,000 Rohingya refugees, over 250,000 of whom are children, have poured into neighboring Bangladesh, along with around 40,000 refugees to India where they continue to face difficulty and potential expulsion, as well as neighboring Thailand, which Amnesty International has previously reported on. They are being forced from their homes — desperately seeking to escape mass shootings, rape, and burnings of villages. They are fleeing for their lives and, in some cases, being shot at while attempting to do so.

These are crimes against humanity which have been well documented by Amnesty researchers, most recently in an Amnesty briefing paper launched on October 18, 2017. ‘My World Is Finished’: Rohingya Targeted in Crimes Against Humanity in Myanmar, which represents Amnesty’s most detailed analysis of the crisis to date. Amnesty researchers remain in the region, and we are going to keep reporting on the egregious human rights violations, aiming to hold those responsible accountable, as we have for decades.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that well over 817,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in Bangladesh (with some expecting that number to swell to over a million in the coming weeks). These drastic numbers put extreme pressure on the ability to meet the complex needs of those displaced. Concerningly, Bangladesh is denying the Rohingya refugee status, instead calling them “Myanmar nationals” while back in Myanmar, their home, they are called “undocumented Bangladeshis”. They are stuck in a perilous limbo, with little access to food and malnutrition rates rising especially amongst children, and an increased risk of an outbreak in communicable diseases including cholera and measles.

This is a pivotal moment, and our leaders must act — we must respond decisively to one of the most pressing and urgent humanitarian crises in the world today, and stand alongside those fleeing persecution and violence.

Luckily, there are some in Congress who have been showing leadership, and demonstrating that on the issue of human rights, there is simply no place for party. Both the House and Senate have sent bipartisan letters urging action for the devastating plight against the Rohingya. And in October, both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee held public hearings.

Now, there is bipartisan legislation recently introduced in both the House (H.R. 4223) and Senate (S. 2060) which ramps up the pressure. If passed and signed by the President, it would significantly increase the pressure on the Myanmar military officials responsible for these terrible atrocities and prompt investigations and possible prosecutions of war criminals, and require reporting on ethnic cleansing, and other crimes against humanity, including genocide, taking place. It would prohibit U.S. military cooperation with Myanmar’s military, and further hold Myanmar to account by requiring cooperation with the U.N. fact-finding mission, access to humanitarian aid groups, and extending civil and political rights, to include citizenship, to the Rohingya.

In addition to other legislative efforts, including a bipartisan resolution in the House, some members of Congress are demonstrating that the U.S. government will not stand by while so many suffer.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Myanmar this week, and meets with those who have the power to change course there, we hope that he will be forceful in his call for an immediate end to this violence and call this crisis what it is — ethnic cleansing — including the forced displacement of a people from their home. Secretary Tillerson, along with President Trump and the international community, must send a clear message that these vicious acts of violence and persecution will not go unchecked and those responsible will be held accountable.

We must condemn these crimes against humanity, and stand alongside those facing persecution. But we must also act, and do something to end them — once and for all.

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