Levin Remarks During House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on Rohingya

Sep 26, 2018 Issues: Foreign Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Sandy Levin (D-MI) delivered remarks during today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya people in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Earlier this month, Rep. Levin introduced H.Res.1057, which calls on the Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese civilian government to release from prison two Reuters journalists whose work brought attention to these atrocities.

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(Remarks as Prepared)

Mr. Chairman, the facts about the atrocities committed against the Rohingya by the Burmese military are as clear as they are heartbreaking. 

Multiple United Nations reports have laid out in detail the violence and brutality inflicted on the Rohnigya, including one in August that called for Burma’s military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Here is just one excerpt from that UN report related to operations conducted by the Burmese military last year:

“The ‘clearance operations’ constituted a human rights catastrophe. Thousands of Rohingya were killed or injured. Mass killings were perpetrated… villagers were gathered together, before men and boys were separated and killed… women and girls were taken to nearby houses, gang raped, then killed or severely injured.  Bodies were transported in military vehicles, burned and disposed of in mass graves.”

Reporters who have attempted to expose these atrocities in Burma have been targeted for harassment and arrest.  Just last month, two reporters from Reuters were sentenced to seven years in prison by a Burmese court for violating state secrets laws in what has been widely reported as a sham process.  During their court proceeding, a police official testified he had been ordered to entrap these journalists. 

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has said “the conviction of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the Burmese government.”

In response to this brutality and injustice, Burma’s civilian government has been even worse than silent – too often condoning or justifying the military’s murderous repression of the Rohingya. 

Earlier this year, Burma’s National Security Advisor (Thaung Tun) made a series of comments designed to deny or downplay any violence and atrocities against the Rohingya, saying the vast majority remain in Burma, and “if it was genocide, they would all be driven out.” 

He went on to declare that the Burmese government “would like to have clear evidence” of ethnic cleansing and genocide.  The evidence of course is overwhelming, as presented in the current and previous UN reports. 

Most discouraging has been the response from the leader of Burma’s civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose story of triumph over oppression was an inspiration to all.  None of us want to see this icon of human rights become the apologist for a human rights catastrophe.

The recent UN report specifically called her out for failing to use her position or moral authority to protect the Rohingya, and that civilian authorities have instead “spread false narratives” about the atrocities. 

And just a couple of weeks ago, Suu Kyi reportedly said the following about the treatment of the Rohingya – “there are of course ways in which with hindsight I think the situation could have been handled better…we believe that for sake of long-term stability and security, we have to be fair to all sides.”

This is a message of minimisation that drastically understates the magnitude of crimes against humanity that have occurred.  

I understand why some have preached patience with Suu Kyi, given that she does not have direct authority over Burma’s military.  They say there is a danger the military may dismantle the civilian government if she raises concerns about their brutal repression of the Rohingya.   And having met her personally, I know of and greatly respect her brave struggle against repression while under house arrest for nearly two decades.

But none of that justifies inaction, or even worse, justification in the face of genocide. 

Suu Kyi must openly and honestly address the brutal repression of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims.  A vital first step would be for her to move the civilian government to free the two jailed reporters who exposed particular cases of violence against the Rohingya. 

I have introduced a resolution, H.Res. 1057, calling on her to do just that – use the power invested in the civilian government to prevent the continued imprisonment of the brave reporters for shining a light on the truth.

I strongly urge this Committee to report similar legislation to the House floor as soon as possible.  We must come together and speak with one voice that jailing reporters for exposing the truth is a grave injustice, especially when that truth is the crime of genocide. 

Thank you.

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