Levin Urges Congress to Confront the Rohingya Crisis

May 9, 2018 Issues: Foreign Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Representative Sandy Levin (D-MI) delivered the following remarks from the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives urging Congress to do more to confront the ongoing humanitarian crisis and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people:

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(Remarks as Delivered)

I rise today to speak about the unspeakable suffering of the Rohingya people. We must do all we can to shine a spotlight on their plight.

Last night, the PBS Newshour [Frontline] presented an hour-long documentary about the brutal campaign against the Rohingyas led by the Burmese military. At times, it became intolerable to continue to watch footages of young men being beaten, listen to the accounts of young girls and women being raped and killed, and see human remains shoved into mass graves.

The facts are well known: since August last year, nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the violence in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh, where they are being housed in deplorable conditions and face an uncertain future.

Some of the conversation lately has focused on returning the Rohingya Muslims to Burma, resettling them to a remote island, or some third country. However, I believe the most pressing conversation today must be for the Burmese military and civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to confront the issue head on. The Burmese leadership must acknowledge ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide that have been inflicted on the Rohingya people.

As recently as March, a senior Burmese official reportedly made a series of comments designed to deny or downplay any violence and atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, 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.

That clear evidence already exists. Even as Burma has denied international investigators the ability to enter the country to gather evidence of such crimes, a United Nations fact-finding mission found “concrete and overwhelming” evidence of “human rights violations of the most serious kind, in all likelihood amounting to crimes under international law.” The investigative team found widespread and systematic “State-led violence,” and had “numerous accounts of children and babies who were killed, boys arrested, and girls raped.”

Various rationales have been suggested for the failures of the Burmese government to acknowledge and act upon atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.

It is said that Aung San Suu Kyi does not control the military, and there is a danger that the military would use the present crisis as a way to dismantle the civilian government.

It is said that the civilian government is working within a deep traditional bias against the Rohingyas, and some see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Others have suggested that pressure on the civilian government could lead to Burma moving closer to the Chinese. Still others point out that talks about the Rohingyas returning to Burma must be afforded time to work out, and the process has only begun.

None of this can undermine for a moment the realities of the persecution of the Rohingyas. The PBS documentary Myanmar’s Killing Fields left no doubt about the extent and nature of the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingyas. As an UN official has stated it is “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Until the Burmese civilian government and military openly acknowledge their role in these atrocities, protection and justice for the Rohingya Muslims will remain out of reach.

There is an overriding need for the Burmese government and the world to step up to the plight of the Rohingyas.

Senator John McCain and Senator Dick Durbin introduced, on September 7, 2017, a resolution clearly addressing the plight of the Rohingyas. I introduced the same resolution seven days later.

Subsequent events have darkened still further the plight of the Rohingya since then.

While the basic message in the resolutions remains the same, it would be wise to update them and then that this entire issue be fully and directly addressed by the Congress.

Bishop Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

The documentary on Frontline last night made it painfully clear that this Congress must not accept neutrality or any shade of it.

We must stand tall on the side of justice.

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