Levin Urges House to Advance Rohingya Resolution, Calls on Burmese Civilian Government to Release Journalists

Sep 12, 2018 Issues: Foreign Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Representative Sandy Levin (D-MI) spoke from the House Floor today calling on his colleagues to advance a resolution he introduced last week which condemns efforts to suppress information related to the ethnic cleansing being perpetrated against Rohingya minority in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

H.Res.1057 calls on Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s civilian government, to exercise her political authority to take steps to release two Reuters journalists recently convicted and imprisoned by the Burmese government after their reporting helped bring to light the widespread violence against the Rohingya.

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(Remarks as Prepared)

Mr. Speaker, I rise once again to speak about the unspeakable suffering of the Rohingya people.

Two recent developments have accentuated the vital need for the House to speak formally and clearly about this human disaster.

First, last month, a fact-finding mission of the United Nations spelled out what is undeniable -- that Burma’s Rohingya Muslim population has been subjected to “systemic oppression” culminating in so-called clearance operations that “targeted and terrorized the entire Rohingya population.”

The UN report called for Burma’s (also known as Myanmar) military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes related to the atrocities committed against the Rohingya.

Let me quote directly from the UN report on the violence and brutality inflicted on the Rohnigya by 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.

Villagers were killed by soldiers, and sometimes Rakhine men, using large bladed weapons. Others were killed in arson attacks, burned to death in their own houses. In some cases, people were forced into burning houses, or locked into buildings set on fire.  Rape and other forms of sexual violence were perpetrated on a massive scale.”

Second, reporters who have attempted to expose these atrocities in Burma have been targeted for harassment and arrest. Just last week, 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.

This is nothing less than an effort to suppress the truth. The leader of Burma’s civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, must pursue the immediate and unconditional release of these courageous reporters. Anything less represents a betrayal of justice and democracy.

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.

The fact is that Suu Kyi and the civilian government too often excuse or deny genocide. The UN report stated that she failed to use her position or moral authority to protect the Rohingya, and that civilian authorities have instead “spread false narratives” about the atrocities.

Some have preached patience with Suu Kyi, noting 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 and murderous repression of the Rohingya.

I met personally with Suu Kyi a few years ago as part of a delegation led by Nancy Pelosi. Her story of not only perseverance but triumph over oppression was an inspiration to all of us.

But none of this justifies silence in the face of genocide.

Over three-quarters of a million Rohingya have been forced to flee their homes in Burma to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. Many thousands have been killed, beaten, and raped. Dozens of villages have been burned and bulldozed into oblivion.

The civilian government has the power to free the two jailed reporters who have exposed particular cases of violence against the Rohingya. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should not be imprisoned for shining a light on the truth.

Congresswoman Schakowsky is leading efforts to urge Secretary of State Pompeo to demand their immediate release in direct discussions with Suu Kyi, saying “this case is only the latest example of the ongoing erosion of press freedom in Burma, especially directed at those covering military abuses.”

Representatives Joaquin Castro and Ann Wagner have sent a letter directly to Suu Kyi urging the journalists’ release after being sentenced for, in their words, “their commitment to a central role of a free press – speaking truth to power.”

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.”

Last week, I introduced H. Res 1057, calling on Suu Kyi to move to immediately and unconditionally free the two reporters. It builds on an earlier resolution that I joined with Senator Durbin and the late Senator McCain that called for both military and civilian authorities to end the violent repression of the Rohingya.

I urged that we in the House carry out our solemn duty and come together now and speak with one voice.  We should pass a resolution right now saying that jailing reporters for exposing the truth is a grave injustice, especially when that truth is the crime of genocide.

We cannot wait to respond to this injustice when it is convenient or safe.  Those whose voices have been suppressed through violence and cruelty need us to speak for them now.  We must not fail them.

I yield back.

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