October 05, 2021

Cardin, Meeks Lead Congressional Response to Ongoing Atrocities in Burma, Support for a Return to Democracy

Legislation holds the Burmese military accountable for its February 1 coup and ongoing crisis in Burma

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.-5), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tuesday introduced legislation that authorizes new humanitarian assistance and civil society support for Burma. Their legislation, the “Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2021” (BURMA Act of 2021), also calls on the Administration to do more at the United Nations to hold the Burmese military accountable for its actions, promotes democracy and imposes targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses. The legislation specifically supports reporting on accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya in Burma.

In the Senate, the BURMA Act is cosponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Min.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Ben Lujan (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“As the death toll continues to rise, the United States must not be indifferent to Burma’s fate. Horrible atrocities have been committed against minority groups, including the Rohingya, which has led more than one million to flee as refugees,” said Senator Cardin. “Our bicameral legislation aims to hold responsible the military leaders and others who have ravaged this nation and committed crimes against humanity. We stand in solidarity with the people of Burma and condemn the violence that has been perpetrated against them.” 

“It has been seven long months since the Burmese military staged its illegal and illegitimate coup, reversing years of reform and Burma’s fragile transition to democracy. Despite diplomatic pressure from the United States and the international community, the Burmese military has refused to cease its violence, release those unjustly detained, or participate in meaningful dialogue with local stakeholders. The United States must now do more to support and protect the Burmese people and send a clear signal to the Burmese military,” said Chairman Meeks.

“For too long, the Rohingya people in Burma have been shut out of the democratic process, brutally forced from their homes, and suffered severe human rights abuses by the country's military forces.  And this year, those same military forces overthrew democratically-elected leaders and continue to violently suppress dissent.  With this legislation, the U.S. Senate is sending a clear message: we will not be silent in the face of a coup and genocide," said Senator Durbin. "Burma’s military forces must be held accountable for dehumanizing its own citizens, and I stand by all those in Burma who peacefully call for equitable treatment and a path toward democracy."

“The same perpetrators of the February 1st coup that upended Burma’s rocky, but hopeful transition to democracy are also responsible for atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities within Burma,” said Senator Markey. “The United States must lead the world in holding these perpetrators accountable and by taking bold action to hit the junta where it hurts -- its illicit sources of revenues that continue to fund its brutal campaign of repression. We also must call the crimes committed against the Rohingya what they were: genocide. I’m pleased this bill will require the Administration to make a determination as to whether genocide occurred, as I have called for and as laid out in my Rohingya Genocide Determination Act.”

“The United States should be a leader in defending democracy and human rights worldwide, and that’s why it’s so important that we send a strong message in response to the genocide, coup, and brutal crackdown in Burma,” said Senator Merkley. “I traveled to Burma and Bangladesh in 2017 and saw firsthand the devastation caused by the Rohingya genocide and the resulting refugee crisis. Now, in the aftermath of the coup, the same actors that perpetrated the genocide against the Rohingya with impunity have crushed the fledging democratically elected government and reinstated a brutal dictatorship. It’s time for the United States to turn up the pressure, and that’s exactly what this bill does. I’m pleased that this legislation calls for a swift determination on a genocide designation and incorporates my proposal to sanction the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, and I will be fighting to get these provisions into law as soon as possible.”

The full text of the BURMA Act can be found at this link.

A section-by-section summary can be found here.

The legislation includes:

  • Authorization to impose sanctions on individuals and entities who helped stage the February 1 coup d’état and are responsible for the subsequent repression of fundamental freedoms, human rights abuses, use of indiscriminate violence towards civilians, and other gross atrocities.
  • Authorization to prohibit the import of precious and semi-precious gemstones from Burma into the United States.
  • Authorization for a new position at the State Department, a Special Coordinator for Burmese Democracy, to promote an international effort to impose and enforce multilateral sanctions on Burma and coordinate United States Government interagency efforts on Burma.
  • Authorization for support to civil society and for humanitarian assistance in Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand, and the surrounding region. 
  • Requires the Secretary of State to make a determination whether the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma constitutes genocide 
  • Call for the United States to pressure the United Nations to take more decisive action with regards to Burma.

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