WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at a Committee hearing on ‘Assessing U.S. Policy Towards Burma: Geopolitical, Economic and Humanitarian Considerations.’ Senator Cardin is working with a bipartisan group of colleagues to draft legislation to clarify US policy towards Burma; place limits on our military engagement given the situation in Rakhine; explore whether economic or other sanctions are needed; provide support for the democratic transition; advance accountability for atrocities; and assure humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh.
“Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for holding this hearing. Now it’s Burma, another country that is committing ethnic cleansing, another country under the watch of the international community that’s allowed to perpetrate an atrocity. Make no mistake about it, atrocities are taking place in Burma. We have a humanitarian crisis, we have perpetrators who expect impunity, and there’s no reason to doubt that that may in fact occur.
“This is ethnic cleansing. I know that the administration is evaluating that as we are holding this hearing. Ethnic cleansing is defined by the United Nations Commission of Experts as ‘rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from an area’. Half of the population of the Rohingyas in Burma have left. Six hundred thousand out of 1.2 million. There’s been a systematic burning of their villages. This didn’t just start. It’s been a campaign that’s gone on for a long period of time, since a 1982 law that denies them citizenship even though they have been residents for generations.
“They are denied freedom of movement, they are denied freedom of education, they are denied health care. This has been a systematic effort to destroy an ethnic community. And once again we see this happening. And once again, the expectation is, ‘well its far away, we’ll just let it go along’. We need to be outraged about what’s happening. We need to see the international community come together and say no we will not let this continue. That we will hold those accountable that are responsible. That we will provide the humanitarian need immediately. That we will stop this type of conduct in a civilized society. This cannot occur.
“Yes, I think it’s genocide. I know there will be some discussion about whether it’s genocide or not. ‘Deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’. That’s what happening. They’re trying to destroy the population. People are arguing intent. What else are they doing this for? Other than the purity of their country and their lack of tolerance for a minority population. For decades the Burmese government has systematically repressed the Rohingya people. That is the fact. And they have deliberately failed to integrate the population into the general population.
“As U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid correctly stated the ‘decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations… have almost certainly contribute[d] to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing.’ They complain about extremism; they’re creating it.
“In my opinion, we are witnessing a military-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign on the Rohingya. And it will take significant engagement from the international community, at the highest levels, in partnership with the Burmese civilian government, to address and to hold the perpetrators accountable for these horrific acts.
“Unfortunately, the Rohingya crisis is not the only vexing challenge Burma faces. The Burmese military continues to hold significant influence in politics and in the economy. The peace process, which sought to end the long-standing civil war in the country, has stalled. There are significant reports of human rights issues such as human trafficking, free speech infringement, and political repression.
“The Chairman’s right. The state counselor was here. She’s an impressive person. But she’s not taking on the challenge. She’s not responding to the crisis in her own country. The military control Burma today. That’s unacceptable, that’s why we imposed sanctions, because of military control. Sanction relief was given for what? So people can be ethnically cleansed?
“I agree with the Chairman. We need to not only reevaluate, we need to have a policy in regards to Burma that we understand, that addresses these human rights violations, that reevaluates our position as far as having normal relations with Burma and the release of our sanctions. The president will be attending the ASEAN summit very shortly. Will he be mentioning Burma and human rights as a top priority during this trip? I certainly hope so. And Mr. Chairman I do want to compliment the Bangladesh government for keeping the borders open. That’s been the one bright spot. But there’s the humanitarian crisis of the refugees in Bangladesh that we all have to respond to.
“So I am looking forward to hearing from our witnesses. I thank each of them. They all have very distinguished records and I have great confidence in their expertise on the subject. But I do notice that on a subject as important as this, it would be nice to have at least one witness that was confirmed by the Senate that brings that degree of importance from the administration on this subject.
“And lastly I would ask consent that numerous statements from NGOs about this situation be made part of the record.”