WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), along with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), are leading a bipartisan Senate group that is seeking to impose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on senior Burmese military officials responsible for the atrocities and systematic human rights abuses against the Rohingya people in Burma. Earlier today, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum announced that “there is compelling evidence that the Burmese military committed ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the Rohingya, the Muslim minority population of Burma.” Over 700,000 Rohingya have been forced from their homes following decades of systematic discrimination and dehumanization.
The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2018 (S.3696) would prohibit certain military cooperation with the Burmese military until the Departments of State and Defense can certify that officials have halted the violence. The bill would also support economic and security sector reform, and encourage Burma’s successful transition of power to a civilian government.
“As one of the first members of Congress to label the Rohingya crisis a ‘genocide,’ I am encouraged by the Holocaust Museum’s analysis and conclusions. Our hope is that such a designation will induce meaningful action by the international community to realize justice and accountability for the Rohingya,” said Senator Cardin. “Passage of the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act will ensure United States leadership holds Burmese government officials accountable for crimes committed against the Rohingya, while setting forward clear criteria for the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of Rohingya to their homeland.”
“America’s national security interests and humanitarian principles demand that when ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide occur that the United States boldly and clearly call them by name and seek to hold the perpetrators accountable,” said Senator Young.
“Our bipartisan bill would ensure despicable acts of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military against the innocent Rohingya do not go unpunished. The safety of the Rohingya – and their eventual, voluntary return to their home – must be our top priority. The Burmese government cannot be trusted until it answers for its human rights violations, denounces genocide, and makes significant policy reforms for the future of its country and people,” Senator Durbin said.
“What has happened to the Rohingya in Burma is a stain on humanity, and it is critical for the United States to lead, ensure accountability, and prevent this from happening again,” said Senator Rubio. “We must pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act to hold Burmese officials accountable for their crimes and ensure the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of Rohingya to their homes in Burma.
“The U.S. must send a strong signal to the world that there are consequences for governments that commit human rights abuses against their vulnerable communities,” Senator Merkley said. “I traveled to Burma and Bangladesh and spoke with the Rohingya who have suffered terrible atrocities. We must pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act and double down on efforts to work with international partners to end the violence and address the refugee crisis that has spread across the region.”
The bill was first introduced in November 2017 by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Cardin, then Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in response to the wave of atrocities carried out by the Burmese government against the Rohingya in August 2017.
Along with Senators Cardin, Young, Durbin, Rubio and Merkley, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2018 (S.3696) is cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Kaine (D-Va.).
Specifically, the Senate legislation would:
- State the U.S. policy of calibrated engagement, which supports a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all of its people regardless of ethnicity and religion.
- Authorize humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya, including refugees in Bangladesh, the region and implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission.
- Instruct Treasury to only vote for international financial assistance projects that do not partner with the Burmese military owned enterprise.
- Express the Sense of Congress calling on the Burmese government to ensure the right of returnees and to fully implement all of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission.
- Codify U.S.-Burma military to military cooperation restrictions.
- Re-impose the U.S. jade and rubies ban and require a report on Burma GSP privileges.
- Require a report on which individuals should be placed on visa bans and on the SDN list for senior Burmese military officials.
- Require a report on promoting inclusive and responsible economic growth and development in Burma.
- Require a report on accountability for ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide in Burma, a feasibility and desirability study of potential transitional justice mechanisms for Burma, and authorize technical assistance for it.