The US House of Representatives has condemned “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims and called on Myanmar’s leadership to end attacks on minorities in the northern Rakhine state, in the stiffest congressional criticism of the government in the Buddhist-majority country.
The House passed a resolution on Tuesday, urging immediate restoration of humanitarian access to the Rakhine state where unrest has forced over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
“This slaughter must end, and our resolution ought to send a strong message to Burmese leaders that their commitment to restoring democracy will be judged by their respect for the individual rights and freedoms of all people living within Burma’s borders, no matter their faith or ethnicity,” House Democratic Whip Steny H Hoyer said in a statement.
Introduced by Congressmen Joe Crowley and Eliot Engel, the resolution condemns the “horrific actions” of the military and security forces and calls for an immediate cessation of violence.
The resolution also urges the restoration of humanitarian access to the restive Rakhine state where unrest has forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
“It also calls for Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar’s de facto leader) to exercise moral leadership, something that’s needed now more than ever,” Engel said in his remarks on the House floor on Tuesday.
“We reject the Army’s claims that what’s taking place in Burma is a so-called counterterrorism measure, that’s nonsense. It’s a textbook ethnic cleansing, that’s what it is,” Engel said.
“We should also encourage other governments to stay engaged and continue to address the pressing needs of these refugees’ needs that will only grow as long as this situation remains unresolved,” he said.
Clashes erupted after the August 25 deadly attacks by militants on security forces in the Rakhine State, sparking a major army crackdown on the community.
According to the UN estimates, more than 600,000 members of the minority Muslim group have fled across the border into Bangladesh since then, triggered a grave humanitarian crisis in the country.
“Bangladesh deserves our deep gratitude for opening its doors to the Rohingya at a time when our government slams the door shut,” Engel said.
“The governments of Burma and Bangladesh have struck a deal to begin repatriating Rohingya next month, but it’s not yet clear that anyone is interested in returning right now,” he said.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who visited the refugee camps in Bangladesh last month, said that as Congressional fact-finding mission has noted their visits to refugee camps and conversations with survivors made it clear that the persecution of the Rohingya people in Burma’s Rakhine State is a “severe humanitarian crisis that demands robust” American leadership.
“This resolution is an important first step in demonstrating that Congress will not tolerate human rights abuses against Rohingyas. As our delegation saw, there is a path forward. The Burmese government and military must fully implement the recommendations of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s advisory commission,” McCollum said.
Meanwhile in Geneva, at a special session on Myanmar by United Nations Human Rights Council, the US called for all actors to play a constructive role in resolving the human rights situation and hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable.
“The United States urges an immediate end to violence, restoration of the rule of law, countrywide access for the UN Fact-Finding Mission, immediate humanitarian and media access to affected areas, and guaranteed and verifiably safe, voluntary, and dignified return for those who want to return to their homes,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
Respect for human rights of all peoples is a fundamental element of democracy and the US stands ready to support the elected civilian government in its efforts to achieve peace, stability, and prosperity for all of Burma, she said in a statement.
Congressman Steve Chabot said Rohingyas had long been at the fringe of Burmese society and it is no secret that the Burmese military regards them as outsiders who don’t belong in Burma at all.
“That is why they used attacks in August, by a rogue group of Rohingya, as a pretext to terrorise the entire Rohingya population,” he alleged.
“This campaign of terror and violence has worked over 600,000 Rohingya have fled Burma for Bangladesh. At least 250,000 of these are children. Further, credible human rights organisations and the media have documented numerous horrors and abuses.
“Together, these atrocities amount to what has been called a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’,” Chabot alleged on the House floor.