August 23, 2018

Menendez Marks One Year Anniversary of Burma’s Ethnic Cleansing Campaign Against Rohingya

WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today submitted the below statement for the Senate record marking the one-year anniversary of the campaign of the Burmese military’s campaign of  violence and terror on Rohingya civilians.

“Last August, the world watched in horror as Burma’s military launched an ethnic cleansing campaign of rape, arson and mass murder against the Rohingya.  

Despite the Burmese military’s claims that their operations were in response to attacks on police outposts by extremists, the evidence is clear that the Burmese military had made extensive preparations to carry out these operations. Their preparations included systematically disarming Rohingya civilians, training and arming non-Rohingya communities, and building up an unusually large military and security presence in Rakhine - all in anticipation of attacks that included extra-judicial executions, rape, expulsions and mass burning of Rohingya villages throughout Rakhine State. 

The military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing has forced more than 720,000 Rohingya-- roughly 80 percent of the entire Rohingya population in Burma – to flee for safety in Bangladesh, creating the world’s worst refugee crisis in recent history.  The government and people of Bangladesh have shown extraordinary generosity by providing safe harbor to those fleeing violence in Burma and continuing to keep its border open.

But Bangladesh is at a tipping point-- already the world’s most populous country, there simply isn’t enough space or capacity to house this new population. Camp conditions for the Rohingya population are miserable. Refugees are living in plastic and bamboo shelters dangerously perched on the side of clay hills. Children have limited access to education.  And while many would prefer not to rely on limited humanitarian aid, work is tough to come by.

The day-to-day reality for the Rohingya people in Bangladesh is bleak. And while many one day wish to return home to Burma, they rightfully ask for their government to guarantee their safety and to recognize their civil and political rights. Yet so far even these basic demands are unmet. 

Equally troubling, conditions for the Rohingya who stayed behind in Burma remain perilous.  Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, recently declared that while the nature of their persecution has changed, there persists a “lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation.”

Burmese officials continue to reject UN and other international findings of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and, potentially, genocide. In fact, the Burmese government has relentlessly blocked access to Rakhine State by many humanitarian groups, independent media workers, and UN observers, in an attempt to prevent the international community from assessing the very violations they deny are happening. A New York Times journalist recently gained access to Rakhine State and met Rohingya who described living in a constant state of fear and repression. She also saw the burnt remnants of what used to be Rohingya villages and visited repatriation centers that appeared more like “concentration camps.” 

The horrific and ongoing human rights abuses committed against the Rohingya demand a strong response from the United States and the international community. I support the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and other offices in conducting fact-finding efforts analyzing over 1,000 interviews with Rohingya civilians and documenting the scope and nature of the atrocities committed.  I urge Secretary Pompeo to publicly release the entire report including any findings of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Furthermore, I strongly urge this Administration to lead the international community in fully using all appropriate mechanisms to secure accountability for the ethnic cleansing, mass atrocities, and other potential grave crimes the Burmese military has committed against the Rohingya. Accountability is essential if Burma is to continue on a path of democratic reform and genuine national and ethnic reconciliation.

This pathway for accountability includes calling for an international, impartial, and independent investigation to gather evidence on perpetrators, as well as working towards their eventual prosecution.  I sincerely hope that robust and legitimate investigations will ensure that those who orchestrated and perpetrated these brutal crimes are brought to justice, and that all the people of Burma, including the Rohingya, will one day be able to enjoy the fruits of an inclusive and pluralistic democratic nation.”



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