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.) have renewed their bipartisan effort to impose sanctions on senior Burmese military officials who were responsible for the systematic human rights abuses against the Rohingya people and other minorities in Burma. Over 727,000 Rohingya have been forced from their homes following decades of systematic discrimination and dehumanization. The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (S. 1186) is a response to the compelling evidence that “the Burmese military committed ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the Rohingya, the Muslim minority population of Burma,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“The crimes being perpetrated against the Rohingya people amount to genocide. There is no doubt about it,” said Senator Cardin. “Our Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act sends a clear signal to the world that the Burmese military and security officials responsible for the atrocities that continue to unfold in Burma cannot and will not be permitted to live with impunity and profit from their heinous crimes. The United States must lead with our values. We must ensure that the military and security officials who carried out, ordered, or facilitated these attacks are held accountable. Our bill not only would ensure accountability, but also sets forward a clear roadmap for the dignified, safe, sustainable, and voluntary return of the Rohingya and other displaced people to their homes.”
“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.
“That nearly one million Rohingya continue to live in refugee camps after being savagely chased from their homes in Burma is unacceptable,” said Senator Durbin. “The government of Aung San Suu Kyi must work to allow for their peaceful return with full citizenship and security as well as hold accountable those who perpetrated these atrocities. The world’s eyes are on this former Nobel Peace Prize winner to do the right thing.”
“The horrific atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims by the Burmese security forces demands immediate justice and accountability,” said Senator Rubio. “I’m proud to join this legislation to hold senior military officials implicated in war crimes responsible.”
“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,” said Senator Merkley. “I traveled to Burma and Bangladesh and spoke with the Rohingya who have suffered terrible atrocities. It’s unacceptable that President Trump still has not said one public word about these horrific human rights violations. 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.”
Along with Senators Cardin, Young, Durbin, Rubio and Merkley, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (S. 1186) is cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The first version of this bill was 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.
Specifically, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (S. 1186)
- Affirms the U.S. policy of calibrated engagement, which supports a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects human rights of all of its people regardless of ethnicity and religion
- Authorizes humanitarian and reconciliation assistance for ethnic groups, including the Rohingya and other minority groups, and civil society organizations in Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand, and the region
- Instructs Treasury to direct the United States executive directors of each international financial institution to use the voice and vote of the United States to only vote for international financial assistance projects that allow for accountability, transparency and disclose the beneficial ownership of the extractives industry; do not provide incentives for, or facilitate, forced displacement; and do not partner with the Burmese armed forces .
- Calls on the Burmese government, in collaboration with the regional and international community, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to ensure the dignified, safe, sustainable, and voluntary return of Rohingya and other minorities, including restoring or granting of full citizen rights to Rohingya people.
- Codifies U.S. – Burma military-to-military cooperation restrictions unless certain certifications are met
- Re-imposes the U.S. jade and ruby import ban which expired under the Jade Act
- Requires a list from the President of senior Burmese military and security force officials (and entities owned or controlled by those officials) who knowingly played a direct and significant role in committing gross violations of human rights, war crimes, or crimes against humanity (including sexual or gender-based violence) in Burma
- Also requires the president to determine whether certain named military officials should be sanctioned, and report to Congress annually on diplomatic efforts to ensure other countries sanction the officials and entities sanctioned by the U.S.
- Requires the Secretary of State to deny visas and the Secretary of Homeland Security to deny entry to the U.S. individuals included in the President’s list. Requires Treasury to sanction and block the property of those individuals
- Requires a strategy on promoting inclusive and responsible economic growth and development in Burma, in consultation with relevant civil society and local stakeholders
- Requires a report on crimes against humanity and other serious human rights abuses committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic groups in Burma, and on potential transnational justice mechanisms in Burma
- Authorizes appropriate Federal departments and agencies to provide technical assistance, including identifying perpetrators, collecting evidence, conducting and supporting criminal investigations of credible reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, including sexual and gender-based violence, and genocide perpetrated by the military, security forces, and Government of Burma, Buddhist militias, and all other armed groups fighting
- Expresses the Sense of Congress on press freedom urging the Government of Burma to release Reuters journalists and repeal the Official Secrets Act
- Authorizes the President to impose sanctions on Burmese Government officials for purchasing defense articles from North Korea and to terminate or reduce U.S. foreign assistance to Burma if purchased North Korean defense articles are not eliminated