WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement after the Burmese government denied access to a key UN human rights investigator working to gather information about the persecution of the Burmese Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.
Merkley led a November congressional delegation on a fact-finding mission to the region, the first such delegation since the recent escalation of attacks and persecution against the Rohingya.
“In September, responding to international outrage over Burmese military and vigilante attacks on the Rohingya minority, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi invited the world ‘to go with us to the troubled areas… to see for yourself what is happening and think for yourself what can we do to remove these problems.’
“In November, I took Aung San Suu Kyi up on her invitation and led a congressional delegation so that we could see for ourselves what is happening in northern Rakhine. After weeks of preparation, the government denied access at the last minute. Now, access has once again been denied, this time to a critical UN fact-finding mission. These denials paint a troubling picture of a government attempting to cover up and make invisible a campaign of mass atrocities that many experts describe as genocide.
“Despite Burmese officials’ attempts to turn away the eyes of the world, there is horrific and mounting evidence about the unspeakable violence that has been perpetrated against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine. I spoke with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who showed me the scars on their bodies from escaping as their houses burned down, and spoke of their loved ones killed in front of their eyes. I saw the drawings made by refugee children showing the Burmese military gunning down villagers as they tried to flee. There is extensive evidence that rape, murder, and the burning and destruction of villages have all been used systematically by the Burmese military. Most recently, there is additional evidence of mass graves.
“Burma must reverse its decision and allow access for UN investigators. Burmese officials must also release arrested journalists; implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan report; and, ultimately, hold perpetrators accountable.
“The sanctions against a top Burmese military official announced this week are a good first step, but the international community must continue to work together to apply intense pressure on the Burmese government. And the U.S. should be at the forefront of leading the global community to stop this genocide. President Trump has yet to say one public word about this crisis. That is unacceptable. It is important that the President express, on behalf of our nation, our moral outrage and commitment to see an end to such atrocities. It is also important for the Senate to act, and I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in pushing for additional sanctions in the new year.”