WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley—a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading voice on supporting democracy and human rights in Burma—issued the following statement marking the one-year anniversary of the military coup in Burma:
“A year ago, we were all shocked and heartbroken when the Burmese military threw out the results of free and fair elections that would have returned a civilian-led, democratically-elected government to power. But in the face of such darkness, the perseverance and resilience of the people of Burma has inspired the world as civilians have stood up against these anti-democratic forces in pursuit of a more inclusive, peaceful country.
“I have been dismayed to see the horrific violence that the regime has wrought upon its own people. Over 1,500, including children and people from every part of the country, are now dead at the hands of the military since the coup. Over 10,000 have been wrongly imprisoned for trying to exercise their right to free speech or simply being members of the democracy movement or journalists.
“I’ll never forget the painful stories I heard from members of the Rohingya community when I traveled to Burma and Bangladesh—stories of unspeakable violence and horrific crimes against humanity. The same military that perpetrated those horrors has now turned its brutality on anyone who advocates for democracy and human rights.
“America can’t stay silent in the face of these abuses—and we must make it undeniably clear that when a government systematically persecutes its people and robs them of their basic human rights, there will be consequences. We must begin to hold the junta accountable for their crimes. That starts with the U.S. State Department making a determination that the military committed genocide against the Rohingya. But it must not stop there – we must hold them accountable for all their crimes against humanity and atrocities since the coup. We must also deny funds to the military to fund their horrendous persecution, including through sanctions on the oil and gas sector. I call on the Burmese junta to immediately end all violence, release those that have been wrongly imprisoned, ensure the freedom of the press, enable humanitarian aid to reach those who have been displaced and are suffering, and hand power back to the elected government.
“Until the violence ceases, Burma’s neighbors will continue to play a critical role in supporting the victims of the junta’s crackdown. I urge the governments of Thailand and India to support those who have recently fled violence and crossed Burma’s borders into their countries, provide unfettered access to humanitarian assistance, and refrain from sending those fleeing back to Burma until they are ready to do so voluntarily. I applaud the government of Bangladesh for opening its doors to so many Rohingya refugees. At the same time, I continue to be concerned about the living conditions and rights of refugees in Bangladesh, and I urge the government to ensure the safety and dignity of Rohingya refugees by increasing services within Cox’s Bazaar, limiting relocations of Rohingya refugees to those that are voluntary, and allowing the UN to conduct independent assessments of the habitability of Bhasan Char.
“America and our partners around the world must make clear that atrocities like these will not be allowed to be buried unnoticed, no matter where they occur in the world. It’s on all nations who care about human rights and democracy to use the critical tools at our disposal to provide a pathway forward for Burmese democracy and to ending the persecution of the Rohingya people.”
In 2017, Merkley led the first congressional delegation to Burma and Bangladesh to investigate the Rohingya genocide.