WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a hearing on human rights in Southeast Asia:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this important hearing and let me also thank our distinguished witnesses for joining us today.
“In late 2011, the Obama Administration announced an American strategic rebalance or pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. While the contours of the rebalance is still taking shape, the logic behind the policy shift is clear.
“The Asia-Pacific is home to almost half of the world’s population, and more than half of global trade and GDP. This region will be a key driver of global events in the decades to come, and central to America’s international interests as a Pacific power.
“It is important that the United States continue to strengthen our relationships with key allies in the region, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines. We should also deepen strategic partnerships with emerging powers in the region like India and Indonesia, and take steps to further connect our people and our economies.
“Mr. Chairman, the Asia rebalance includes important political, economic, and strategic dimensions. And these priorities are inseparable from our obligation to promote greater respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
“After all, when citizens enjoy full political and economic participation, it helps unleash a country’s full potential. Governments that are transparent and accountable in turn grow more responsive and effective. Nations become stronger partners on the world stage and project stability across regions. So for the United States, promoting human rights in the Asia-Pacific is the right thing to do—and it’s also the smart thing to do.
“Some countries in the region have made significant progress in these areas. Others have not.
“As you mentioned Mr. Chairman, in Vietnam, for example, the communist government continues to place severe restrictions on political rights and religious freedom. Dissenters face restriction of movement, arbitrary detention, and endless harassment.
“In Cambodia, human trafficking remains a serious problem, although we have seen some efforts to improve law enforcement efforts around this crime. Still, the Cambodian People’s Party continues to consolidate power, tighten its chokehold on the media, and silence human rights advocates.
“The Cambodian government also has failed to stop illegal land grabs. In January 2013, 300 families living in central Phnom Penh lost their homes to developers, and after forceful, violent removal by security forces, were relocated to squalid sites outside of the city.
“With regard to Burma, I want to commend the Administration for its efforts to work with the government there to enact some long-overdue reforms. At the same time, I am very concerned about the systematic human rights abuses and ethnic violence in some parts of the country.
“The State Department reported last year, “extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detentions and torture and mistreatment in detention, deaths in custody, and systematic denial of due process and fair right—fair trial rights, overwhelmingly perpetrated against the Rohingya.”
“These horrendous acts of violence have displaced 140,000 Rohingya within Burma and have pushed thousands to neighboring countries including Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.
“We need to see real progress from Burma’s leaders on these human rights issues before we provide the military-led government with any further concessions.
“So as we can see, Mr. Chairman, many challenges remain across the region. Tackling them won’t be easy, but it is important that the United States prioritize human rights as part of a pivot, or rebalance, to the Asia-Pacific. I want to thank you again for holding this hearing, and I look forward to hearing from our excellent witnesses.
“I want to call out our former colleague, Tom Andrews, with whom we have both had the pleasure to serve and welcome all the witnesses today. I look forward to all of your testimony.
Watch Rep. Engel's Opening Statement Here