Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, delivered the following statement at a panel on human rights in Burma:
"I’m glad we are here today to discuss the Rohingya crisis. Because this is man-made disaster that has gone on far, far too long and we need to do everything we can to keep this issue front and center, we must never rest until we see some real progress.
"As we all know, the Burmese security forces perpetrated a violent, horrific genocide against the Rohingya people. This isn’t a new or isolated practice. This military has been terrorizing the citizens of Burma for decades and they continue their campaign of violence in the Karen State, the Kachin State and other parts of Burma.
"Innocent people killed. Children terrorized. Over one million Rohinyga people displaced, with many now living in Bangladesh, where they face health and security concerns, and have no real access to proper education and livelihood.
"But let’s be clear—even though their situation is dire, we should be grateful to the Bangladeshi government and people. They’ve generously taken in the Rohingya.
"And sadly, these days, the United States doesn’t have much a leg to stand on when it comes to this moral issue. During the peak of the crisis in 2017, the Bangladesh government let more refugees into their country in three days than the United States allowed all year. Let that settle in. It’s disgraceful.
"So, we need to continue to work with our international partners to support Bangladesh, encourage donor funding, and collaborate with the Bangladeshis to come up with ways we can improve refugees’ access to social services, education, and opportunities to work and contribute to the local economy.
"More than half a million of the Rohingya population living in refugee camps in Bangladesh are under the age of 18. So, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to avoid creating a “lost generation” of school-aged children who have had no access to proper education during this protracted, long battle to find a durable political resolution to the ongoing crisis.
"And we need to stay focused on the bigger picture here, who is responsible for this situation and what has been done to hold them accountable? We cannot let the Burmese military off the hook for this genocide and inhumane crisis they’ve caused.
"Last week, the State Department designated four senior Burmese military leaders for their role in the gross human rights violations in Rakhine and banned them and their immediate families from traveling to the United States. I appreciate the Department’s decision to do this, but frankly, it’s a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. It’s simply insufficient. We need much more meaningful accountability for those responsible for these horrific crimes. I’ve urged the administration to impose serious financial sanctions—not just toothless travel bans.
"That’s why I am so pleased to share that the BURMA Act—a bipartisan bill that I introduced along with my good friend Mr. Chabot—passed the House as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. This legislation imposes sanctions on people and entities that are responsible for human rights violations in Burma—holding those responsible for this tragedy accountable.
"It also limits U.S. military-to-military assistance with the Burmese military until we see meaningful reforms, including in Burma’s natural resources sector, which has been enriching the Burmese military for far too long. It also requires reporting requirements on crimes against humanity in the country.
"Now—we have hard work ahead. We need to make sure this measure makes it across the finish line to pass the Senate, and makes it to the President’s desk. We also need to keep up the pressure on the State Department to formally call the crimes perpetrated in Rakhine what they are: genocide.
"All of you here today are key to making this happen. Your relentless advocacy keeps members of Congress accountable. Keep up the good work and know that you have allies and friends here in Congress and at the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I’m proud to stand with you in this fight. We will not rest until there is justice.
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