Marco Rubio Calls for U.S. to Do More to Protect the Rohingya

This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, turned his attention to Myanmar–also known as Burma–where the military is cracking down on the Rohingya minority in Rakhine.

Estimates hold that almost 1 million Rohingya, a largely Muslim group, are currently in refugee camps.

Rubio paired up with three other senators–Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland and Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Todd Young of Indiana–to release a statement on the third anniversary of the military’s efforts against the Rohingya.

“Today, August 25, marks three years since the Burmese military undertook a campaign of systemic violence against the Rohingya people in Burma’s Rakhine State, forcing more than 740,000 people to flee their homes and cross into Bangladesh to seek safety. There are now more than one million refugees living in Bangladesh, while thousands more remain displaced from their homes and in need of humanitarian assistance in Burma,” the senators said on Tuesday.

“The Rohingya deserve meaningful justice and accountability for the terrible crimes committed against them, as do Burma’s other ethnic minorities who the Burmese military has terrorized for decades. We call for an end to the cycle of impunity for gross human rights violations committed by the Burmese military. The Burmese government must act to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State, which must include restoring Rohingya citizenship and guaranteeing access to fundamental rights and freedoms,” they added.

“We urge countries in the region to ensure that all those fleeing persecution from Burma be treated with the respect their humanity deserves and that their rights be protected. We applaud the Government of Bangladesh and its people for generously extending safe haven to the Rohingya refugees living within its borders. While the primary responsibility for addressing the Rohingya crisis lies with Burma, more can and should be done to support the refugees until they are able to safely return to Burma. We also urge the Bangladeshi authorities to lift internet and telecommunication restrictions in Rohingya camps; halt any relocation efforts to Bhasan Char until international assessments have determined the island is safe and that adequate services can be provided; and grant the Rohingya with rights, including protection from refoulement, access to livelihoods and formal education, and freedom of movement,” the senators continued.

“As members of Congress, we have worked to advance bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would sanction leaders of the Burmese military; demand safe, dignified, and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees; demand accountability for persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the country; and promote efforts to achieve justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. This legislation passed the House twice with overwhelmingly bipartisan support. We urge our colleagues to work with us to ensure that similar legislation is passed in the Senate and signed into law,” the senators said in conclusion. “Finally, we call on the administration to use all the tools at its disposal to defend the rights and dignity of the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities in Burma and to hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes against them.”

Those four senators joined U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Oreg., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Oreg., in writing U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, calling for the Trump administration to do more “to support the Rohingya community, to hold accountable those responsible of the brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing conducted by the Burmese military and to refer to these crimes by their proper term: genocide.”

“Since August 25, 2017, close to 800,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Burma by escaping into neighboring Bangladesh,” the senators wrote. “Most of them are living in refugee camps in horrific conditions, joining hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya forced to flee from Burma due to decades of government-sanctioned violence. Throughout this time, the systemic campaign of violence against the Rohingya has been well-documented by the State Department and many others. The Burmese military has murdered thousands of Rohingya, committed widespread rape and sexual violence, destroyed hundreds of villages, thrown children and babies into fires, and used mass graves to attempt to conceal their reprehensible crimes.

“We urge you and President Trump to speak out forcefully and publicly about these atrocities, acknowledging the gravity of the crimes with a determination of crimes against humanity and genocide,” the senators added. “The Rohingya people continue to face real and imminent risk, and the United States should act today to demonstrate global leadership and stand boldly against these genocidal tactics that have no place in civilized society.”


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