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Human rights group demands U.S government  “move beyond ‘considering’ and into action now” on Rohingya crisis

Media contacts:
Jan Dragin, Dragin Communications, 24/7, 011 339 236-0679
Shayna Lewis, UUSC, 617-301-4333


WASHINGTON, D.C./CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — October 24, 2017 — The head of the human rights organization Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) cried outrage today at the hesitation of U.S. officials to endorse outright immediate strong action on Burma (Myanmar) and label as ethnic cleansing the recent violence that has killed hundreds and caused nearly 600,000 ethnic Rohingya to flee to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

Yet, at the close of this morning’s U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Burma and the Rohingya crisis, UUSC President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Andrews said, “We applaud those Senators who are pressing ever harder and getting closer to the steps that can be taken, including the possibility of imposing further sanctions on Burma and its military leaders.”

Senators’ forceful comments and questions to administration testifiers in the hearing went as far as posing the advisability of reinstituting the longstanding U.S. sanctions against Burma’s previous repressive regime that the Obama administration had raised in 2012.

UUSC’s Andrews said, “This mounting pressure from our lawmakers is a step in the right direction, but one that should have been taken months ago.”

“If the administration truly believes that those who are responsible for this horror should be held accountable; that unhindered access and humanitarian aid must be allowed immediately to desperate Rohingya still captive in detention camps within Burma; and that hundreds of thousands of traumatized refugees now in Bangladesh should be resettled in Burma safely and with freedom—then, our administration needs to back up those words with action,” Andrews said.

Following an October 5 House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the escalating Rohingya humanitarian crisis, UUSC’s Andrews had urged Congress then to press the administration on imposing further sanctions on Burma and its military.

Andrews, a former member of Congress, travelled to the region and refugee camps in Bangladesh earlier this year, meeting with Rohingya families who had escaped after the first wave of military attacks against Rohingya villages in Rakhine State.

UUSC’s Andrews said, “We’re now in the midst of one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. So finally, today, it was at least encouraging to hear leading State Department representatives say that steps are being taken and that the administration is considering further targeted sanctions against Burma or its military.

“But we now demand more than encouragement. Our patience is worn out and the lives and rights of many thousands of innocents are on the line. We must move beyond ‘considering’ and into action now,” he said.

In today’s Senate committee hearing, administration officials who testified dodged the question, as they had done in the earlier House committee hearing, as to whether what is happening to the Rohingya is ethnic cleansing.

Senator Ben Cardin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he considered the treatment of the Rohingya as genocide.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, Senator John McCain, and others recently were instrumental in having further U.S. support to Burma’s military struck from U.S. defense spending legislation. Responding at today’s hearing, Markey said the Rohingya crisis “reminds us very much of El Salvador,” in terms of the United States “giving money to military leaders who led death squads.” Markey said the U.S. has to press harder on Burma.