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Letter from Jewish Rohingya Justice Network to Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association joined a letter from the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Excerpts are included below, and the full text and signatories are available in the attached PDF.

We write as members of the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network (JRJN), the consortium of 25 Jewish organizations representing all four major denominations of Judaism, advocating for the rights of the persecuted Rohingya people and for a meaningful U.S. response to the crisis in Burma (Myanmar), as well as 27 other Jewish organizations and 511 Rabbis and Cantors from 40 states. We strongly urge you to take up and pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (S. 1186), which is before your Committee. Passing this legislation will send a powerful message to the Burmese military that the United States will not stay silent in the face of genocide. We encourage the U.S. Congress to once again display moral courage and leadership as it sets the standard and defends democratic values in this crucial time for Burma. No other country has the might and moral authority to set the standard.
 
In the two years since the Burmese military escalated its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people, more than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled their homes for Bangladesh as a direct result of this state-sanctioned persecution and expulsion. They now live in squalid conditions in Bangladesh without any access to formal education, employment and freedom of movement. Hundreds of thousands more remain unable to travel and lack access to basic humanitarian aid, education or livelihoods. Meanwhile, the Burmese military continues to attack other ethnic minorities across Burma, perpetrating some of the worst crimes known to humanity, including killing, rape and torture. The Rohingya people are targeted simply because of their ethnicity and religion. It is unconscionable to allow more time to pass without strongly addressing this crisis—and these crimes.
 
We are encouraged by actions taken last year by both the State and Treasury Departments to deny visas and to sanction the U.S. assets of the top four Burmese military officials, including the Commander-in-Chief of the military forces, for gross human rights abuses throughout the country. We hope this is only the beginning of even stronger U.S. action in pursuit of full justice and accountability for all who suffered at the hands of the Burmese military.
 
The House of Representatives has recently taken decisive action by adopting a similar measure, the Burma United through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (H.R. 3190), by an overwhelming majority. We urge the Foreign Relations Committee and the rest of the Senate to follow suit and send a powerful message to the Burmese military that we will act in the face of the violent campaign against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities. This bill, championed by many members of your own Committee, calls for targeted U.S. sanctions against Burmese military officials and military-owned enterprises thereby cutting off support to the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The bill also demands involvement of the Rohingya community in taking an active part in crafting the solutions to the crisis, including safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation and restoration of full citizenship. The legislation also authorizes crucial increases to humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees and calls for international justice mechanisms to ensure accountability for the victims of mass atrocities.
 
With the failure of the final conferenced version of the National Defense Authorization Act to include this crucial support for the Rohingya people, which would have been a significant step in the fight against impunity and seeking justice for the Rohingya and other victims of gross human rights abuses in Burma, we call on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to prioritize S. 1186 and H.R. 3190 immediately.
 
The military is threatening the viability of Burma’s nascent democracy. As Jews, we know all too well from our history the cost of silence from the global community in the face of ethnic and religious persecution. For us, the words “never again” compel us to stand with the Rohingya people and call on you, Chairman Risch and Ranking Member Menendez, to take immediate action to address the magnitude of these egregious human rights violations.
 
The survival of the Rohingya community is at stake. The rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in Burma are at stake. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must act now by taking up and approving the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act on an upcoming business meeting and subsequently ensuring its successful passage through the full Senate with all due haste.

 

The Reconstructionist Network