One Year Later, U.S. and International Community Have Failed to Help the People of Burma
Feb 1, 2022
The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network
More action is needed from the U.S. Government, Congress, and the international community
One year ago, the world watched as the Burmese military seized power in a coup against the democratically-elected legislature, just hours before the parliament was scheduled to be seated— a terrifying setback for the cause of human rights in Burma and democracy globally.
Since that day, the people of Burma have taken to the streets and virtual spaces to bravely fight for their democracy and persuade the international community to do more. In response, the military has continually unleashed a brutal crackdown on protesters and anyone who dares dissent against their violent, illegitimate rule.
The toll on the people of Burma has been truly staggering. Under the military’s harsh rule, no one is safe from violence, arbitrary detainment, military attack, and infringements on human rights, including the rights of expression and assembly. Since the coup, nearly 1,500 civilians, including 94 children, have been killed and thousands have been arbitrarily arrested, including at least 115 journalists. The humanitarian situation has further deteriorated, with at least 320,000 people becoming internally displaced since February 2021, adding to the 370,000 internally displaced persons prior to the start of the coup. There are also nearly one million Burmese refugees and asylum-seekers in neighboring countries, including the Rohingya people who languish in Bangladesh with little access to basic needs such as education, healthcare, or livelihoods. Refugees lack access to the durable solutions of integration, resettlement to a third country, or voluntary return. There are also thousands of new refugees in Thailand all of whom are struggling to access food, water, and medical aid. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 14.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2022 inside of Burma, a drastic increase from previous years with an expected $826 million needed to assist these populations in 2022, triple the need from 2021.
Immediately following the February coup, the U.S. Government rightfully took quick action. On February 11, 2021 U.S. President Joe Biden released an executive order that immediately authorized increased sanctions and travel restrictions against the military responsible for the coup, their business interests, and other entities and individuals connected to the military. Unfortunately, since that time there has been little additional substantive, coordinated action from either the U.S., regional bodies, the United Nations, or others in the international community that will help the people of Burma restore their country to a genuinely representative democracy. While many global actors enable the military’s brutality and blunt or prevent multilateral action, nevertheless there are still additional unilateral actions the U.S. Government could take that would make a difference.
Further, despite significant pressure from the Burmese people and advocacy organizations throughout the country, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass any legislation since the February coup that would truly help the people of Burma. In October 2021, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chairman Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), and Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (BURMA Act; S. 2937/ H.R. 5497). While the HFAC did work to quickly pass the bill out of Committee in late October, there has been no further action in the House since that time, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has thus far failed to take any action on the legislation at all.
It is clear that the genocidal and authoritarian behavior of the Burmese military has become entrenched and more brazen by the day, underscoring the need for urgent action from the U.S. and the international community. While we welcome the Biden Administration’s actions so far to hold the perpetrators of the coup responsible, more can and must be done by both the U.S. Government and Congress.
The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network calls for:
Every Member of Congress to cosponsor and support passage of the BURMA Act (S. 2937/ H.R. 5497).
The full House to take up and pass the BURMA Act without delay.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take up and pass the BURMA Act out of Committee and send it to the full Senate for quick consideration and passage.
The Biden Administration to use already existing authority to further target the Burmese military including sanctioning the oil and gas sector, specifically the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE)
The U.S. to increase its funding for humanitarian assistance for displaced populations, including the Rohingya people in Bangladesh, and help lead multilateral efforts to increase durable solutions for Rohingya refugees.
The Biden Administration to help increase access to durable solutions for all Burmese refugees, including increased third country resettlement opportunities and support for sustainable local integration, where possible.
Finally, the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network again implores Secretary of State Antony Blinken to prioritize justice for the Rohingya people and recognize the military’s past crimes for what they are: genocide. Words matter and the U.S. must call atrocities what they are. Remaining silent is not an option particularly when it is the very same military that led the genocide against the Rohingya that is now in control and continuing to commit atrocities on the Burmese people. Not calling a genocide what it is signals to those responsible – and others capable of such atrocities – that the U.S. and international community no longer prioritize human rights and accountability.
The evidence is clear. The urgency is here. U.S. leadership must be clear, too.
About the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network
The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network is a prominent consortium of Jewish NGOs advocating for the rights of the persecuted Rohingya people of Burma. JRJN’s membership includes 33 organizations and all four major branches of American Judaism that together encompass the support of millions of American Jews —all standing together against genocide.
Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network (JRJN) works to promote a robust U.S. and international response to the Rohingya genocide through education of our communities and advocacy in Washington, DC.