The BURMA Act – How the US Can Help End Injustice in Myanmar


RAKHINE, MYANMAR – The BURMA Act of 2018 was introduced in the House of Representatives on May 15th, 2018. This bill seeks to facilitate humanitarian assistance to the people of Rakhine, Myanmar (Burma) to work toward ending human rights violations and promoting democracy.

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority in Myanmar that are oppressed and violently attacked by others of their nation. The violence from the Burmese military offensive against the Rohingya people has escalated to such a degree that United Nations reports have classified it as ethnic cleansing and genocide. The BURMA Act calls for U.S. aid to help end this atrocity.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, have a population that numbered around one million in early 2017. The Rohingya are perceived as illegal immigrants by many other citizens of their nation. Although they practice different customs and speak a different language than many others in Myanmar, the Rohingya are descendants of groups that have existed within the country for many generations. 

The Conflict and Its Effects

Since Myanmar is primarily a Buddhist country, a great tension exists between the Muslim Rohingya and their Buddhist neighbors. In 2014, the Myanmar government refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The tension between the Myanmar military and the Rohingya population grew to an extreme in 2016, resulting in extreme violence that has continued ever since.

The Rohingya have been subjected to multiple human rights violations including torture, rape, arson and executions. At least 55 Rohingya villages have been burned and destroyed by the Myanmar government, leaving the Rohingya people no choice but to leave. As a result, a mass exodus of thousands of Rohingya people is taking refuge in the neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Malaysia.

The BURMA Act Presents a Solution

In response to this tragedy, the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced the BURMA Act, sponsored by New York Democratic Representative Eliot L. Engel and 79 co-sponsors. This bill is overseen by three committees of the House: Foreign Affairs, Judiciary and Armed Services. The latest action on the bill was taken on May 17th, 2018, when the Committee on Foreign Affairs agreed to seek consideration of the bill.

The BURMA Act outlines the details of the crisis in Rakhine as well as multiple goals for achieving a solution. Several of the bill’s major goals are to ensure that the State of Rakhine will conduct “A: Repatriation of those who have crossed over to Bangladesh; B. Effective provision of humanitarian assistance; C. Resettlement of displaced populations; D. Economic development and durable peace.”

The bill also calls for “significant and sustained international support, from both public and private sources” in order to address the impacts of the crisis and to ensure that ending this genocide is one of the U.S.’s top priorities. Once this is accomplished, the U.S. would seek to “ensure that Rohingya have freedom […] and under no circumstances are subject to unsafe, involuntary, or uninformed repatriation, create conditions for return of those displaced […] to ensure the dignified, safe, and voluntary return of all those displaced […] and offer to those refugees who do not want to return a meaningful alternative, including compensation or restitution.”

Statements on the BURMA Act

For more information on the BURMA Act, The Borgen Project reached out to Representative Eliot L. Engel, New York Democratic Representative and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representative Engel made the following statement about the bill:

“The Trump Administration simply has not done enough to hold the Burmese military accountable for egregious and horrifying human rights abuses. The government of Burma has yet to even acknowledge what has occurred, much less address the wrongs committed by its military.  Meanwhile, Bangladesh and the international humanitarian community are providing life-sustaining support to over one million refugees. There are those in Burma who would like to see these crimes swept under the rug, and they are counting on some in the U.S. Senate to protect them. However, whether or not these sanctions make it into the NDAA this year, history is on our side: these kinds of gross abuses will not go unanswered.”

The Borgen Project also reached out to Representative Albio Sires, House Representative of New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District. Representative Sires made the following statement on the BURMA Act:

“The ongoing persecution of the Rohingya minority in the Rakhine State of Burma is a humanitarian crisis that can no longer be ignored. Congress must do more to hold those individuals involved in the brutality accountable by limiting U.S. cooperation with Burma. Legislation such as the BURMA Act of 2018 does just this by proposing visa bans and sanctions on individuals involved in human rights abuses and placing new restrictions on security assistance and military cooperation. It is important that the United States use all diplomatic tools at its disposal, including sanctions, to end the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people.”

As Representative Engel and Sires state, the horrific acts against the Rohingya of Myanmar will no longer be ignored. The world has seen the effects of genocide before and will not allow this injustice to continue any longer.

– Theresa Marino

Photo: Flickr


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