The Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce yesterday said he believed that a realistic accounting of the deliberate campaign of murder, intimidation and displacement against the Rohingya clearly met the legal standard for genocide.
“Making a formal determination of genocide must be the next step for the US. Defining these atrocities for what they are is critical to building international public awareness -- and support -- to stop them.
“The protection of human rights has long been our nation's top priority in Burma -- dating back to freeing Aung San Suu Kyi -- and today, that must include the Rohingya,” he said.
Royce made the remarks at the full committee hearing on “Burma's Genocide Against the Rohingya” in Washington DC yesterday.
He said the Burmese military made no distinction between men, women and children, adding one woman recalled watching as “newborns and [children] who could barely walk, they threw them in the river…,” while she desperately hid in bushes across the river.
“It is hard to hear these accounts without feeling queasy. But we must catalogue these atrocities so that we can one day hold the perpetrators accountable.”
Greta Van Susteren of the Voice of America and Stephen Pomper of the International Crisis Group testified during the hearing.
Commending the US administration for speaking out against these atrocities and humanitarian assistances, Royce asked it to go further.
“To all who have met with Rohingya refugees, who have heard these accounts, it is clear that these crimes amount to genocide,” he said, adding, “Confronting genocide of the Rohingya is a moral issue and a national security issue. No one is more secure when fanaticism and unchecked violence are growing in this part of the world.”
“The trauma of the refugees' violent departure from Myanmar is fresh. Pregnant women carry their babies not knowing if that child was conceived through their marriage or as a result of a gang rape by the Myanmar military,” said Greta Van Susteren in her testimony before the House of Foreign Affairs Committee.
Greta, who made four trips to investigate the atrocities against Rohingya and for on-the-ground reporting for VOA, said children had witnessed unspeakable brutality and lived with those memories. “I heard many people in the refugee camp speak about the Myanmar military's use of machetes to kill or maim.
“The Rohingya people may look different from us, espouse a different culture, and practice a different religion. But fundamentally, they just want to live their lives and raise their children in a secure, peaceful home. They want to be healthy. They want to be educated. They want to work. These refugees in the camps are considered to be the lucky ones because they escaped.”
She also screened a short video during her testimony.
Stephen Pomper, the US programme director of International Crisis Group, said in his testimony the civilian government's direct responsibility for the 2017 violence in northern Rakhine was limited by the fact that it did not have oversight or control of the armed forces, nor visibility of what they were doing.
“Nevertheless, it is also now clear that the civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is part of the problem -- not only for failing to speak out, but for failing to curb anti-Rohingya hate speech in the state media, denying that human rights abuses have taken place, providing cover to the military, and perpetuating policies in Rakhine State,” he said.
He suggested that the United States mount pressure through sanctions, continue to engage diplomatically and whatever assistance it was able to offer to international accountability efforts, it should also recognise that these alone were not likely to change the direction of the government's handling of the Rohingya crisis.
“We will never again have the opportunity, unfortunately, to prevent the atrocities of summer 2017. Through the right balance of pressure and engagement, however, the United States now has an opportunity to try to prevent them from happening again, while providing some measure of justice to the victims,” he added.