The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs has approved a bipartisan legislation to impose sanctions on Myanmar military in response to the genocide against Rohingyas.
The bill -- The Burma United through Rigorous Military Accountability (BURMA) Act -- will be placed before the full House of Representatives for consideration, said the Committee Chairman Eliot L Engel in a statement on Thursday.
The bill, if passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, would prohibit the expansion of American military assistance to Burma until re-forms take place, and require reporting on crimes against humanity, in-cluding war crimes and genocide.
The act would also impose visa and financial restrictions on those re-sponsible for these crimes, support investigations for the prosecution of war criminals, and promote reforms to limit the Burmese military’s
stran-glehold on Burma’s economy, including the gemstone sector.
“The Rohingya, who have been suffering at the hands of the Burmese military since the horrific attacks in 2017, shouldn’t have to wait for jus-tice any longer,” Engel said.
Some 741,000 Rohingya fled the military crackdown in Mynmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017.
In a report last year, UN investigators demanded top military command-ers in Myanmar be investigated and prosecuted under the international law for the “gravest” crimes, including genocide, against civilians.
The crimes committed include killings and rape of Rohingyas and burning down their homes -- acts that the rights bodies termed genocide. The UN termed the military crackdown a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
Since early this year, conflicts between the Myanmar army and the Ara-kan Army, an ethnic Buddhist rebel group demanding greater autonomy in Rakhine and Kachin, have escalated, forcing thousands of people in the two states to be displaced.
Despite a deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Rohingya re-patriation did not start as the refugees who fled to Bangladesh say they don’t feel Rakhine was safe and that they had no guarantee for citizen-ship in Myanmar, where they have been denied citizenship and other basic rights since 1982.
Engel said, “The Burmese military is waging similar violence against other minorities, employing the cruel and inhumane tactics the Burmese army has used for decades. There needs to be relief from the violence and suffering.
“There needs to be accountability for those who have carried out the genocide against the Rohingyas and the ongoing horrors against other ethnic minorities. My legislation would provide new tools to help reach those goals.”
He added, “I hope this bill moves swiftly through the House and if it reaches the Senate, I hope that body’s leadership will see the dire need to get this measure across the finish line.”
The US House of Representatives on December 13 passed a resolution with an overwhelming bipartisan support declaring the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya genocide.
The legislation, similar to the BURMA Act, overwhelmingly passed by the House in the 115th Congress as a floor amendment to the National De-fense Authorisation Act. That provision was not taken up by the Senate and ultimately did not become law.
Diplomatic sources say once the US Congress passes a bill, the country remains committed to take concrete actions against the perpetrators.
The new US move comes when the Organisation of Islamic Conference led by Gambia has agreed to take Myanmar’s atrocities against Rohingya to the International Court of Justice.
Prosecutors of The International Criminal Court visited Rohingya camps in March this year as part of their investigations into the alleged genocide.
Myanmar has neither allowed the UN investigators nor the ICC prosecu-tors into its territory.
It also denied the accusations that Rohingyas faced genocide or ethnic cleansing, but labelled the military crackdown as a response to the “ter-rorists” of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that had attacked some police posts.
Myanmar Commission of Enquiry waits to visit Bangladesh
Meanwhile, Channel News Asia on Friday reported that Myanmar’s Inde-pendent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), tasked by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi last July to investigate the allegations of human rights abuse in the Rakhine State, has told CNA that it is now waiting to enter Bangla-desh to complete its findings.
ICOE said its chairperson Rosario Manalo, a Philippines diplomat, wrote to Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on January 10, request-ing a courtesy call, which was then followed up on May 28.
The Commission also wanted to have a meeting with the foreign minister.
ICOE said that with Bangladesh’s approval, it hopes to conduct enquiries in Cox’s Bazar, where the Rohingya refugee camps are situated, “for as long as allowed, depending on the ground situation and what can be ob-served”.
The Commission aims to record statements, collect evidence and infor-mation from witnesses residing in Cox’s Bazar, it said.
Contacted, Foreign Minister Momen said after receiving the request from the Commission, the ministry wrote back to it inquiring about terms and conditions of the investigation and sampling framework, and the people involved in the investigation etc.
About holding a meeting with the ICOE, he said, “I informed them that we’ll hold it at a mutually convenient time. The dates that we proposed were not convenient for them. Thus, the meeting has not been held yet.”
The foreign ministry has not received any response since then, he add-ed.
Rights bodies, however, criticised the formation of the ICOE.
On August 17 last year, Human Rights Watch said Myanmar’s “inde-pendent commission of inquiry” will not be a serious and impartial inves-tigation.
“Concerned governments should treat the commission with heavy skepti-cism and make sure Myanmar’s government doesn’t use this commission to shield itself from the critical scrutiny it deserves,” it said.
The ICOE has not demonstrated any reasonable prospect of meeting
international standards of independence, impartiality or effectively con-tributing to justice or accountability for human rights violations constitut-ing crimes under international law, said the International Commission of Jurists on March 11.
“The ICOE is not transparent about how its information gathering will, if at all, shed light on the truth, or contribute to accountability and redress, while protecting individuals it comes into contact with,” it said.