Refugees International welcomes the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passage of S.2060, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act. This bipartisan legislation is a critical step forward in demanding accountability for the ethnic cleansing that has taken place in Burma (also known as Myanmar).
The leaders of 21 leading organizations involved in international humanitarian response sent a letter to the Trump Administration objecting “in the strongest terms” to the U.S. decision to withhold $65 million in planned U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The letter was sent to United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
With the news that Myanmar and Bangladesh have reached an agreement on the return of the 600,000 Rohingya, Refugees International underlines several significant concerns about the terms of repatriation. Before any steps are undertaken, a number of safeguards must be put in place.
Refugees International President Eric Schwarz reacts to recent comments reliably attributed to the President of the United States, in which the President suggested that country of nationality, in and of itself, should impact eligibility for immigration to the United States. Schwartz underlines that this would depart from long-held U.S. policy and core values of the United States.
The Trump Administration has decided to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for El Salvador. As a result, the fate of some 200,000 Salvadorans currently living in the United States is now in question, as is the status of nearly 200,000 of their American citizen children. The Salvadorans now have just 18 months to leave the United States, unless Congress takes action.
The EU and European governments continue to fail in their responsibilities to refugees and migrants who face severe abuse in Libyan detention centers operated by the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Refugees International President Eric Schwartz welcomes President Trump’s statement this week on the Yemen blockade, but the President’s words must be turned into immediate action as the blockade continues and millions of Yemeni lives are at stake.
Refugees International President Eric Schwartz issues a statement as the United States announced its decision to end its participation in the effort to develop a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Schwartz states that the U.S. decision is irresponsible and will limit U.S. capacity to influence a critical international discussion.
During their White House meeting, President Trump and Libya's Prime Minister al-Sarraj should discuss the plight of refugees and migrants in Libya, especially those housed in government-run detention facilities. Refugees International and other organizations have documented abuses taking place in these facilities. The U.S. president should urge the Libyan government to hold accountable those responsible.
Refugees International welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's acknowledgement that ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people is taking place in Myanmar.
As U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepares to visit Myanmar, he needs to send a strong message to Myanmar's government and military that violence against the Rohingya will not be tolerated. Failure of the government to take steps to end the violence should result in targeted sanctions against Myanmar's senior military leaders and military owned enterprises.
The earthquake that hit the Iran-Iraq border region this week creates even greater need for humanitarian assistance in Iraq. People made homeless by the earthquake join the more than three million Iraqis already displaced by years of conflict. The need for additional aid from donors, the United Nations, and humanitarian organizations is more urgent than ever.
Yemen is now the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, the man-made result of almost 1,000 days of war. As documented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the war in Yemen has been marked by flagrant and repeated violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties, including airstrikes, shelling, and other attacks on civilians, as well as unlawful restrictions on humanitarian access.
Refugees International calls on the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen and on the United States government to do everything in their power to open entry points into Yemen and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid has arguably never been more desperately needed, or more thoroughly blocked.
As President Trump take parts in meetings and summits in Southeast Asia, he must address the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority population by Myanmar’s security forces.
November 2, 2017
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
The Honorable Steven Mnuchin
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20220
Re: Burma and Targeted Sanctions
Dear Secretaries Tillerson and Mnuchin,
The US government urgently needs to act to help address the grave human rights and humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the Burmese military’s brutal response to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)’s August 25 attack on government posts in Burma’s Rakhine State.
As you know, since late August, Burmese security forces have waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing and committed numerous crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population, a long-persecuted ethnic and religious minority group predominantly in Rakhine State. In response to these abuses, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past two months.
Satellite images commissioned by independent organizations show hundreds of burned villages – and tens of thousands of torched buildings. Refugees have provided first-hand accounts of unfathomable brutality: soldiers burning infants alive, gang-raping women, shooting villagers fleeing their homes – violations that research by nongovernmental organizations has found to be widespread and systematic.
United Nations investigators who have conducted interviews of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have noted “a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has called the scale and nature of the atrocities in Rakhine a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Despite international condemnation, Burmese authorities continue to restrict access to the region for most international humanitarian organizations, a UN fact-finding mission, and independent media. The commander-in-chief of the Burmese military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and other Burmese officials, refuse to acknowledge the atrocities their forces have committed.
We commend the U.S. government for the nearly $104 million in humanitarian assistance it has provided in fiscal year 2017, nearly $40 million of which was provided in direct response to the Rakhine State crisis, to displaced populations in Burma and refugees in neighboring countries. We also strongly support the State Department’s statement that “individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable.”
It is critical that the U.S. government respond to the severity and scope of the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing campaign with effective action. To this end, we urge the administration to immediately and robustly impose targeted economic sanctions authorized under the 2008 JADE Act and the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Under the JADE Act, the president is empowered to issue travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Burmese military officials and their immediate family members if they are “involved in…gross violations of human rights in Burma or in the commission of other human rights abuses.” Steps taken by the previous administration to lift sanctions did not unravel existing authorities but only waived them, and, according to recent State Department releases, some JADE Act authorities are currently in use, such as the ban on current and former Burmese military officials traveling to the United States. The administration should move to robustly and vigorously employ the remaining authorities.
In addition to the JADE Act, the administration should exercise its authority granted under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows for the levying of travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals responsible for acts of significant corruption and gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals who seek “to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of religion.” Given that the Burmese military’s actions against the Rohingya people are motivated at least in part on religious grounds, the Global Magnitsky Act is applicable.
Given the systemic nature of the crimes being perpetrated against the Rohingya people, it is important that sanctions designations levied under either the JADE Act or Global Magnitsky Act target appropriately senior officials who likely ordered criminal acts or appear to have been criminally responsible as a matter of command responsibility. Command responsibility would encompass those senior-most members of the Burmese security forces who knew or had reason to know that their subordinates were committing extrajudicial killings, rape, arson and other abuses, and failed to take all necessary and reasonable steps to prevent such abuses or punish those responsible.
As you recently said, Secretary Tillerson, “the world cannot just sit idly by and be witness to these atrocities.” The JADE Act and Global Magnitsky Act provide the executive branch with tools for action. The United States should employ them to the fullest to prevent dire consequences for Burma’s future and send an unmistakable signal to the rest of the world.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights First
Ameinu (Our People)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish World Service
Association Suisse Birmanie
Boat People SOS
Buddhist Global Relief
Burma Action Ireland
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Human Rights Network
Burma Task Force
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Center for Justice & Accountability
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Estonian American National Council
Equal Rights Trust
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA)
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Progressive Hub
Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College
Institute for Asian Democracy
Interfaith Center of New York
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International State Crime Initiative
Investors Against Genocide
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
JACOB: The Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Joint Baltic American National Committee
Jubilee Campaign USA Inc
Just Foreign Policy
Magnitsky Act Initiative
Muslim Bar Association of New York
Muslim Public Affairs Council
Partners Relief & Development
Physicians for Human Rights
Society for Threatened Peoples - Germany
STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders
The Network of Spiritual Progressives
T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Win Without War
As members and partners of InterAction, the nation’s leading advocate for international relief, global health, and development programs, we write to urge that you protect poverty-focused and lifesaving international assistance in any budget deal for FY 2018.
Refugees International issued a statement following the Trump Administration's decision to resume the refugee admissions program with a range of additional security requirements. The Administration is adopting a new and near-total ban on admission of refugees from 11 nationality groups – groups which have in recent years represented a high percentage if not most of the refugees who have arrived in the United States. RI finds the Administration's action to be a cynical and tragic manipulation of administrative process and an action that conflicts with U.S. values and interests.
The Policy and Advocacy Task Team of the Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR) recognizes the continuing generosity of the Government and people of Bangladesh in keeping their borders open to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and violence in Myanmar.
Refugees International welcomes Ambassador Nikki Haley’s visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Ethiopia this week and next, as well as her commitment to U.S. support for refugee assistance and protection in Africa. By visiting these countries, all of which are facing urgent humanitarian challenges, Ambassador Haley is playing an important and constructive role on these issues.