600 Jewish Clergy call on U.S. State Department to Pursue Justice for the Rohingya Genocide

AJWS and the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network* demand the U.S. hold Burmese military leaders accountable

Today, nearly 600 clergy from 38 states joined together to send a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Rohingya genocide. Hannah Weilbacher, Program Officer for Jewish Advocacy and Engagement for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading global Jewish human rights organization, issued the following statement:

“American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network have come together to mobilize nearly 600 American rabbis and cantors to send an unwavering message to our leadership: we must see a strong U.S. response to the Rohingya genocide.

“This week—August 25th—marks two years since the most recent genocide in Burma (also known as Myanmar) began. In August 2017, the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya people led to horrifying state-sanctioned violence, with the Burmese military razing villages and pushing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people to flee to Bangladesh, where survivors now live in limbo in refugee camps. Most of the military leaders who carried out this campaign, including at the highest levels, have yet to be held accountable.

“As a unified Jewish voice, we refuse to be silent in the face of ongoing genocide. We know all too well, from our own history, what happens when the international community fails to stand unequivocally in defense of minority groups subject to state-sanctioned hate, oppression and violence.

“The text of the letter delivered to the Secretary of State on behalf of the 575 Jewish clergy from 38 states is below. To take action on the Rohingya genocide, click here. To watch the powerful message surrounding this Rabbinic action by Rabbi Aderet Drucker, Rabbi Michael Knopf and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, click here.”

The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network is the powerful consortium of Jewish NGOs advocating for the rights of the persecuted Rohingya people of Burma. JRJN’s membership includes 22 organizations and all four major branches of American Judaism.

Jewish Rohingya Justice Network Members include: American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, The Association of Rabbis and Cantors, Anti-Defamation League, HIAS, JACOB, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish World Watch, The Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, T’ruah and The Union for Reform Judaism. Allies: Foundation for Ethic Understanding, Hebrew College, The Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, The New York Board of Rabbis, The Shalom Center and Uri L’Tzedek.

About American Jewish World Service’s work in Burma

For more than 17 years, AJWS has supported the human rights of ethnic minorities in Burma, including the Rohingya people. AJWS provides direct financial support to more than 30 human rights organizations in Burma that have been working to advance the rights of minority ethnic groups and to create a truly pluralistic and democratic society. Please read more about our work in Burma here.

 

To the Honorable Michael R. Pompeo

Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As we mark the second-year anniversary of the continued campaign of genocide against the Rohingya people of Burma on August 25, we call on you to prioritize the pursuit of justice and accountability for the Rohingya people and all ethnic minorities in Burma.

As 574 rabbis and Jewish clergy from 38 states across the U.S. and from many Jewish denominational backgrounds, we collectively serve tens of thousands of American Jews and represent this call-to-action from many more communities and congregations.

As clergy, we have not—and will not—stay silent in the face of genocide. We know all too well, from our own Jewish history, what happens when the international community does not stand up unequivocally in defense of oppressed minorities subject to state-sanctioned hate, oppression and violence.

The Department of State released a report in September 2018 documenting atrocities in Northern Rakhine State, which attests that the violence against the Rohingya people was “extreme, large-scaled, widespread” and “well-planned.” We were deeply disappointed that the report failed to legally determine that there were international crimes committed against the Rohingya people by the Burmese military. The horrifying atrocities outlined in the report—with the full weight and expertise of the Department of State behind it—surely must trigger meaningful U.S. response and actions.

We call on you, Mr. Secretary, as you lead the Department, to defend the rights and dignity of the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities. We urge you to act decisively to forge a path for justice and accountability in Burma by urgently taking the following steps:

 

  • Support the imposition of further targeted sanctions, including designations under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in conjunction with the Treasury Department, against Burmese military leaders responsible for the horrific violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. We welcomed the recent public designations that will deny visas to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Vice Senior General Soe Win, Brigadier General Aung Aung, Brigadier General Than Oo, and their immediate family members—but this alone is not sufficient to ensure full justice and accountability for the crimes committed by these individuals. By taking further actions against top Burmese military officials, the U.S. Government will effectively increase its pressure on the Burmese military. Burma’s military-owned enterprises, including the Myanmar Economic Corporation and Union of Myanmar Economic Holding, should also be sanctioned under relevant statutory authorities.
  • Utilize the full range of your Department’s diplomatic channels to work with regional allies to collectively urge the Burmese government to reinstate full citizenship for the Rohingya minority and create the necessary conditions to ensure the option of a voluntary, safe and dignified return to Burma—with full consultation from the Rohingya community in the process.
  • Utilize the State Department’s diplomatic channels with the Bangladeshi government to enable livelihood options and access to formal education for the Rohingya community living in those camps, based on consultation and guidance by the Rohingya community in the Cox’s Bazar camps, especially for women and children. We also call on you to urge the government of Bangladesh to halt any planned relocation of Rohingya refugees to the flood-prone, desolate island of Bhashan Char or any other uninhabitable location.
  • Develop and publicly release a report by the State Department which assesses potential justice options that the United States could support to ensure accountability for the crimes suffered by the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities in Burma at the hands of the Burmese military. This report should be completed in consultation with civil society and representatives from the Rohingya and other ethnic minority communities in Burma.

The United States must display moral courage and leadership to secure justice and accountability for the Rohingya people. The world needs American leadership now, more than ever. As a cohort of 574 rabbis and clergy, representing tens of thousands of American Jews across the country, we call on you, as the nation’s lead diplomat, to provide that leadership and pursue justice at all opportunities.

 

Sincerely,

575 American Rabbis and Cantors

Organizations listed for informational purposes only.

Click here for the full list of Jewish clergy.

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