The American Jewish community stands boldly against the genocide of the Rohingya people and the persecution of all ethnic minorities in Burma.
Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) works to realize human rights in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America, including Burma (Myanmar), where we have been working in close partnership with human rights defenders from ethnic minority communities for over 15 years. As Jews, Americans, and global citizens, we cannot remain silent while acts of brutality continue against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities. To respond to the magnitude of this genocide, we call upon the U.S. government to lead in bringing justice to the Rohingya people.
The Rohingya people are facing a genocide. A long-persecuted ethnic minority, Burmese military forces escalated a coordinated campaign against the Rohingya people on August 25, 2017. Soldiers, along with Burmese civilians, burned Rohingya villages to the ground and indiscriminately massacred Rohingya men, women and children. More than 720,000 people have been forced to flee by foot and boats from their burned villages to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Credible reports by the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) now say sufficient evidence exists to show that the Burmese military maintained a clear intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Rohingya people – the legal hallmarks of the crime of genocide. And persecution of other ethnic minorities in Burma by the Burmese military constitutes crimes against humanity and war crimes – among the most serious crimes known to humankind, putting countless lives among Burmese ethnic minorities at risk.
We believe that only in a democratic and pluralistic Burma will the Rohingya people – and all ethnic minorities – be able to realize their full human rights and be treated with dignity. To achieve this goal, AJWS provides direct financial support to more than 37 human rights organizations that have been working to advance the rights of minority ethnic groups in Burma (learn more here). Moreover, there is a continued need for justice for the atrocities occurring in Burma.
“At last, there is a growing acceptance of the fact that the Burmese military committed genocide on the Rohingya people—the deliberate and intentional destruction of their community based on their ethnicity and religion. AJWS calls on the U.S. Congress and the administration to follow suit and hold the Burmese regime accountable for killings, sexual violence, displacement and torture. The U.S. government must act to help the hundreds of thousands of suffering, displaced Rohingya people,” says Robert Bank, President and CEO of AJWS.
The lack of unified US government leadership to halt a genocide has been disappointing. In 2018, legislation that aimed to sanction the military perpetrating this violence, provide more funding for the humanitarian crisis and start the process of accountability and justice for the Rohingya people and other minorities, stalled in the Senate, despite overwhelming support in both chambers of Congress. A US State Department report released in August found compelling evidence of the atrocities, although it came short of making a legal determination of crimes against humanity or genocide.
But the work of countless human rights defenders and advocates is beginning to bear fruit, resulting in momentum for justice. In August 2018, a robust and sobering UN Fact Finding Mission to Burma found conclusive evidence of the gravity of the Burmese military’s campaign against the Rohingya. Mission Chair, Marzuki Darusman, wrote, “What we have found are not only the most serious human rights violations, but crimes of the highest order under international law.”
Further documentation has only corroborated this statement. In December 2018, the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), the non-partisan law firm contracted by the State Department to conduct the extensive investigation and legal analysis of the atrocities, released their own genocide determination. PILPG’s exceptionally thorough investigation for the State Department documented the coordinated nature of the Burmese military’s brutal attacks. PILPG stated in a press conference that, “It is clear from our intense legal review that there is, in fact, a legal basis to conclude that the Rohingya were the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Furthermore, on the same day, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum boldly stated that there was “compelling evidence that the Burmese military committed ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the Rohingya.” These statements are based on the irrefutable facts of the magnitude of this humanitarian and political crisis.
These developments prompted a group of committed U.S. Senators to place the Burma Human Rights and Freedoms Act 2018 – the legislation calling for sanctions, humanitarian aid and justice – back on the table in early December 2018, indicating a commitment to pursue its passage again in 2019.
These recent developments unfolded over Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights where many Jewish people come together to rededicate themselves to fighting ethnic persecution against any minority. Throughout Jewish history, we have known what it is like to face exclusion from society, expulsion and genocide. We are inheritors of a biblical and historical imperative to integrate those who society casts out as strangers and create a just society where all are equal under the law. The persecution, torture, and systemic government-sanctioned brutality against Rohingya people echoes the persecution suffered by Jews throughout history, and AJWS is acting powerfully on our promise that “never again” means no genocide ever again against any people.
AJWS is proud to stand in solidarity with the growing number of organizations and individuals who bear witness to this genocide and other serious crimes and demand US leadership in response. These developments are important steps towards justice and dignity for the victims of the Rohingya genocide as well as other ethnic minorities, alongside the many Rohingya refugees who struggle to meet their basic needs and are uncertain about their futures.
Therefore, AJWS calls on the United States Congress to show leadership by passing the Burma Human Rights and Freedoms Act in 2019, which would accomplish three key goals:
- Imposing targeted sanctions on those in the Burmese military directly responsible for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people;
- Beginning the process for creating justice and accountability mechanisms for perpetrators of these crimes; and
- Increasing humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
AJWS will continue be at the forefront of this fight, and along with our Jewish partners, has come together to build a unified American Jewish response to the Rohingya crisis. We are proud to be a leader of the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network (JRJN), a powerful coalition of American Jewish NGOs representing the majority of American Jews through our members and allies, including representation from three branches of Judaism and organizational members from each denomination. Our history as Jews compels us to speak out loudly for the rights and safety of the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities who suffer discrimination and violence.
We are heartened by the strong statements recognizing the international crimes that the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Burma face. We call on the U.S. Government to demonstrate leadership in providing justice for the Rohingya genocide and for the massive crimes against other ethnic minorities in Burma.
About American Jewish World Service (AJWS)
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to pursue justice and fight poverty in the developing world. By supporting hundreds of social change organizations in 19 countries, we respond to the most pressing issues of our time—from disasters, genocide and hunger to the persecution of women and minorities worldwide. With Jewish values and a global reach, AJWS is making a difference in millions of lives and bringing a more just and equitable world closer for all. Learn more at www.ajws.org.
About American Jewish World Service’s work in Burma
For more than 15 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.
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David L. Marcus