More Than 500 Jewish Clergy and 50 Organizations Call on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Pursue Justice in Response to the Rohingya Genocide

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network* demand that the U.S. support the Rohingya people

Today, 52 Jewish organizations and over 500 Jewish clergy from 40 states joined to send a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demanding action to stop 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 (AJWS) and the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network have come together to mobilize more than 500 American Jewish clergy from 40 states to send an unmistakable message to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: they must respond clearly and strongly to the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide by marking up S. 1186, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act.

“We are proud that the Jewish community has been mobilizing and advocating in the two years since the decades-long campaign of discrimination and violence against the Rohingya Muslims of Burma escalated into a genocide in August 2017. We watched in horror as the persecution of the Rohingya people led to a ceaseless and murderous wave of state-sanctioned violence, with the Burmese military razing villages and forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people to flee to Bangladesh, where survivors now live in limbo in refugee camps.

“We believe the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is facing a choice: either take up the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act, championed by several of its own Members, or remain silent as this crisis continues with no end in sight. Last year, the full House of Representatives passed HR. 3190, a similar bill that would support the Rohingya people, but the Senate has neither moved it forward, nor advanced its own bill, S. 1186. The U.S. Treasury Department has recently sanctioned top Burmese military officials, and the Jewish community demands that the Senate continues to wield the power of these U.S. government actions by moving forward crucial legislation.

“As a unified Jewish voice of 511 Jewish faith leaders and 52 Jewish organizations, we represent millions of American Jews who refuse to be silent in the face of the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people. 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, violence and genocide.”

Below is the text of the letter delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on behalf of the 511 Jewish clergy from 40 states. To join us in taking action on the Rohingya genocide, 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 26 organizations and all four major branches of American Judaism—all standing together against genocide. For this letter, the JRJN was joined by 27 other Jewish organizations.

Jewish Rohingya Justice Network Members signing this letter include: American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, The Association of Rabbis and Cantors, Anti-Defamation League, Cantors Assembly, Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, JACOB, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Labor Committee, 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 Ethnic Understanding, Hebrew College, The Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, Never Again Coalition, 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 18 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 see list of organizations and individuals who signed this powerful letter, click here.

Text of the letter

January 22, 2020

Senator James Risch, Chairman
Committee on Foreign Relations
483 Russell Senate Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Robert Menendez, Ranking Member
Committee on Foreign Relations
528 Hart Senate Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Chairman Risch and Ranking Member Menendez:

We write as members of the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network (JRJN), the consortium of 25 Jewish organizations representing all four major denominations of Judaism, advocating for the rights of the persecuted Rohingya people and for a meaningful U.S. response to the crisis in Burma (Myanmar), as well as 27 other Jewish organizations and 511 Rabbis and Cantors from 40 states. We strongly urge you to take up and pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (S. 1186), which is before your Committee. Passing this legislation will send a powerful message to the Burmese military that the United States will not stay silent in the face of genocide. We encourage the U.S. Congress to once again display moral courage and leadership as it sets the standard and defends democratic values in this crucial time for Burma. No other country has the might and moral authority to set the standard.

In the two years since the Burmese military escalated its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people, more than 700,000 Rohingya people have fled their homes for Bangladesh as a direct result of this state-sanctioned persecution and expulsion. They now live in squalid conditions in Bangladesh without any access to formal education, employment and freedom of movement. Hundreds of thousands more remain unable to travel and lack access to basic humanitarian aid, education or livelihoods. Meanwhile, the Burmese military continues to attack other ethnic minorities across Burma, perpetrating some of the worst crimes known to humanity, including killing, rape and torture. The Rohingya people are targeted simply because of their ethnicity and religion. It is unconscionable to allow more time to pass without strongly addressing this crisis—and these crimes.

We are encouraged by actions taken last year by both the State and Treasury Departments to deny visas and to sanction the U.S. assets of the top four Burmese military officials, including the Commander-in-Chief of the military forces, for gross human rights abuses throughout the country. We hope this is only the beginning of even stronger U.S. action in pursuit of full justice and accountability for all who suffered at the hands of the Burmese military.

The House of Representatives has recently taken decisive action by adopting a similar measure, the Burma United through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (H.R. 3190), by an overwhelming majority. We urge the Foreign Relations Committee and the rest of the Senate to follow suit and send a powerful message to the Burmese military that we will act in the face of the violent campaign against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities. This bill, championed by many members of your own Committee, calls for targeted U.S. sanctions against Burmese military officials and military-owned enterprises thereby cutting off support to the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The bill also demands involvement of the Rohingya community in taking an active part in crafting the solutions to the crisis, including safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation and restoration of full citizenship. The legislation also authorizes crucial increases to humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees and calls for international justice mechanisms to ensure accountability for the victims of mass atrocities.

With the failure of the final conferenced version of the National Defense Authorization Act to include this crucial support for the Rohingya people, which would have been a significant step in the fight against impunity and seeking justice for the Rohingya and other victims of gross human rights abuses in Burma, we call on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to prioritize S. 1186 and H.R. 3190 immediately.

The military is threatening the viability of Burma’s nascent democracy. As Jews, we know all too well from our history the cost of silence from the global community in the face of ethnic and religious persecution. For us, the words “never again” compel us to stand with the Rohingya people and call on you, Chairman Risch and Ranking Member Menendez, to take immediate action to address the magnitude of these egregious human rights violations.

The survival of the Rohingya community is at stake. The rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in Burma are at stake. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must act now by taking up and approving the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act on an upcoming business meeting and subsequently ensuring its successful passage through the full Senate with all due haste.

Sincerely,

511 American Rabbis and Cantors and 52 American Jewish Organizations

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