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Hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs - Opening Statement of Rep. Eliot L. Engel, Hearing on the Rohingya Crisis

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this hearing.

"To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs committee. Mr. Pomper, I'm aware of the good work that you do, and Mrs. Van Susteren, it's good to see you again. From the first time I appeared on your show, I was always a big fan. So thank you both for being here.

"Our last hearing on this topic, roughly a year ago, took place at the height of the horrific violence against the Rohingya. We saw startling evidence of what was taking place and heard about the desperate humanitarian crisis, which, despite heroic efforts, is sadly no less dire today: more than 700,000 refugees--70 percent of whom are women and children.

"You know, it's interesting, because our congressional districts all have about 700,000 people each in them. So, every member of Congress could imagine if every person who lived in your Congressional district were refugees, imagine what it would be like. That's the magnitude of the problem.

"Seventy percent of these 700,000 are women and children, and they now live in the world's largest refugee camp, in its entirety, at constant risk of losing their temporary shelters to monsoon rains, and all kinds of other tragedies.

"In the last year, though, we've also learned more about who is responsible.

"The Burmese military has claimed that this brutal crackdown is the response to a clash that took place on August 25th of last year. This is simply not true: ample evidence shows that the Burmese military and police forces used this campaign to specifically target Rohingya civilians, to target them with rape, with indiscriminate killing, with slash-and-burn tactics that have destroyed dozens of villages.

"The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission report has undertaken the most comprehensive investigation to date. It recently called for the UN Security Council to authorize the ICC to investigate and prosecute senior officials in the Burmese military for crimes against humanity, and I quote, "and so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide,' unquote.

"So, after a year of unrelenting violence and suffering, what will American policy be?

"The State Department quietly published its report on these atrocities last week. No announcement. No legal determination about what occurred. No indication of what comes next. I ask, Mr. Chairman, that it be included in the record.

[Chairman Royce: Without objection.]

"Thank you. Will Secretary Pompeo determine that, I quote, "crimes against humanity,' unquote, occurred, which is clearly the case? Will he go further and say that crimes occurred with genocidal intent? Will he make the evidence behind the report available to use against the perpetrators of these crimes? I believe he should, as the Burmese government is currently bulldozing Rohingya villages and destroying any evidence that remains.

"Ambassador Haley announced $185 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya and communities in Bangladesh who are hosting refugees. This is welcome news, because funding humanitarian relief is necessary. But it isn't a sufficient response, in my opinion, to such a grave human tragedy.

"There's a range of other steps we should be taking. There are ways we could exercise real leadership to help mitigate this crisis.

"First of all, the United States should advocate for the UN Security Council to refer this case to the ICC. Instead, the President went in front of the world yesterday and trashed the ICC.

"We should use our global stature to call this crime what it is--clearly a crime against humanity and likely also genocide--then rally a strong international commitment to fully fund the latest appeal for humanitarian assistance. Instead, the State Department is using language that lets perpetrators off the hook. The President lobs insults at the international institutions that could make a difference, instead of using our leverage to garner more support to address this crisis.

"We should be true to our history and our values, and provide a safe haven for men, women, and children who have been driven from their homes. Instead, we're slashing the number of refugees allowed onto our shores--a pittance of 30,000. It's really shameful.

"The United States, of course, is not to blame for this crisis. The Burmese military, starting with Commander in Chief of the Army, Min Aung Hlaing, bears primary responsibility. The blood is on their hands.

"Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader once also hailed as her country's moral leader, has proven herself, unfortunately, to be part of the problem: by failing to speak out, by denying the abuses that have taken place, and for not addressing the apartheid policies and conditions in Rakhine state that set the stage for this catastrophe. I know that Mr. Pomper points this out in his written testimony.

"But even though we're not responsible for the crisis, for decades American leadership has meant having the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing in the face of this kind of suffering.

"The Administration's policies send a clear message: we're no longer willing to carry that mantle. When it comes to standing up for human rights, for justice, for the rule of law, for the world's most vulnerable and oppressed--the United States has taken itself out of the running. Complex challenges require multifaceted solutions and real leadership. And we are not, in my opinion, exercising either of those. Shame on us.

"I look forward to hearing from our witnesses what a path forward might look like, if the Administration were inclined to take it. I yield back. Thank you, Mr. Chairman."


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