Statement 107 Views

Under Secretary Zeya’s Remarks at Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day Event

August 25th, 2023  •  Author:   U.S. Department of State  •  6 minute read
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It is my sincere honor to speak with you today as we commemorate six years since the start of the horrific genocide against Rohingya.

Let me start by thanking the organizing committee for arranging this important remembrance.  By doing so, you have ensured that we take time to remember those lives lost and to galvanize our efforts to hold accountable those who perpetrated these crimes.

The abundance of speakers joining us today – from all over the world – makes clear how important it is to so many of us to take this time to reflect and to explore what more we can do to prevent recurrence of such atrocities.

I would also like to thank the members of the Rohingya diaspora who are with us.  I applaud your resilience in the face of ongoing persecution.

Over the course of 2016 and 2017, Burma’s military brutally attacked Rohingya communities.  Systematic acts of violence, including torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and mass killings, led to largescale displacement and loss of thousands of innocent lives.  They targeted one of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in Burma, forcing over 740,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh.

The rippling impact of those attacks continues today – six years later.  Bangladesh hosts nearly one million Rohingya refugees, with significant numbers seeking refuge in nearby countries.  Many more remain internally displaced in Rakhine State.  During my visit to Bangladesh in July, I met with Rohingya refugees, who shared personal stories of the horrific violence they and their families endured in Burma and the fear of continued persecution that prevents their return.

The gradual loss of rights, citizenship, homes, and even their lives in the years leading up to the 2016-2017 outbreak of atrocities made clear that the regime sought to destroy Rohingya communities based on a false, discriminatory narrative of ethnic and religious differences.  This false narrative attempted to obscure the fact that Rohingya have been an integral part of Burma’s society for generations.

The United States remembers what Rohingya have lost and continue to lose.  Today, we are unwavering in our commitment to provide assistance to survivors and victims, seek accountability for those responsible, and pursue justice for the survivors and victims.

In terms of providing assistance, the United States is the leading single donor of life-saving humanitarian assistance to this cause.  We have provided more than $2.1 billion to assist those affected by the crisis in Burma, Bangladesh, and elsewhere in the region since 2017.  Our assistance supports the full gamut of Rohingya humanitarian needs, including shelter, health care, and education, as well as specialized mental health and psychosocial support for survivors of trauma.  We believe such services are essential to minimize the devastating impact of genocide and other atrocities.

Recognizing that Rohingya cannot safely return to their homeland of Burma under current conditions, resettlement is another important way in which we contribute.  Since 2009, the United States has warmly welcomed nearly 13,000 Rohingya from the region, including from Bangladesh.

Our work is not just humanitarian, we also must move towards accountability.  The United States has shared information with The Gambia in connection with the case it brought against Burma under the Genocide Convention at the International Court of Justice for the atrocities committed against Rohingya.

We also provide support to the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which has a mandate to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Burma since 2011.  U.S. support includes providing the mechanism with $2 million of funding to strengthen its ability to conduct open-source investigations and to protect witnesses and victims.

We are not alone in seeking accountability.  On Wednesday, we joined 12 other nations on the UN Security Council in a joint statement calling out the continued, unrelenting violence perpetrated by the military regime.  This statement called on the regime to restore the rights of the Rohingya and served to keep high-level focus on your plight.

Also on Wednesday, the United States expanded its Burma-related sanctions authorities to include any foreign individual or entity operating in the jet fuel sector of Burma’s economy and designated two individuals and three entities under this authority.  This expansion follows U.S. sanctions actions already taken this year that designated Burma’s Ministry of Defense, its two largest regime-controlled banks, the Ministry of Energy, and other individual military-affiliated cronies.  We will continue to use our sanctions authorities to deprive the military regime of the resources that enable it to oppress its people and urge others to take similar accountability measures.

Justice for victims is also crucial.  The United States coordinates with international partners and NGOs to support Rohingya courageously seeking justice in the courts of Argentina for the atrocities committed against them.

We actively work with civil society and members of the Rohingya community to document the atrocities and other abuses committed against them.  We stand ready to support a holistic transitional justice process to address the long history of atrocities once such a process becomes viable to respect the demands of victims and survivors for truth, reparation, justice, and non-recurrence.

Secretary Blinken’s determination in March 2022 that members of Burma’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya was a historic occasion.  This marked only the eighth time the United States has come to such a critical conclusion.

But, acknowledging the genocide was the first step, not the last.  We all must take the next steps together to bring an end to the violence and prevent the recurrence of atrocities.  We must take into account the needs of survivors, including creating the conditions to enable refugees’ safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return.  We must address the military’s continued impunity for human rights abuses.  And, we must support the fight for justice for those who have suffered.  Taking these steps is how we can ensure a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all.

To the Rohingya – please accept my sincere condolences on this heart-breaking anniversary.  I continue to be inspired by your commitment and resilience.  Please know that the United States stands with you.  We will continue to advocate for respect for your human rights and for justice.  And, we will do so working alongside survivors, advocates, and allies like all of you.

Mr. Tun, thank you again for the honor of speaking at this powerful and moving commemoration.

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