(Image: A Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh who suffered burns when her house in Myanmar was set ablaze by soldiers. CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times)
New York Times
Around the world, there is profound concern that America is giving up the mantle of global leadership. Our steady retreat over the past decade has contributed to a wide array of complex global challenges — a dangerous erosion of the rule of law, gross human rights violations and the decline of the rules-based international order that was designed in the aftermath of two world wars to prevent conflict and deter mass atrocities.
We’ve seen this unfold in Syria, where the United States and the international community have shamefully failed to address brutal violence that has engulfed the country for seven years, led to hundreds of thousands dead and contributed to the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
And sadly, we are seeing now this same lack of effective diplomacy in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where since last summer 680,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee a systematic military campaign of killings, arson, rape and other mass atrocities amounting to ethnic cleansing.
Attacks against the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship under Burmese law, are not new. They have faced decades of repression, discrimination, harassment and violence. In recent months, thousands of Rohingya have been slaughtered, countless women and girls have been gang-raped, civilians have been burned alive, and villages have been razed. Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of horrific cases, including that of a 15-year-old girl who reported being tied to a tree and raped repeatedly by a group of armed men. Other survivors described children and the elderly locked in their homes and burned alive.
For more than three decades, America stood with our allies to support democracy in Myanmar and demand freedom for thousands of Burmese political prisoners. That unified stand ultimately led to the election in 2015 of the country’s first civilian government after a half-century of direct military rule. Unfortunately, such promising progress has been squandered.
We need to show equal resolve now to stop the violence and safeguard the rights and freedoms of all Burmese peoples. The United States should take the lead in four ways, and ask our partners and allies to join us.
First, we must demand an end to impunity in Myanmar and hold the perpetrators of these most recent atrocities accountable. The coordinated decision by the State Department and the European Union to cease consideration of travel waivers for current and former senior leaders of the Burmese military is a good start, but it is not enough.
Passing the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act, a bill sponsored by Senator McCain, would impose sanctions on Burmese military and security forces responsible for the bloodshed and send the strong message that those who commit atrocities will pay a price. There can be no free and peaceful future for the country built on impunity for war crimes and persecution.