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    Letter from 58 NGOs Calling for Targeted Economic Sanctions in Burma Show More Services

    By Human Rights Watch

    November 2, 2017

    The Honorable Rex Tillerson
    Secretary of State
    U.S. Department of State
    2201 C Street NW
    Washington, DC 20520

    The Honorable Steven Mnuchin
    Secretary of the Treasury
    U.S. Department of the Treasury
    1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20220

    Re: Burma and Targeted Sanctions

    Dear Secretaries Tillerson and Mnuchin,

    The US government urgently needs to act to help address the grave human rights and humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the Burmese military’s brutal response to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)’s August 25 attack on government posts in Burma’s Rakhine State.

    As you know, since late August, Burmese security forces have waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing and committed numerous crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population, a long-persecuted ethnic and religious minority group predominantly in Rakhine State. In response to these abuses, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past two months.

    Satellite images commissioned by independent organizations show hundreds of burned villages – and tens of thousands of torched buildings. Refugees have provided first-hand accounts of unfathomable brutality: soldiers burning infants alive, gang-raping women, shooting villagers fleeing their homes – violations that research by nongovernmental organizations has found to be widespread and systematic.

    United Nations investigators who have conducted interviews of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have noted “a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has called the scale and nature of the atrocities in Rakhine a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

    Despite international condemnation, Burmese authorities continue to restrict access to the region for most international humanitarian organizations, a UN fact-finding mission, and independent media. The commander-in-chief of the Burmese military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and other Burmese officials, refuse to acknowledge the atrocities their forces have committed.

    We commend the U.S. government for the nearly $104 million in humanitarian assistance it has provided in fiscal year 2017, nearly $40 million of which was provided in direct response to the Rakhine State crisis, to displaced populations in Burma and refugees in neighboring countries. We also strongly support the State Department’s statement that “individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable.”

    It is critical that the U.S. government respond to the severity and scope of the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing campaign with effective action. To this end, we urge the administration to immediately and robustly impose targeted economic sanctions authorized under the 2008 JADE Act and the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

    Under the JADE Act, the president is empowered to issue travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Burmese military officials and their immediate family members if they are “involved in…gross violations of human rights in Burma or in the commission of other human rights abuses.” Steps taken by the previous administration to lift sanctions did not unravel existing authorities but only waived them, and, according to recent State Department releases, some JADE Act authorities are currently in use, such as the ban on current and former Burmese military officials traveling to the United States. The administration should move to robustly and vigorously employ the remaining authorities.

    In addition to the JADE Act, the administration should exercise its authority granted under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows for the levying of travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals responsible for acts of significant corruption and gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals who seek “to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of religion.” Given that the Burmese military’s actions against the Rohingya people are motivated at least in part on religious grounds, the Global Magnitsky Act is applicable.

    Given the systemic nature of the crimes being perpetrated against the Rohingya people, it is important that sanctions designations levied under either the JADE Act or Global Magnitsky Act target appropriately senior officials who likely ordered criminal acts or appear to have been criminally responsible as a matter of command responsibility. Command responsibility would encompass those senior-most members of the Burmese security forces who knew or had reason to know that their subordinates were committing extrajudicial killings, rape, arson and other abuses, and failed to take all necessary and reasonable steps to prevent such abuses or punish those responsible.

    As you recently said, Secretary Tillerson, “the world cannot just sit idly by and be witness to these atrocities.” The JADE Act and Global Magnitsky Act provide the executive branch with tools for action. The United States should employ them to the fullest to prevent dire consequences for Burma’s future and send an unmistakable signal to the rest of the world.

    Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


    Human Rights Watch
    Human Rights First
    Ameinu (Our People)
    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
    American Jewish Committee
    American Jewish World Service
    Anti-Defamation League
    Association Suisse Birmanie
    Boat People SOS
    Buddhist Global Relief
    Burma Action Ireland
    Burma Campaign UK
    Burma Human Rights Network
    Burma Task Force
    Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
    Center for Justice & Accountability
    Christian Solidarity Worldwide
    Congregation Tehillah
    Emgage Action
    Estonian American National Council
    Equal Rights Trust
    Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA)
    Freedom House
    Friends Committee on National Legislation
    Fortify Rights
    Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
    Global Progressive Hub
    Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College
    Info Birmanie
    Institute for Asian Democracy
    Interfaith Center of New York
    International Campaign for the Rohingya
    International State Crime Initiative
    Investors Against Genocide
    Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
    JACOB: The Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma
    Jewish Council for Public Affairs
    Joint Baltic American National Committee
    Jubilee Campaign USA Inc
    Just Foreign Policy
    Magnitsky Act Initiative
    Muslim Bar Association of New York
    Muslim Public Affairs Council
    Partners Relief & Development
    Physicians for Human Rights
    Refugees International
    Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
    STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
    The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders
    The Network of Spiritual Progressives
    T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
    Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
    U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
    Viet Tan
    Win Without War