The normally polarised US House of Representatives has voted 382-30 in favour of legislation to pressure Myanmar to improve its record on human rights.
The measure is an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), a massive defence bill that is one of the few pieces of legislation passed by the US Congress each year.
The US has called the military action against the Rohingya ethnic cleansing, which Myanmar denies, saying its security forces were conducting a counter-insurgency action against “Bengali terrorists”, implying the Muslim population is comprised of illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
If included when the NDAA is finalised later in the year, the measure would bar security assistance or cooperation with Myanmar’s military until it has made progress on human rights.
It also would impose sanctions on commanders who perpetrated or were responsible for serious human rights abuses.
The amendment was introduced by Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This month the United Nations Security Council called on Nay Pyi Taw to conduct transparent investigations into accusations of violence against the Rohingya Muslims and allow aid groups to access Rakhine State.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Fortify Rights both said Myanmar should comply with a UN committee’s request for information on the military’s responsibility for widespread rape of Rohingya women and girls under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The two groups provided the committee with a joint report on sexual violence committed by the security forces against Rohingya civilians in 2016 and 2017.
In November 2017, the independent UN committee asked Myanmar to submit a report by May 28.
“The CEDAW committee’s rare request for Myanmar to report on sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls outside normal reporting procedures shows the extreme nature of the military’s mass atrocities,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights researcher at HRW. “The government should cease its shameless denials and start openly cooperating with international monitors.”
The CEDAW committee examined numerous reports of military-led attacks on Rohingya, including mass killings, rape and other sexual violence, and widespread arson at hundreds of villages, forcing more than 717,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh since August 25, 2017.
The NGOs’ report is based on hundreds of interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including 37 women and girls who were reportedly raped last August and September, mostly by groups of uniformed soldiers. Survivors said they saw many other women and children raped in groups, in apparent patterns of gang rapes, as well as biting, kicking and other abuse. Many said troops killed their elderly parents or young children, including by throwing infants into fires.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Picture credit: Wikimedia