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Why the US should lead on protecting Rohingya Muslims

Over the past six months, the world has witnessed one of the gravest human rights catastrophes in a generation. According to a recent report by Doctors Without Borders, since Aug. 25, 2017, over 688,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, with as many as 13,769 Rohingya Muslims killed. That includes 730 children under the age of 5, and 354 Rohingya villages burned or destroyed. Amnesty International has identified several crimes against humanity committed by members of Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya Muslim population, including forcible deportation, enforced disappearances and abductions, forced starvation, and deprivation of livelihood and sexual violence. According to the United Nations Special Envoy on Human Rights in Myanmar, the atrocities committed by the military bear “the hallmarks of a genocide.”

Shockingly, the de facto civilian government, led by Myanmar’s Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, has refused to recognize the atrocities committed by military operatives against Rohingya Muslims or that Rohingya Muslims are a minority community worthy of state status and legal protection. She has ignored irrefutable evidence of ethnic cleansing, and in so doing, has emboldened Myanmar’s military to persist in committing crimes against humanity with impunity. This is all the more concerning given recent discussions regarding the proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

{mosads}As the co-chairs of the Congressional Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus, we condemn the human rights abuses perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. No one should face discrimination or violence because of his or her ethnic background or religious beliefs. We applaud the leadership of the worldwide spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who has urged the international community to help Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar attain their basic human rights and freedoms. Other global faith-based leaders, including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have also condemned the brutal persecution of Rohingya Muslims.

The U.S. is poised to act in an unprecedented manner to put an end to the atrocities leveled against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. We were heartened to see that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unequivocally condemned members of Myanmar’s military and rightly referred to the persecution as an “ethnic cleansing.” The next step is for Congress to enact appropriate and effective legislative measures that ensure limits to multilateral assistance to Myanmar’s military, impose necessary trade restrictions, enforce visa bans and financial sanctions on military operatives involved in human rights abuses, report on accountability for crimes against humanity, and secure additional humanitarian assistance to Rohingya Muslim refugees. That is why we are both co-sponsors of H.R.4223, the BURMA Act, introduced by our colleague Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

Since 2014, the Bipartisan Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus has fought to defend the human rights of oppressed religious minorities all over the world. The Caucus was born out of advocating for the rights of Ahmadi Muslims, who also face persecution, human rights abuses, and threats to their religious freedom around the world, simply for practicing their peaceful faith. In Algeria, 266 Ahmadi Muslims have been arrested on account of their faith in recent months. In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims face institutionalized religious repression, including criminal prosecution and imprisonment under anti-blasphemy and anti-terrorism laws, police torture, voter disenfranchisement, and publication bans.

There is perhaps no more inspiring example of the strength of unity than that of persecuted communities standing up for one another. This week, we were encouraged to see hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims from across America gather on Capitol Hill to demand justice for their Rohingya Muslim brothers and sisters. In the face of systemic state-facilitated persecution around the world, the Ahmadiyaa community continues to promote peace and pluralism. The work of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus mirrors this commitment to protecting international religious freedom for all. That is why we support efforts on Capitol Hill to ensure freedom and accountability in Myanmar.

We firmly believe the crisis of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is both a moral imperative and an issue of national security. We cannot ensure the protection of our homeland unless we remove extremism at its root, especially in a region that is home to millions of people of different faith traditions. In America, we have a proud tradition of religious tolerance and the freedom to practice religion without fear of persecution. We must all work to combat religious intolerance, no matter the victim, the circumstance, or the location. We all deserve the dignity of faith.

Jackie Speier represents California’s 14th District. Peter King represents New York’s 2nd District.

Tags Eliot Engel Jackie Speier Rex Tillerson

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