Parties unite to move Myanmar sanctions bill

Parties unite to move Myanmar sanctions bill
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Bipartisan lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined forces Thursday to advance legislation slapping new sanctions on Myanmar's military regime for its violent purge of ethnic minorities.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) and Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotJudiciary approves new investigative powers with eyes on impeachment Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE (R-Ohio), is designed to punish Myanmar's leaders for their long-running campaign of brutality and displacement against the Rohingya, a Muslim group occupying western regions of the state.

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Supporters are hoping the new restrictions — including trade, travel and financial sanctions against Myanmar's top leaders — will check the violence and ultimately lead to war crimes charges against those behind the attacks.

“The Rohingya who have been suffering at the hands of the Burmese military since the horrific attacks in 2017 shouldn’t have to wait for justice any longer," Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs panel, said in a statement. "There needs to be relief from the violence and suffering. There needs to be accountability for those who have carried out the genocide against the Rohingya and ongoing horrors against other ethnic minorities."

The unanimous vote of the Foreign Affairs panel sends the proposal to the House floor, where a similar bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the last Congress. The legislation has hit a wall of opposition in the Senate, however, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Harris keeps up 'little dude' attack on Trump after debate MORE (R-Ky.) — a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi — has declined to consider the bill.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was once glorified across the world for her pro-democracy advocacy, has largely defended the military's conduct amid their purge of the country's ethnic minorities. Thousands of Muslim Rohingyas were killed since the latest round of violence began in the summer of 2017, and roughly 1 million others have been pushed into makeshift refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. One of the camps, housing roughly 700,000 people, is the largest refugee camp in the world.

A United Nations report issue last year found widespread abuse of the Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar's military, including mass killings, gang rapes and other “violations [that] undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.” The U.N. labeled the purge a "genocide," and recommended the perpetrators be tried before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The Trump administration has stopped short of applying that designation. A State Department report released last year found that the military “targeted civilians indiscriminately and often with extreme brutality," but the agency has declined to label the tragedy a genocide. 

The issue came to light Wednesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during the confirmation hearing of Kelly Knight Craft, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty MORE's pick to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Pressed by Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Overnight Energy: Democrats call for Ross to resign over report he threatened NOAA officials | Commerce denies report | Documents detail plan to decentralize BLM | Lawmakers demand answers on bee-killing pesticide Oregon Democrats push EPA to justify use of pesticide 'highly toxic' to bees MORE (D-Ore.), Craft characterized the Rohingya tragedy as "unexcusable" and "ethnic cleansing," but declined to say it rose to the level of genocide. 

"Senator, this is not a decision for me to make. This is a decision that's made within the State Department," said Craft, who's currently the U.S. ambassador to Canada. "I can assure you that i will be a strong voice on behalf of the Rohingyas." 

The Engel-Chabot proposal, aside from applying new sanctions on Myanmar's leaders, would also bar the Pentagon from expanding the U.S. military presence in Myanmar until tangible reforms are adopted, while providing help for investigations into the atrocities, with an eye toward prosecuting war crimes. 

“I hope this bill moves swiftly through the House," Engel said, "and if it reaches the Senate, I hope that body’s leadership will see the dire need to get this measure across the finish line.”