“When America sneezes, the world catches a cold”… is what I hear whenever I travel abroad.
I’ve never seen a more vivid example of this than when I recently visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh. Home to nearly 700,000 refugees, this camp was made possible by the failed foreign policy of President Barack Obama.
On a diplomatic scale, this occurred with lightning speed. In the fall of 2016, the administration decided to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar before the end of Obama’s term. Some members of both political parties and State Department officials stood aghast as Obama defied their recommendations. The shock was understandable as the militarized Burmese state was infamous for persecuting anyone who was not a Buddhist. In addition to stripping many non-Buddhists of their Burmese citizenship, ethnic minorities were often denied the right to marry, be educated, or have children.
Suffice it to say, Myanmar was not about to win the Best Global Citizen award. In 2016, 46 human rights groups joined together lambasting President Obama’s announcement and pleading with him to reconsider. According to the UN Refugee Agency, by February 2016 there were “1.53 million people of concern” who the Myanmar government treated as displaced or stateless, despite a history of living there for centuries.
Nonetheless, Obama was determined to transpose his image of democracy in Myanmar over the reality of a brutal military dictatorship.
Obama was not even out of office when the Burmese military reportedly began the aerial bombing of churches and schools in December 2016. In Myanmar’s northern Kachin State, when the military isn’t bombing and burning churches, they are infamous for committing torture, rape, and other crimes to brutalize the locals who are 90 percent Christian. But this is just part of the backdrop of Christian persecution in Myanmar. Church burning is reported in the southeast, where the Karen ethnic minority lives. And, if a Christian church plays music too loudly, the military encourages local citizens to join them in beating the Christians.
Leading up to Obama’s sanction lifting, more than 100,000 refugees had been recently “displaced” to a refugee camp on the Myanmar-Chinese border, while 200,000 Rohingya had already fled along the coastline.
Unfortunately for the Rohingya, Obama’s peaceful fairy tale about Myanmar continued to unravel at warp speed. With sanctions lifted, the Burmese military quickly acted to expel, persecute, or kill their country’s ethnic and religious minorities, the most hated of which were the Rohingya.
Which brings us to the most severe and violent actions of the Burmese military that began along the coastline on August 25, 2017. The Burmese military kicked-off a plan to expel the Rohingya population that lived along beautiful, oil-rich coastline in Rakhine State. On that fateful August day, according to a report by the U.S. State Department, the military began by surrounding the first of hundreds of Rohingya villages.
They tried to kill able-bodied males, while separating out females. The females were pulled out in groups of five to six and raped by several soldiers at a time. Their babies were killed in the most brutal of ways. In some towns, babies were thrown into fires. In other towns, babies were cut in pieces and thrown into rivers, or babies were simply thrown into the water still alive. As the military left, they burned the villages, and any trace of the Rohingyas’ existence.
Today, the Burmese military has expelled 90 percent of the Rohingya population in Rakhine State and they are building modern-day concentration camps for any remaining Rohingya.
The time for a red line is now. If Myanmar can get away with persecuting, killing, and expelling their ethnic minorities, we must expect that other bad actors will do the same. It’s time to fix the error of Obama’s ways. The U.S. Congress should vote to sanction Myanmar and see how the frost of genocide feels on their sanctioned Burmese carcasses.
Nicolee Ambrose serves as the Spokeswoman for the Interfaith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma and the statewide elected National Committeewoman for Maryland, thereby serving on the Republican National Committee. Nicolee served as a presidential appointee at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration from 2002-2008 for the George W. Bush administration.