More than 300 American Jewish organizations and communal leaders have signed a letter urging the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act, which targets the Burmese military in particular for its ongoing atrocities against the Rohingya people.
The letter, sent to the committee on Friday, argued that passage of the legislation “would send a powerful message to the Burmese military and the global community that the United States will not be silent or inactive in the face of mass atrocities.”
“We are horrified by the Burmese military’s relentless persecution of the Rohingya,” the letter continued. “In the past four months, the Burmese military has engaged in a scorched earth campaign, razing entire Rohingya villages. Soldiers have indiscriminately massacred Rohingya men, women, and children, and an estimated 600,000 people have fled on foot or by boat — a three-day trek from their burned villages — to refugee camps in Bangladesh.”
The letter declared: “We cannot remain silent as Jews, for whom the words ‘never again’ require us to act, nor as global citizens, in the face of senseless acts of brutality.”
Among the communal leaders who signed the letter were Robert Bank, president and CEO of the American Jewish World Service; Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League; Mark Bane, president of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities; and Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. A number of rabbis, Jewish studies scholars and Jewish Community Relations Council heads also signed the call.
The bill was introduced into the Senate last November by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, among them Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, and former vice-presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA.) The legislation spotlights the “systematic discrimination” against the Rohingya in Burma — a country also known as Myanmar.
Members of the Rohingya, a Muslim group that has endured decades of persecution, currently face “torture, unlawful arrest and detention, restricted movement, restrictions on religious practices, discrimination in employment, and access to social services,” the legislation noted.
Other religious groups have also been affected by the Burmese military’s operations against rebel factions. On Friday, the Christian news agency Morning Star News reported on a fresh offensive against rebels in Kachin state, where predominantly Christian, ethnic Kachin live, that displaced dozens of villagers and seriously injured two civilians on Christmas Eve.
“They launched attacks when Christmas approached – it happens almost every year,” Sin Gau, an assistant pastor at a church in northern Kachin state, told the agency.
American Jewish organizations have come together in the past to protest acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide around the world. In 2005, at the height of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, hundreds of communal buildings and synagogues displayed “Save Darfur” banners, while a mass community rally in Washington, DC in April 2006 attracted several high-level speakers, including Hollywood star George Clooney and then presidential-hopeful Sen. Barack Obama.
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