Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Feltman, for your briefing. And thank you, Ms. Patten, for your leadership and your service.
As we go through issues like this, it’s important that we hear stories. And when you hear the stories, you have to imagine the faces because otherwise it’s just a number. Or otherwise it’s just one more data piece that we didn’t know. But to understand that these are stories – and then you have to take it one step further and say, “What if this was your family?”
So to accompany Ms. Patten’s stories, I want to tell you about Jena. She’s a 10 year-old Rohingya refugee, and she’s lost everything. In Jena’s words, “I saw with my own eyes people who are killed by the military and chopped into pieces.” She continues, “They burned my house but not only my house. Every house next to my house was burning. We all ran from our houses, and together we fled…Anyone the military caught was slaughtered. After they were shot or stabbed, they were cut into many pieces, put inside plastic bins, and thrown in the river.”
Speaking with a reporter, Jena swallows her emotions, and says one more thing. “They shot him dead. They killed my father. I’m very sad that I lost my father.”
The pain and the suffering of these Rohingya are unimaginable. Over and over, we hear stories like Jena’s. The refugees tell us about security forces destroying their homes, gang-raping women, burning children, and killing people in the most twisted ways. It is for Rohingya children like Jena, and to learn all that we can of what happened, that we are here today. We must speak out for them and reject any attempt to play down the magnitude of this man-made tragedy. We must shine a spotlight on these accounts of ethnic cleansing.
The number of people who have fled from Burma in just over three months has now risen to 646,000 people – an average of more than 40,000 people per week. This is the fastest displacement of refugees since Rwanda. More people are dead and displaced inside Burma. Yet we still have not seen any concrete action to hold those responsible for these atrocities accountable. Instead, we see an investigation by the Burmese military that denies all responsibility. This is unacceptable.
Burma must allow an independent, transparent, and credible investigation into what has happened. Allowing full access for the UN Fact-Finding Mission to gather information and evidence from the ground is vital to accountability and a solution to the crisis. We cannot allow more time to pass. There is no denying that these atrocities, including ethnic cleansing, have taken place. The United States unequivocally condemns all acts of violence in Burma, including the horrific violence conducted by the Burmese security forces, who should be the ones protecting their own people.
What’s worse, if you ask the Rohingya if they want to go home, they’re too scared to go back. Before they can return, Burmese authorities must create an environment that is safe for people to return voluntarily to their homes. It is more than just a process; there must be a cultural change, which only Burmese leadership can do. While we are hearing promises from the Government of Burma, we need to see action. We call on Burma to work with the United Nations and its agencies and allow immediate and unhindered access to all humanitarian actors so that they can provide help to those who need it.
We continue to be grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for hosting such a large number of refugees. We also encourage Bangladesh to continue to partner more closely with UNHCR to address this challenge and ensure that survivors of sexual violence are receiving the support they desperately need.
We remain concerned that refugees in the camps are vulnerable to disease and human trafficking, among other dangers. So we hope the international community will step up to support the UN’s response.
Around here, we keep hearing that the situation in Burma is “complex” and that it will take time. But there are steps that we can take right now to help the Burmese people. We can demand that independent investigators be allowed to enter the country to help hold those responsible for atrocities accountable.
We can provide help to those who have been brutally attacked by members of the Burmese security forces. And we can speak out for the human rights of all people in Burma.
Our plea is simple: do what we can without delay, work diligently to see that every refugee is home safe, and urgently pursue justice for all of Burma to be made whole.