Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you Mr. Grandi and Mr. Jenča for your briefings.
The news reports from Burma have long been brutal and heart-breaking. Because of the lack of access granted by the Burmese government, few reports get out. But those that do are simply horrifying. The Associated Press recently told the story of Kadir, a Rohingya man from the village of Gu Dar Pyin. Kadir and 14 of his friends were choosing sides for a game of a traditional Burmese sport when the Burmese military began shooting. Survivors reported that more than 200 soldiers descended on the village, burning homes and shooting anyone who couldn’t get away. Kadir got away. But only he and two friends survived the shooting. When he returned to the village six days later, Kadir found his teammates partially buried in mass graves. In all, there were reportedly five mass graves.
The Burmese government regularly denies the existence of massacres and mass graves and claims to be fighting “terrorists.” But what Kadir found that day indicated that the military knew what it was doing was wrong – and didn’t want the world to know. To his horror, Kadir saw that not only were his friends dead, but their faces had been burned away with acid. Some had been disfigured by bullet wounds. The Burmese soldiers had also burned away the hands of the dead so the bodies couldn’t be identified.
The AP reporters who uncovered these atrocities deserve our thanks and praise. It is neither easy nor safe to report from Burma these days.
Two Reuters reporters uncovered evidence of another massacre and mass grave in a fishing village last September – and they paid for it with their freedom. They reported that the police ordered villagers to participate in the killing, dismemberment, and burial in a mass grave of ten Rohingya men and boys. Witnesses said that some were still alive when they were thrown into the grave. The police claim that they were acting in self-defense, that the Rohingya men attacked them. But the reporters compiled evidence – including photos – that contradicted the police. And for the crime of reporting the truth, the Burmese government arrested and imprisoned the reporters. They remain incarcerated in Burma without bail. We strongly call for their immediate and unconditional release.
Like the soldiers in Gu Dar Pyin, powerful forces in the Burmese government have denied the ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State. To make sure no one contradicts their preposterous denials, they are preventing access to Rakhine to anyone or any organization that might bear witness to their atrocities, including the UN Security Council. And the result is that they are denying access to many organizations that the displaced and starving in Burma desperately need today.
Even before the violence started, malnutrition was a serious problem in Rakhine State. But now there are reports from Rohingya who have found refuge in Bangladesh that the military’s actions are leading a campaign of purposeful starvation, forcing more families out of the country. Homes are being looted. Farmers are being denied the ability to harvest their crops. Girls and women are being abducted into sexual slavery.
We have urged Burma to work with the United Nations and its agencies to allow the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations immediate and unhindered access to Rakhine State. We repeat that call today, with even more urgency. The need for humanitarian aid in Burma is dire, and it is immediate.
The leader of Burma has been internationally celebrated in the past for her commitment to peace and to her fellow man. If any of that love of humanity can still be found in the Government of Burma, it must act now. And the least it can do is allow humanitarian groups access to those who are suffering. It costs the government nothing to allow food to the starving, medical care to the wounded, and psychological services to the sexually abused.
The world is watching and waiting for Burma to act. What we have seen so far is cruel and barbaric. To top it off, they have the gall to blame the media. Unhindered media access is vitally important. Journalists like the two imprisoned Reuters reporters are an indispensable source of information.
I also call on the Secretary-General to quickly appoint a Special Envoy for Burma. And I call on the Burmese government to allow a UN fact-finding mission and the Special Rapporteur into the country. Without the media and UN personnel in Burma to shed light on the crimes being committed, there is no hope for justice for the victims.
We are grateful to the people and Government of Bangladesh for hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees. We understand the burden that it creates, and we ask Bangladesh to continue to work closely with UNHCR and other international organizations to ensure that repatriations of refugees are voluntary. We ask that they continue to ensure the safety and security of both those who choose to relocate or those who do not.
But in the end, real progress depends on an end to the terror and the killing. We cannot expect – nor should we ask – refugees to return to Burma until it is safe to do so. They must be confident that they will not fall victim to the same horrors that drove them from their homes in the first place. And right now, these refugees don’t have this confidence. Many are too scared to return to their country.
The Government of Burma – and the Government of Burma alone – has the power and the moral obligation to correct this. It must create the conditions to assure refugees that they can safely return to their villages and their homes.
Burma and Bangladesh have had substantive discussions on repatriation – and that’s a good thing. But we can talk forever and not make progress as long as the military and the government continue to make living in Burma a death sentence for the Rohingya people.
I am profoundly grateful to my colleagues from the United Kingdom for arranging this meeting today. There are powerful forces at work trying to cover up the unspeakable horror taking place in Burma. But we owe it to both the victims and the rest of the Burmese people to demand transparency, access, and accountability.
We need to honor the bravery of the Buddhist village elder who provided Reuters with horrific photographs of the atrocities at Inn Din because, in his words, “I don’t want it to happen like that in the future.” We need to honor his hope for a better Burma, one in which such behavior is not tolerated against any person or group.
Unfortunately, the Security Council has so far failed in its responsibility to act in response to the clear threat to international peace and security that has resulted from recent events in northern Rakhine State. We cannot look the other way in this situation. What happened in Burma and is still happening in Burma is not okay. This Council must hold the military accountable for their actions and pressure Aung San Suu Kyi to acknowledge these horrific acts are taking place in her country. No more excuses.
I urge my colleagues to seize this opportunity to end our inaction and live up to our responsibilities as members of this Security Council. I call on all nations to join the United States in doing more than just demanding an end to the atrocities in Burma, but actually taking the steps we know are needed to put this crisis on the path toward solution.