Bipartisan group of Senators introduces resolution calling for release of imprisoned reuters journalists and safe repatriation of Rohingya

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced today that a bipartisan group of Senators has introduced a new resolution calling for the immediate release of imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as well as for accountability and safe repatriation of refugees in the wake of Burma’s atrocities against the Rohingya minority. Lone and Soe Oo were recently sentenced to seven years in prison for their work reporting on massacres that Burmese security forces carried out against the Rohingya.

The resolution was sponsored by U.S. Senators Merkley, Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Todd Young (R-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

“It has been more than a year and a half since the Burmese military began its scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya,” said Merkley.“Burma’s human rights violations and persecution of a free press are hallmarks of authoritarian rule, not a fledgling democracy. We cannot allow this to stand. The plain truth is that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were prosecuted not for committing any crimes, but simply for doing their jobs. We hope the entire Senate will join us in pressing for full transparency and accountability on the Rohingya crisis, ensuring that any repatriation of the Rohingya is safe and voluntary, and calling for the immediate release of these brave journalists.”

“It is critical that the Burmese government answer for its human rights violations against the Rohingya, releases unconditionally Reuter’s journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and makes significant policy reforms for the future of its country and its people. What I saw when I visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and their razed villages in Burma was jarring and called out for a global response. It is clear that the U.S. must help lead on this issue, and continue to press for the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingya to their homes,” said Durbin.

“The campaign of atrocities committed against the Rohingya people by Burmese security forces has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. As a result of their efforts to bring these brutal acts of violence to light, two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been wrongly imprisoned,” said Collins. “Our resolution would hold the Burmese military accountable for its horrific actions and calls for the immediate release of these two innocent reporters.”

“For decades, the Rohingya people in Burma have experienced severe persecution, including denial of citizenship, property confiscation, economic marginalization, and violence,” Kaine said.“Repatriation of Rohingya refugees must be done in a safe, dignified, and humane manner, and the government of Burma must immediately release all journalists and drop the charges against them.”

“Burma must immediately address their human rights violations – including their treatment of the Rohingya population and the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” said Van Hollen. “Burma’s persecution of the Rohingya people is cause for global alarm – and without the dedicated reporting of these two journalists the outside world may have remained in the dark. Justice must be brought to Burma immediately – and we cannot rest until that is achieved. I hope the Senate will immediately pass this resolution and underline the United States’ commitment to seeking justice.”

“Burma’s military perpetrated one of the worst human rights violations in recent history and the international community must hold those responsible accountable,” said Brown. “We must work together to demand safe return for the Rohingya minority and the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, journalists who told world what was truly happening on the ground. Supporting a vibrant, independent, and proactive press corps, in our country and across the world, has rarely been more important.”

“Burma’s human rights abuses and attacks on journalists are horrifying. I have heard firsthand from the Rohingya community in Oregon about the abuses they endured and their worries about their loved ones still in Burma,” Wyden said. “The United States Senate must send a strong signal to the world that it will defend a free press—at home or abroad—and that the atrocities against the Rohingya minority demand accountability and transparency.”

In the summer of 2017, the Burmese military began a scorched-earth campaign in Northern Rakhine State that killed thousands of Rohingya and forced 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh for safety. In the time since, the Government of Burma has failed to create the conditions that will allow for the safe repatriation of the Rohingya, including extending the right of citizenship to this long-persecuted group. The United Nations and the United States Holocaust Museum have found that the Burmese security forces’ actions constitute genocide, but the United States has not yet made a formal determination.

Specifically, the Senators’ resolution calls for:

·         The U.S. Secretary of State to make a determination whether the actions by the Burmese military constitute crimes against humanity or genocide; and to work to impose targeted sanctions on senior Burmese military officials, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

·         The Government of Burma to allow full access to Rakhine State and ensure the full participation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in any repatriation plan so that the plan is voluntary, safe and dignified, and includes the voices of refugees. The resolution also recognizes that any forced relocation of Rohingya refugees into temporary settlements, internally-displaced persons camps, or “model villages” would be unacceptable.

·         The government of Burma to nullify the convictions against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo; for the similar charges pending against other journalists to be dropped; and for the immediate and unconditional release of these journalists.

·         The United States to maintain funding and support for humanitarian aid in Burma and Bangladesh.