The U.S. State Department will undergo an “assessment of policy” towards Myanmar as a response to the continuing Rohingya crisis, officials said Tuesday.
The department said in a statement that it was considering “economic options” to target Myanmar for the atrocities against the Muslim Rohingya. Just last year, the United States government lifted unrelated decades-long sanctions against the country.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony on the matter.
“In recent weeks we’ve witnessed the appalling images of the atrocities being committed by the Burmese military against the Rohingya minority,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. “We continue to hear the truly heartbreaking accounts of human suffering.”
Corker said the panel’s first priority is the humanitarian situation for more than 500,000 refugees who have so far fled to Bangladesh. The senator said he is “shocked and dismayed” at Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi dismissing U.S. concerns.
“Her failure to acknowledge the seemingly systematic campaign of brutality by the Burmese military continues to undermine the civilian government in Burma’s democratic transition as a whole,” Corker said. “The United States should not abandon Burma, however, it may be time for a policy adjustment.”
Rohingya Muslims, based in Myanmar’s Rakhine province, have suffered widespread violence in recent months — which has prompted more than 600,000 to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the atrocities amount to ethnic cleansing.
“This is an ethnic cleansing,” Sen. Ben Cardin said. “Half of the population of the Rohingya have left. There has been a systematic burning of their villages. This didn’t just start, it has been a campaign that has gone on for a very long time.
“I think its genocide… that’s what’s happening!”
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he would urge the United States to label the situation as world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have — as genocide and ethnic cleansing.
State Department officials previously said they are exploring “accountability mechanisms available under U.S. law” related to human rights penalties — including those available under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the United States to freeze assets and impose visa bans on Myanmar authorities or security officials.
Myanmar, a former-pariah state that only recently has been reintegrated into the global economy, could suffer enormously under new U.S. sanctions.
By Sara Shayanian