In-Depth: Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced this bill to call for the release of the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and state Congress’ position that the Burmese military’s actions against the Rohingya were genocide:
“I remain absolutely horrified at the crimes the Burmese military committed against the Rohingya last Fall and the Burmese civilian government’s decision to wrongfully imprison Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. These journalists were imprisoned and silenced on trumped up charges for attempting to verify the facts of this genocide. As a co-chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, I am deeply disturbed that any journalist, much less ones from a highly respected news agency like Reuters, would face such shameful treatment. I join my colleagues in calling for their immediate release and urge the Trump Administration to continue to work toward that end. I also believe that it is time we call these atrocities against the Rohingya what they are: genocide. Pre-planned murders, gang rapes, the burning of villages, and many other gruesome and heinous crimes that cannot be discussed in a civilized setting make this self-evident. If this determination wasn’t obvious before, the recent report from the State Department on the crimes should leave little doubt in anyone’s mind. The perpetrators must be held accountable.”
Cosponsor Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) adds that Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw See Oo were framed, and should be celebrated as heroes, rather than jailed, for doing important reporting work:
“The Burmese government’s repression of free speech and colonial-era laws limiting a free press are inconsistent with democracy or the ideals that, for years, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy party has championed. Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were framed for reporting on what we know to be crimes against humanity that have all the hallmarks of genocide. A credible and competent international court should immediately prosecute Tatmadaw leaders for their complicity in these crimes. Professional journalism serves as a powerful tool against authoritarianism, tyranny and abuse. These journalists should be celebrated as heroes of justice, not silenced as traitors. I am proud to be the lead Democratic cosponsor of this resolution calling on State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint to pardon these journalists.”
Vice President Mike Pence has expressed sympathy for the Rohingya, stating that:
‘‘This is a tragedy that has touched the hearts of millions of Americans. The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse.’’
Vice President Pence has also expressed his support for the journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, tweeting:
“Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo should be commended—not imprisoned—for their work exposing human rights violations [and] mass killings. Freedom of religion [and] freedom of the press are essential to a strong democracy.’
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also expressed his assessment that the Rohingya in Burma were subjected to ethnic cleansing, stating on August 25, 2018 that:
“A year ago, following deadly militant attacks, security forces responded by launching abhorrent ethnic cleansing of ethnic Rohingya in Burma… The U.S. will continue to hold those responsible accountable. The military must respect human rights for Burma’s democracy to succeed.’’
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the quasi-civilian administration that took over Burma in 2016, has defended the jailing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who she says were “not jailed because they were journalists,” but rather because they had broken the Official Secrets Act. “If anyone feels that there has been a miscarriage of justice, I would like them to point it out.”
This bill has the support of 11 cosponsors, including seven Republicans and four Democrats PEN America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also support this bill.
Of Note: Beginning on August 25, 2017, the Burmese military and security forces, along with civilian mobs, carried out widespread attacks, rapes, killings, and the burning of villages throughout Rakhine State, resulting in approximately 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
In spring 2018, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) conducted a survey of the firsthand experiences of 1,024 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh. The survey’s goal was to document the atrocities committed against residents of Burma’s northern Rakhine State during the course of violence in the years 2016-2018. The survey found that the vast majority of Rohingya refugees experienced or directly witnessed extreme violence and the destruction of their homes, most often perpetrated by the Burmese military. The survey’s key findings were:
Most Rohingya witnessed a killing, two-thirds witnessed an injury, and half witnessed sexual violence.
Rohingya identified the Burmese military as a perpetrator in 84 percent of the killings or injuries they witnessed.
Three-quarters of respondents saw members of the army kill someone, and the same proportion say they witnessed the army destroying huts or whole villages. Police, unidentified security forces, and armed civilians carried out the rest of the observed killings.
One-fifth of all respondents witnessed a mass-casualty event of killings or injuries (either in their villages or as they fled) with more than 100 victims.
45 percent of refugees witnessed a rape, the majority of which were committed, in whole or part, by the army. Overall, nearly 40 percent of refugees saw members of the Burmese security services — either police or military — commit rapes. 18 percent of refugees saw members of the Burmese security services commit gang rapes.
Members of the security services, as well as non-Rohingya civilians in some cases, targeted children and pregnant women.
Those who were left behind because they were elderly, sick, or otherwise infirm were frequently found dead when their relatives returned to check on them.
The INR survey conclusively found that the violence committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and geared toward terrorizing the population and driving the Rohingya out.
In September 2018, a United Nations independent international fact-finding mission came to the same conclusions as the IHR survey. In its report, the mission reported that there were “consistent patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses” in Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan States, in addition to serious violations of international humanitarian law.. The UN report identified security forces, particularly the military, as the primary perpetrators of violence.
On December 12, 2017, journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested by Burmese security forces in a suburb of Yangon. They remain in custody to date. On September 3, 2018, Yangon Northern District Judge Ye Lwin ruled that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act during their investigation into the massacre in Inn Din and sentenced them each to seven years in prison with hard labor, despite admissions by the police under oath in court that the documents in question were planted with the journalists as a front for their arrest.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Suvra Kanti Das)