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Engel Remarks on Burma Sanctions Bill & Other Measures

May 17, 2018
Press Release

- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a full committee markup. The committee considered seven measures, including Rep. Engel’s legislation the BURMA Act (H.R. 5819), which would hold accountable those responsible for violence against the Rohingya people in Burma.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this markup, and let me thank our colleagues for all the hard work on the measures we’re considering this morning.

“I’ll start with a bill I introduced. I want to thank the Chairman again for bringing it forward today. And I’m glad we’re going to address the ongoing tragedy in Burma.

“This crisis has been smoldering for years. The Rohingya in the northern part of Burma’s Rakhine state have endured hatred, bigotry, systematic discrimination. They’ve had their citizenship revoked and have pushed—been pushed to the margins of society.

“Last August, that fire began to burn out of control with the Burmese military’s violent crackdown on the Rohingya, driving nearly 700,000 people into Bangladesh—nearly 80 percent women and children—many of whom are now victims of horrific gender-based violence. Humanitarian workers expect up to 40,000 births resulting from rape in the refugee camps. That’s just horrific. It’s gut-wrenching.

“And shame on us. The United States has slammed the door on refugees, when Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries of the world, has welcomed these people with open arms. The Administration wants to slash resources for combating gender-based violence. It’s cut off funding for the UN Population Fund, which works in refugee camps to provide access to vital services—things so basic as making sure women have a safe place to shower. So no thanks to us.

“The UN has requested more than a billion dollars to meet needs just this year, funding which would provide round-the-clock, lifesaving assistance. But with the coming rainy season threatening to wipe out the rickety infrastructure around these desperate people, there’s no end for this tragedy in sight.

“So we need to do more to alleviate this crisis.

“We also need to remember: this crisis is man-made. It is ethnic cleansing. Many believe it is genocide. Nothing has been done to hold perpetrators accountable. The Burmese civilian government has become more closed, not more open, since this tragedy. And meanwhile our Administration seems reticent to hold perpetrators accountable and publicly call for justice.

“It’s unacceptable. It’s a betrayal of our values. When we see this sort of abuse, there must be consequences.

“My bill would dole out these consequences in the form of new sanctions against Burmese military and security forces involved. It would limit American military engagement with Burma’s military, promote civil society, push for political reform, and require a full accounting of what’s taken place. I’m grateful for the bipartisan collaboration in advancing this bill, and I ask all members for their support. And I thank the chairman for helping to push this bill forward.

“Next, I want to thank Chairman Yoho of the Asia Subcommittee and Congressman Lowenthal for bringing forward the Cambodia Democracy Act. I want to recognize Mr. Lowenthal, who is the lead Democratic cosponsor of H.R.5754, the Cambodia Democracy Act, who is here. He was once a member of the committee. And welcome back to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you.

“For far too often, we see authoritarian leaders following China’s lead, abandoning democracy in pursuit of short-term political gain. This bill makes existing sanctions permanent to hold Cambodia’s leaders accountable for their crackdowns on democracy and stripping the Cambodian people of their rights. I support this bill and I urge all members to do the same.

“Next, I’m a proud original cosponsor of the Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism Act. Every day, more and more alarming anti-Semitic attacks shock the world. And yet, the Special Envoy position is still vacant. That’s outrageous. We must have a senior official to push back against the intolerance and hatred of anti-Semitism. This bill would elevate the position and require the president to put forward a nominee no more than 120 days after a vacancy. American leadership is needed in the fight against anti-Semitism. The measure has my strong support.

“History has shown that failing to address anti-Semitism can lead to violence and genocide. It’s a foreign policy priority to prevent these tragedies. So I thank Representatives Wagner and Crowley for authoring the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which would improve our ability to prevent and respond to genocide and other horrific mass atrocities. Let’s work on harnessing American capabilities to stop these tragedies before they start. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.

“Next, let me thank Congressmen Poe and Kennedy for their bill, the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Enhancement Act. This bill works to improve the health, safety, and security of Peace Corps volunteers.  The Peace Corps represents America’s best values around the world—volunteers dedicate their time to promote people-to-people diplomacy and community-based development in far corners of the world. This is one of our most cost-effective efforts, and we should do everything we can to take care of these committed, young public servants.  I very much support this bill.

“I’m also glad to support the Intercountry Adoption Information Act. Too often, we hear heart-wrenching stories of American families whose adoption process was halted by a foreign government’s change in policy. These families are often left in the dark when these changes happen. This bill presents a straightforward fix, requiring the State Department to provide this information that affects prospective adoptive American families. 

“And lastly, I’d like to thank Mr. Castro for introducing the Protecting Diplomats from Surveillance Through Consumer Devices Act. This bill would help the Department of State prevent our adversaries from tracking American diplomats through their GPS-enabled devices. From fit-bits and smart watches to phones and cars, most of us have at least one tracking device with us at all times. Obviously, that can be a security risk. This common-sense measure would make sure the Department takes necessary steps to tackle this problem.

“These are all good measures in front of us today. I support them all. I thank the Chairman for his hard work. And I urge all members to support them as well. And I yield back.”

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