Thank you, Madam President, and congratulations again on your presidency. Thank you to our co-leads, Kuwait, the United Kingdom, and Peru, for their work arranging the visit. I’d also like to thank the Governments of Kuwait, Bangladesh, and Burma for hosting the Security Council.
It was absolutely critical for the Security Council to see the crisis in Rakhine State and the challenges facing Rohingya refugees first-hand. One of the main reasons for the trip is the continuing, disheartening response from the Burmese government. Judging from the reaction of the government and the Burmese military, it seems like they have failed to acknowledge their role in this crisis. This is unacceptable and unsustainable if we’re going to make any progress in ending the violence in Rakhine State.
We are thankful to the Government of Bangladesh for everything it has done to support the Rohingya refugee population and its willingness to work with the UN agencies to meet their needs. International support for humanitarian assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh is more critical now than ever before. We must continue to support them.
More than that, we must have the will as a Council to do something now. Time is not on our side. The monsoon season has already begun and is putting hundreds of thousands of refugees at further risk. We must continue to work with Bangladesh and UN agencies to ensure the refugees have what they need as the rain begins to fall, flooding the land beneath their feet, and eroding the hills in which they shelter. We cannot allow these refugees to remain in unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
The ultimate solution does not lie in Bangladesh. It is for the refugees to return to their homes and their own land. We, the Security Council, must remain focused on creating the conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of the Rohingya and all displaced communities to their places of origin in Burma.
We are glad to see some cooperation between the Governments of Bangladesh and Burma toward this goal, but the ultimate responsibility for creating these conditions rests squarely with Burmese authorities. We appreciate the transparency the Burmese demonstrated during the visit. However, Burma must do far more to accept its responsibilities and take the steps needed to end this crisis. Burma must work with the international community to focus on real solutions. This means putting their energy toward working with the UN and others to create the conditions on the ground that will reassure Rohingya who fled that they will be safe to return in a dignified and voluntary manner.
Justice is an essential precondition for the voluntary return of refugees. It is important for Burma to cooperate with credible, independent investigations into reports of atrocities. There needs to be accountability for the perpetrators, including those in the security services. Impunity cannot continue to be the order of the day.
As part of this effort, the Burmese government should allow access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission and restore access for the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma. Burma must also demonstrate respect for the fundamental human rights of Rohingya, including respecting their freedom of movement and their freedom of religion.
They must address the conditions that are causing people to continue to flee Rakhine State. Burma needs to do more to address the root causes of the crisis by comprehensively implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, including those related to citizenship. Burma also needs to recognize the scope of the physical and logistical challenges involved in creating the proper conditions for safe, dignified, voluntary, and sustainable returns for more than one million refugees. No country could handle this challenge alone, and Burma should accept the expert help that the UN mandated agencies have offered. The United States stands ready to support Burma in addressing both the immediate crisis as well as the long-term solution.
A democratic, pluralistic government that protects the rights of all minority communities, including the Rohingya, is the only sustainable solution. As a sign of good faith, Burma should immediately sign the Memorandum of Understanding with UNHCR and UNDP. Burma should also allow the UN and all other humanitarian partners immediate and unhindered access into Rakhine State. This is critical to build the confidence of not only the international community but of the refugees.
The Burmese government should provide immediate and unhindered access to Rakhine State for media as well, and provide for the protection of press freedoms, including the safety of journalists. We again call for the Government of Burma to release the two Reuters journalists who remain jailed and on trial for simply reporting on and documenting atrocities in Rakhine State.
The active involvement of the Security Council is essential to bring an end to the Rohingya crisis. We know what we need to do and cannot allow politics and short-term economic interests to keep us from doing what is right. We have unique tools to encourage Burma to take real steps towards resolving this crisis, and we must use them. We should move quickly to adopt a resolution that institutes real steps to resolve this enormous, and growing, humanitarian and human rights crisis. That, too, will be a challenge, as some members of the Council have kept us from taking action for cynical and self-interested reasons. Some undermined the unity the Council demonstrated during the trip with unhelpful edits that only weakened the Council’s message.
We have all heard horrifying accounts of what the Rohingya people have suffered – what “ethnic cleansing” means to those on the ground. Now members of the Council have seen with their own eyes what this crisis has wrought. That leaves us with no choice but to act now.