Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Burma

Ambassador Nikki Haley
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
August 28, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President, and welcome back to New York. We also want to thank Mr. Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General Gettu, and Ms. Blanchet I will just tell thank you for using the power of your voice in a time where the Rohingya have too few voices to fight for them, so we appreciate you being here.

One year ago this week, unspeakable violence was reaching its peak in Burma. A brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing was underway, one that ultimately resulted in over 700,000 Rohingya refugees exiled in camps in Bangladesh.

Now, thanks to the support of the U.S. Department of State, we have an official accounting of what these refugees witnessed – and what they suffered – before they were driven from their homes. The results are consistent with the recently-released UN Independent international fact-finding mission on Burma. The world can no longer avoid the difficult truth of what happened in Burma.

Let me warn everyone who is listening: the details of the crimes the Rohingya suffered in Burma are stomach churning. They are difficult to hear, and even more difficult to say. But the facts of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya must be said, and they must be heard.

The State Department report is eye-opening, even for those of us who think we have a good understanding of what has occurred in Burma over the past two years. It is based on interviews with 1,024 Rohingya refugees in camps throughout Cox’s Bazar refugee camp.

The interviews were conducted by a team of experienced international human rights investigators. The refugees interviewed were randomly selected.

In short, the methodology of this report is sound. And its conclusions are shocking: The first-hand accounts of the survivors reveal that a majority of the Rohingya directly experienced violence, either to their homes, to their families, or to both.

Most importantly, the report identifies one group as the perpetrator of the overwhelming majority of these crimes: the Burmese military and security forces.

The numbers tell just part of the story: Eighty-two percent of the refugees saw a killing. Eighty-two percent saw their homes or their villages destroyed. Sixty-five percent witnessed an abduction, arrest, or detention of a fellow Rohingya. Sixty-four percent watched a family member or a fellow villager injured.

And half of the Rohingya refugees – 51 percent – said they witnessed sexual violence. Fifty-one percent.

Forty-five percent specifically witnessed a rape. And behind the numbers, there are stories of almost unbelievable brutality.

In some areas, perpetrators used tactics that resulted in mass casualties. For example, locking people in houses to burn them, fencing off entire villages before shooting into the crowd, or sinking boats full of hundreds of fleeing Rohingya.

Rohingya men, women, and children were mutilated, dismembered, decapitated, and burned alive. Infants and children were not spared. Multiple witnesses saw soldiers throwing infants and small children into fires and burning huts, into rivers and into village wells.

The very young, the very old, and the sick who couldn’t escape during the attacks were burned inside their huts. The military and police went from house to house looking for girls and women. When they found them, they didn’t bother to hide what they were after. Women and girls were raped in the open, in public. Fully one-fifth of all the Rohingya surveyed witnessed more than 100 victims being killed or injured.

Let me say that again. Twenty percent of the randomly selected survivors of the violence saw a mass casualty event.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, and others have worked to keep the Security Council’s focus on the atrocities in Burma. We have worked to hold the Burmese security forces accountable. Many of us have heard the accounts of victims first hand. We’ve seen the sprawling refugee camps. And we’ve seen the bulldozed areas where villages once stood. We’ve seen where innocent human beings were raped, murdered, and burned alive for no other reason than their religious and ethnic identity.

Some have stood up to help ease the suffering and provide accountability to Burma. The United States recognizes the generosity of the Government and the people of Bangladesh. They have fed and sheltered nearly one million desperate people. Their generosity has saved countless lives.

The United States is the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya crisis, and we recognize the others who have given generously, as well. Beyond our humanitarian efforts are important efforts to demand accountability. In June, the EU and Canada sanctioned seven Burmese military officers for their roles in the violence.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned five Burmese military and border guard commanders and two units of the Burmese Army for their involvement in the ethnic cleansing and other human rights abuses.

But much more has to be done.

The UN must have full and unimpeded access to Burma to deliver humanitarian aid and development assistance. The media must have access to the country, including Rakhine State. A free and responsible press is critical for any democracy. We expect to see Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists facing trial for reporting the violence against the Rohingya, acquitted of all charges when a Burmese court renders their verdict next week.

The difficult path toward democracy must continue in Burma, and culminate in a military that is subordinate to the civilian government, not the other way around.

Here in the Security Council, we must hold those responsible for violence to account.

A responsive, democratic government that respects the rights of its minorities will not emerge in Burma until the government demonstrates that it is committed to accountability. We will suffer the shame that our predecessors did after Rwanda, after Srebrenica, if we do not act when the Burmese government falls short.

In one of his final acts of service, Kofi Annan led a commission that investigated the causes of the crisis in Burma. The commission recommended equal rights for all Burmese citizens. It called for all Burmese to have the opportunity to feed their families. It called for all the people of Burma to enjoy freedom of movement and have equal access of justice under the law.

The implementation of these recommendations would advance the dignity and security of all Burmese people.

Until then, none of us – not the members of the Security Council, not the Burmese military and civilian leaders, not other world leaders – none of us has the excuse of ignorance.

We are now all armed with the devastating eyewitness accounts of the Rohingya, which lead us to the following conclusions:

Children, babies, women and men suffered unspeakable crimes.

The attacks were planned, premeditated, and coordinated.

The perpetrator was the Burmese military and security forces.

The whole world is watching what we will do next, and if we will act.

Thank you.