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
October 24, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President. I want to especially thank Mr. Darusman, Chairperson of the Fact Finding Mission. It is critically important that you are with us in the Security Council today for this briefing. One question that I would like to ask you at some point or when we can get an answer is, what is the status of the quality of life for the Rohingya that are still in Burma? And what is the government doing to protect them to make sure that this doesn’t happen to them as well?

U.S. President John Adams famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Nowhere is this more true than the facts of the atrocities committed by the Burmese security forces against Rohingya children, women, and men.

The last time the Security Council met to consider the situation in Burma I discussed the U.S. State Department’s report on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya at the hands of the security forces. The accounts were first hand. And the details were stomach turning. Women and girls raped. Villages razed. Babies tossed into fires.

Today, the source of the information is the UN Fact Finding Mission. The Government of Burma unfortunately refused to cooperate with the mission. The events reported in the Fact Finding Mission parallel those of the U.S. State Department report.

Once more, we are hearing about torture, mutilation, repeated massacres, gang rapes, and obliteration of entire villages – all perpetrated against the Rohingya minority by the Burmese security forces. And once again, there are those in this room who have repeatedly attempted to block the Security Council – and the world – from hearing about what is happening to the Rohingya in Burma.

But facts are stubborn things. And despite the best efforts of the Burmese government and its allies, the awful facts of the atrocities against Rohingya can’t be avoided by those who deny them.

I want to thank the members of the Security Council who voted for this report and this meeting to be transparent.

And I want to address the concerns of some members of the Security Council who feel that transparency about the crimes detailed in the report will somehow set back the cause of peace in Burma. They argue that being open and honest about the vicious treatment of Rohingya will increase the Burmese people’s resentment of them. They argue that what is needed in Burma is time and space.

We do not accept this logic. In fact, not only is it wrong, it’s backward. Time and space alone will not heal the wounds that have been opened in Burma. And covering up the crimes of the Burmese military and security forces will not allow that country to move forward.

Only accountability for the crimes against Rohingya will serve the cause of peace in Burma. This is not about finger pointing. It is about accepting the realities of what happened so that healing and accountability can occur.

We’ve all heard the excuses offered by those who have fought this briefing. They argue that the Security Council is not the appropriate place to discuss these atrocities. Our work, they say, is peace and security. Not human rights.

But the forcible movement of over 700,000 people across borders is undeniably a matter of international peace and security. Just ask the Bangladeshi government or the Rohingya themselves.

We are grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for its generosity hosting the total of more than one million Rohingya refugees. But this is not just Bangladesh’s problem. This is the region’s problem. This is our problem – all of us.

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, and Sweden have worked closely to keep the Security Council’s continued spotlight on the horrible atrocities in Burma. We have worked to hold the Burmese security forces accountable.

Now is the time to move on from focusing on the abuses to focusing on the abused. Despite the security forces’ claims to be acting against “terrorists,” the root cause of this crisis is the second-class status of Rohingya in Burma. In addition to the atrocities they suffered, the Fact Finding Report details the systematic repression of Rohingya by the government of Burma.

As noted during the briefing, security forces have detained Rohingya men and abducted women. Rohingya were subject to especially tight restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as freedom of religion. Some refugees have reported that the military threatened those who prayed – even at home – with beatings, arrest, and death. They also detailed cases of the military’s desecration of sacred texts, and some saw soldiers burning and urinating on Qurans.

It is the Burmese government that has both the power and the moral obligation to end this. The burden falls on them. Restrictions imposed upon the Rohingya, including on freedom of movement and religion, must end. The Burmese government must create a direct and credible path to obtaining citizenship for ethnic Rohingyas. The Burmese military must accept civilian rule. Its refusal to do so puts Burma at further risk of conflict and stunts its growth as a modern nation.

As the world rightly condemns the murder of a journalist in Turkey, we must not forget the outrageous imprisonment of the Reuters journalists in Burma. The United States continues to call for their immediate release.

There must be accountability for the crimes of the Burmese military and security forces – crimes that have been thoroughly and credibly documented.

And the same energy that has been put into fearing and isolating the Rohingya should be put towards educating and training them so that they can lead productive lives for their families and for the future of Burma.

Thanks to the work of the Fact Finding Mission, we all know what was done to the Rohingya. And we know who is responsible. We must now take the next steps to ensure that this never happens again.

Justice is due for the people who fled Burma in fear. Justice is due for those whose lives have been forever transformed by violence. Justice – not vengeance, not payback – is necessary for Burma to heal. The United States will continue to issue the call for justice, here and elsewhere, until all of the people of Burma are able to live in safety and dignity in their own country. This is the case for justice in Burma.

And before I end my remarks, Mr. President, I would like to say a final thing about how we do our jobs here at the United Nations. There are many ways we can choose to make our arguments to each other and the world. We can be civil, or we can be uncivil. We can choose to make a scene, or we can choose to treat the issues we care about with dignity and respect.

We are all aware – and none more so than you, Mr. President – of the way discussions of justice and human rights have been conducted in recent days, especially your behavior, that of your mission, and of the Cuban mission. It was a very poor reflection of the President of the Security Council. We are grateful that, this afternoon at least, you have chosen the path of civility and respect.

Thank you.