Letter to Secretary Tillerson on Rohingya Crisis

October 02, 2017

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
US State Department
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We write to you to express our horror and outrage at the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and to urge American leadership to respond to this crisis.

As an organization committed to fighting for equal treatment for all peoples, we are particularly sickened by reports and images of defenseless men, women and children being forcibly expelled from their homes and indiscriminately targeted for violence and death by Myanmar’s security forces. As Americans and Jews, we cannot stand silent in the face of the slaughter and expulsion of the Rohingya on the basis of their ethnicity and religion.

According to the United Nations, over half a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since the latest round of violence in August in Rakhine State. These reports indicate that the Burmese military and their associates are currently engaged in so-called “clearance operations” following deadly attacks on Burmese security forces by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). While ARSA’s attacks are also concerning, there is simply no justification for any response involving the collective punishment of an entire civilian population. Both the U.N. Secretary General and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have described these actions as “ethnic cleansing.”

Indeed, many fleeing Rohingya report having had their villages burnt to the ground by Burmese security forces and local mobs. There have also been reports of mass killings, and widespread rape and torture. While the exact death toll is not yet known, estimates are that hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Rohingya Muslims have been murdered, and over at third of Rohingya villages in the area have been cleared of civilians.

Mr. Secretary, there is mounting evidence that crimes being committed against the Rohingya are tantamount to genocide, something which requires immediate investigations both by the U.S. government and international community.

We welcome the State Department’s allocation of $32 million in relief to Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar and your efforts to press Burmese State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to take stronger action on the crisis. But given the severity of this crisis, we implore you to take more drastic action to quell the violence and combat these discriminatory abuses against the Rohingya.

This could include financial and other punitive measures against the Burmese security forces responsible for the violence, as well against specific government officials who have enabled these unconscionable abuses to perpetuate. We also encourage you to pressure the Burmese government to use its authoritative voice to publicly speak out against the violence, and provide much needed aid and assistance to the Rohingya.

Doing so appears necessary for stopping the violence, would make clear that the US won’t stand by idly while inhumane crimes are being committed against innocent people, and send an important message of solidarity and support for the Rohingya people.

Absent significant international pressure, the violence against the Rohingya will only worsen in the coming weeks and months. We urge you to act immediately.


Jonathan Greenblatt