Rohingya refugees cross the Naf River with an improvised raft to reach to Bangladesh in Teknaf, Bangladesh on November 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

(Washington, DC) – The US Congress should adopt legislation to enhance targeted sanctions against Burmese military commanders who are implicated in serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to congressional leaders with 45 other nongovernmental and faith-based organizations.

The groups said it is “imperative” Congress address the human rights crisis in Burma. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and other rights groups have found that the atrocities against the Rohinyga amount to crimes against humanity. Important new measures to toughen targeted sanctions are pending with key congressional leaders. The legislation is needed to address the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Rohingya and the country’s sharply deteriorating human rights situation.

Sen. Jim Inhofe and Sen. Jack Reed during a March 13, 2018 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC.

© 2018 Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein

“More than 400 members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have agreed tougher measures are needed now to address the Burmese military’s crimes,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Congress needs to send strong sanctions legislation to the White House as soon as possible.”

The House of Representatives recently and overwhelmingly approved provisions for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that strengthen targeted sanctions on Burmese military officials who are implicated in serious human rights abuses. Similar language, supported by 22 Senators from both parties, was approved with unanimous bipartisan support by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Technical and procedural hurdles prevented the language from being included in the NDAA when approved by the full Senate.

Leaders in the House and Senate armed services committees, responsible for reconciling the two versions of the bill in “conference,” should now include the key provisions, the groups said.

The pending legislation would authorize targeted, appropriate measures against key individuals who bear responsibility for atrocities. It provides clear incentives for reforms to professionalize Burma’s military and reduce corruption, conflict, and abuses. It will also bolster Burma’s civilian leadership and help encourage it, the US administration, and concerned governments more broadly, to take additional steps to bring perpetrators of grave abuses to account.