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Responses by the United States to Attacks on the Rohingya in Burma


On November 22, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement addressing attacks on the Rohingya population in Burma:

[T]he key test of any democracy is how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as the ethnic Rohingya and other minority populations. Burma's government and security forces must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders, and hold accountable those who fail to do so.

… .

These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes in Burma to seek refuge in Bangladesh. After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

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1 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Efforts to Address Burma's Rakhine State Crisis (Nov. 22, 2017), at [] (emphasis added) [hereinafter Nov. 22 Press Release].

2 Exec. Order No. 13,047, 62 Fed. Reg. 28,301 (May 20, 1997); see also Crosby v. Nat'l Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 368–70 (2000) (describing legislation passed the previous year which underlay this executive order).

3 Exec. Order No. 13,310, 68 Fed. Reg. 44,853 (July 28, 2003).

4 Exec. Order No. 13,448, 72 Fed. Reg. 60,223 (Oct. 18, 2007).

5 Exec. Order No. 13,464, 73 Fed. Reg. 24,491 (Apr. 30, 2008).

6 Exec. Order No. 13,619, 77 Fed. Reg. 41,243 (July 11, 2012). See also John R. Crook, Contemporary Practice of the United States, 106 AJIL 858 (2012) (discussing the 2012 reduction of sanctions in more detail).

7 Exec. Order No. 13,742, 81 Fed. Reg. 70,593 (Oct. 7, 2016).

8 Removal of Burmese Sanctions Regulations, 82 Fed. Reg. 27,613 (June 16, 2017) (to be codified at 31 CFR pt. 537).

9 Wa Lone & Shoon Naing, At Least 71 Killed in Myanmar as Rohingya Insurgents Stage Major Attack, Reuters (Aug. 24, 2017), at

10 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Attacks in Rakhine State and Release of the Rakhine Advisory Commission Report (Aug. 25, 2017), at [].

11 Jeffrey Gettleman, Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire, N.Y. Times (Oct. 11, 2017), at; see also, e.g., Human Rights Watch, Rohingya Crisis, at A full investigation has yet to be conducted but estimates as of December 2017 put the death toll at 6,700 and the number of refugees at about 700,000. Richard C. Paddock, Reuters Publishes Account of Myanmar Massacre After Journalists’ Arrests, N.Y. Times (Feb. 10, 2018), at

12 Hannah Beech, Rex Tillerson Tells Myanmar Leaders to Investigate Attacks on Rohingya, N.Y. Times (Nov. 15, 2017), at See also Hannah Beech, Across Myanmar, Denial of Ethnic Cleansing and Loathing of Rohingya, N.Y. Times (Oct. 24, 2017), at (discussing more broadly the anti-Muslim sentiment in Burma that has contributed to denial of ethnic cleansing within the country). Although Aung San Suu Kyi is not formally the head of state, she is understood to be the leader of the civilian government in practice. See Jonathan Head, Rohingya Crisis: How Much Power Does Aung San Suu Kyi Really Have?, BBC News (Sept. 13, 2017), at The military retains enormous power within Burma, including within the Rakhine State. See id.

13 U.N. Rights Expert ‘Disappointed’ by Myanmar's Decision to Refuse Visit, UN News (Dec. 20, 2017), at

14 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Bangladesh Hosting of Rohingya (Sept. 9, 2017), at [].

15 S. Res. 250, 115th Cong. (2017). Other resolutions and bills introduced which condemn the attacks on the Rohingya include H.R. Res. 591, 115th Cong. (2017); H.R. Con. Res. 90, 115th Cong. (2017); S. Res. 360, 115th Cong. (2017); H.R. Res. 528, 115th Cong. (2017); H.R. 4223, 115th Cong. (2017); and S. 2060, 115th Cong. (2017).

16 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Accountability for Human Rights Abuses in Rakhine State, Burma (Oct. 23, 2017), at [].

17 Id.

18 Nov. 22 Press Release, supra note 1.

19 U.S. Dep't of Treas. Press Release, United States Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Across the Globe (Dec. 21, 2017), at [] [hereinafter Dec. 21 Press Release]. These sanctions were imposed pursuant to the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows the president of the United States to sanction “any foreign person the President determines, based on credible evidence” is “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, § 1263(a), Pub. L. No. 114-328, 130 Stat. 2533.

20 Dec. 21 Press Release, supra note 19.

21 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Designations Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Jan. 4, 2018), at [].

22 Nikki Haley, Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Burma (Feb. 13, 2018), at [] [hereinafter Haley Remarks].

23 Id. The U.S. government had previously called for the release of the two Reuters journalists in a State Department press release. U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Prosecution of Reuters Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (Jan. 10, 2018), at [].

24 Haley Remarks, supra note 22.

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