US Lawmakers Criticize Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma

Rohingya women hold their children at the Khaung Dokkha camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Arakan State, April 22, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Rohingya women hold their children at the Khaung Dokkha camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Arakan State, April 22, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — US lawmakers reviewed the “troubling” state of human rights in Southeast Asia on Wednesday and stiffly criticized Vietnam and Cambodia. But they reserved some of their toughest words for Burma, demanding an end to US concessions to its quasi-civilian government.

The Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, likened conditions faced by minority Muslims in western Burma to concentration camps. A Democratic lawmaker questioned whether there were signs of genocide.

The hearing indicated congressional goodwill toward Burma’s government has been exhausted, and criticism of the Obama administration’s forward-leaning engagement policy has intensified.

Royce pronounced the outlook for human rights in Southeast Asia, a region of 620 million people, as “very troubling.” The committee’s top-ranking Democrat Eliot Engel said that as the US looks to deepen its strategic interests in the region, promoting rights “is the right thing to do and it’s also the smart thing to do.”

While no lawmakers mentioned Wednesday’s presidential election in Indonesia that the White House lauded as sign of its maturing democracy, the seven congressmen who spoke found plenty to criticize in region. They took aim at suppression of dissent and religious freedom in Vietnam, the strong-arm tactics of Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen, and the military takeover in Thailand.

Conservative and rights advocate, Republican Rep. Chris Smith, said, “Vietnam is in a race to the bottom with the likes of China and even North Korea.” He criticized the leader of the Democratic-led Senate for failing to allow a vote on a bill that has repeatedly passed the House and would impose sanctions on Vietnamese officials complicit in rights abuses.

On Cambodia, Engel said the ruling party of Hun Sen, who has led the country for almost three decades, has tightened its “chokehold” on the media, silenced human rights advocates and failed to stop illegal land grabs. Royce said the ballot count in last year’s flawed national elections was “truly preposterous.”

Former senior State Department rights official, Lorne Craner, recommended that the US avoid high-level contacts with Cambodia’s government until it resolves its dispute with the main opposition bloc that is boycotting Parliament as it presses its demand for an independent investigation into election irregularities.

Democratic Rep. David Cicilline joined several lawmakers in condemning the treatment of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims. Some 140,000 Rohingya have been displaced and corralled in camps after bearing the brunt of vicious outbreaks of sectarian violence involving majority Buddhists, while tens of thousands more have fled the country.

He questioned whether there was an “element of genocide in the attacks against the Rohingya population.” Rights advocate and former Democratic congressman Tom Andrews, who has visited the strife-hit Arakan State, testified he thought there was, and that attacks were systematic and done with the support of the government.

Burma dismisses that notion, and President Thein Sein has vowed serious actions against perpetrators of sectarian violence. But amid fears of rising nationalism ahead of 2015 elections, the former general has also recently been criticized by the State Department for proposing discriminatory legislation, including a law to restrict interfaith marriage.

Royce demanded an immediate cessation of nascent US military-to-military cooperation with Burma until the persecution of minorities ends, and his Democratic counterpart echoed the desire for a more circumspect outreach to the country, which has been rewarded with rapid sanctions relief and massive aid in the past two years.

“We need to see real progress from Burma’s leaders on these human rights issues before we provide the military-led government with any further concessions,” Engel said.

4 Responses to US Lawmakers Criticize Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma

  1. Its a routine job always for the Republican dominated US Congress to denounce the Burmese state and government , since the Cold War era. I consider that this is another tactic to persuade the American people that they the Republicans are always in touch with the political problems and that President Obama and The Democrats are just being duped by the Myanmar State and the Generals . But the America people I am sure will understand that the ordinary people of Myanmar are trying its capable best to achieve peace, prosperity and stability in their own country and that the political, social and economic realities in Myanmar are in comparison to other troubling “hot spots” in the World are of not of alarming proportions. We the Burmese know from experience , who are friends are and will through our own efforts overcome the “unecessary constraints ” and ‘The residual problems of the past ” by our own will and human resources. WE are Burmese.

  2. Mr. Ed Royce,

    You don’t understand this problem and therefore, your judgement is biased. Instead of blaming us, why not create a land in inhabited area of your country for them. You had robbed the land from the native Indians and your forefathers had promoted genocides to eliminate them all. Now, as a repentance you should do that for other unfortunate people. Our country is very small to accommodate them. I encourage you to take serious consideration to give them 52nd state of United States of America.

  3. Thailand also must spare national budget to take care of refugees from neighboring countries since after the Cold War even until now mostly caused by US global intervention policies. If the US wants to take care of them so much, please quickly let them migrate to your country to show your great munificence and humanitarianism.

  4. Dear Mr. Patrick,

    Your knowledge is very limited, please do not angry. I want you to study more and more. Arakan was established by Areeyan, these Areeyan peoples are migrated from Persia and Northern India in those days of 5th to 6th centuries and estabished Vissali Dynasty in Arrakan ( in those day Arakan was written with double R ).

    Present Arakanese peoples are mixed with Tibetto-Burman tribe. So they have no connection and blood relation with Areeyan. At present their language itself is Myanmar language mixed with Pawrana Sansicrit whivh originated from Bangol lantguage.

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