Jewish Leaders' Letter to Under Secretary Sigal P. Mandelker

August 22, 2019

Dear Under Secretary Mandelker,

We, the undersigned 20 organizational leaders, are the leaders of Jewish organizations and supporters of the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network (JRJN), a consortium of Jewish organizations who have come together to advocate for the rights of the Rohingya people. Together, we collectively represent tens of thousands of American Jews across the country in advocating for a swift U.S. response to the Rohingya crisis.

As we mark the second-year anniversary of the continued campaign of genocide against the Rohingya people of Burma this August 25th, we are reminded of the State Department’s report released in September 2018 that documented the atrocities in Northern Rakhine State. This report attests that the violence against the Rohingya people was “extreme, large-scaled, widespread” and “well-planned.” Additionally, the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar recommended that “top military leaders” be investigated and prosecuted for “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” 

As Jews—a people who have long faced religious and ethnic persecution ourselves—the suffering, mass murder, and forced displacement of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya community speaks deeply to us and compels us to act.

Our fight to stop the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya people reminds us of your own words at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance Ceremony this April, in which you highlighted the human rights violations that occurred during the Holocaust and the importance of the U.S. decision to freeze the assets of those who were committing these heinous acts. 

We strongly agree with you that “whether in the 1940s or today, it is imperative that we continue to come together as a community to participate, to be seekers, to have courage” and to “use the full force of our diplomatic might” against despots and dictators.

We saw this courage in action when the U.S. government, through your leadership, sanctioned five Burmese military officials and two military divisions thus far under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. In part due to this pressure from the United States, the Burmese military has quietly retired several military leaders, including Maung Maung Soe and Aung Kyaw Zaw, who had been sanctioned. However, reports indicate that the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people are ongoing, and the main architects of this violence have not been designated under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act by the United States.

We were heartened to see the State Department’s recent public designations that made these architects (the most senior-level Burmese military officials) and their immediate family members ineligible for entry into the United States under the authority granted by Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Act. While we welcomed this as an important step toward justice and accountability, this alone is not sufficient.

Only through continued pressure can we address the crimes of the Burmese military.

With that in mind, we encourage you, as the Department of Treasury’s lead for international sanctions, to continue to direct your staff to prioritize the pursuit of full justice and accountability for the Rohingya people and all ethnic and religious minorities in Burma.

We urge you to advise the Secretary of Treasury to designate the most senior Burmese military leaders who have knowingly played a direct and significant role in the commission of gross violations of human rights against the Rohingya people, pursuant to available authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Public Law No: 114-328 and E.O 13818). Several senior Burmese military officials have yet to have their assets frozen by the United States, despite extensive documentation of their key roles in the atrocities. These individuals include those publicly designated by the State Department—Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Vice-Senior General Soe Win, Brigadier-General Aung Aung, and BrigadierGeneral Than Oo—and others who have played a direct role in the atrocities, such as Chief of the General Staff Mya Tun Oo. In addition, Burma’s military-owned enterprises, including the Myanmar Economic Corporation and Union of Myanmar Economic Holding, should also be sanctioned under relevant statutory authorities.

These actions would limit the financial resources relied upon by the Burmese military to consolidate power and continue their heinous genocidal operations against civilians. This will be an effective next step toward justice for the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities in Burma.

The United States must display moral courage and leadership and use its power to secure justice and accountability for the Rohingya people. We encourage you to send a strong message to those who are responsible for international crimes and continued persecution of ethnic and religious minorities.

The world needs American leadership now, more than ever, and we are grateful to you for using your leadership to stop this genocide.


20 Jewish Organizational leaders

Related Posts

Passover 2024: The Three Central Messages of Pesach

The Exodus story is the master narrative of the Jewish people. As most of us know, it tells the story of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and the rise of Moses as their liberator. It reminds us that in 2024, the universality of Passover's three-part message again reverberates through the generations: freedom, love, and justice.