By Safvan Allahverdi
Targeted and partial sanctions will not stop Myanmar’s campaign of oppressing Rohingya Muslims, the head of a prominent U.S.-based organization advocating for Rohingya Muslims argued Monday.
Speaking at a Washington press conference, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, chairman of Burma Task Force USA, said Myanmar’s military would not end its constant attacks on Rohingya Muslims unless the U.S. and the UN impose full sanctions against Myanmar.
"Our request from America, the Senate, and the Congress is that they should pass a bill which requires full sanctions on Burma [another name for Myanmar], and they should use each and every means available," he said.
"Myanmar is not going to listen unless full economic sanctions are applied."
Over 656,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar's forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community, according to the UN.
The refugees, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, are fleeing a military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages.
According to Doctors Without Borders, at least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24.
In a report published on Dec. 12, the global humanitarian organization said that the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.
Mentioning how Myanmar’s current State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was also imprisoned for decades by its military, Mujahid said the military had to accept Suu Kyi as partial leader due to the U.S. sanctions.
This happened "because Myanmar's military-controlled economy felt the pain, which was caused by those sanctions," he stated, adding that food and medication should be the only things exempted from the sanctions.
New deal short on citizenship and ethnic rights
Shaukhat Ali, director of Rohingya American Society (RAS), also speaking at the press conference, strongly criticized last November’s agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on sending the Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, saying that it fails to properly address basic civil right issues, such as citizenship and ethnic rights.
"The only thing that is mentioned in the agreement is ‘Myanmar resident.’ This means temporary resident, and that they [the Rohingya] are not part of Myanmar. They do not belong to Myanmar. [Under the agreement] they are just visitors," said Ali.
"Myanmar’s government is purposely accepting these people back to avoid international pressure."
He stressed that the Rohingya refugees are not ready to go back to Myanmar unless their security is fully provided, their citizenship is restored, and they are allowed to live on their land without suffering any abuse.
"Unless these conditions are met, this is a game, throwing people out and accepting [them back],” he added.
“They throw out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people but they accept far fewer than that [back]. So each time more people are being thrown out and a smaller number is accepted back.
"That is how they wipe these people away."
In late November 2017, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement for the return of the Rohingya Muslims who crossed the border since late August.
Educating US lawmakers
"What we are trying to do here in Washington, is really to help better educate all the lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and Senate about what is going on in Rakhine state," Adam Marro, director of outreach at Burma Task Force, told Anadolu Agency.
Describing the group's work as "very successful," Marro said there has been a lot of interest about the situation of Rohingya Muslims particularly at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"They are very keen to help support us and we will continue to have those meetings especially for sanctions against Myanmar," Marro added.
"We want to make sure that we can get sanctions that are actually going to be felt and cause pain in Myanmar."
The Burma Task Force NGO was launched in 2013 by a number of prominent American Muslim groups.
Its stated objective is to stop perceived ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and educate Americans about the atrocities faced by Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.