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Indiana Senator calls on US to address crises in Myanmar



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Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., takes questions after ABC calls the U.S. Senate race in Indiana for Mike Braun on Nov. 6, 2018 at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis.  Matt Begala Buy Photos

A bipartisan group of 22 U.S. senators, including Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., introduced a resolution Jan. 29 calling for the Myanmar government to make it safe for Rohingya refugees to voluntarily return to their homes in Myanmar and extend them citizenship. 

“With all of the crises in the world, some Americans might ask why we should care,” a spokesperson for Young said in an email. 

Young believes the U.S. has a responsibility to respond to global atrocities like the violence in Myanmar, the spokesperson said. 

The United Nations and the United States Holocaust Museum have called the conflict a genocide.

The Rohingya people are an ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar, but they are not recognized by the government as one of the country’s more than 135 ethnic groups. 

The U.N. considers the Rohingya a stateless group, meaning they are not legally recognized as being part of any nationality, and has called them “the most persecuted minority in the world.

“Burma is maybe the most ethnically complicated country on earth,” said David Williams, a professor in the IU Maurer School of Law and executive director of the Center for Constitutional Democracy at Maurer. 

The IU center, including Williams, is helping advise peace talks in Myanmar to end the violent conflict that began in 1948 when the country became independent and revise their constitution, Williams said. 

He said the feelings of hostility between ethnic groups in Myanmar are common when there is political unrest in a country because people feel anxious and look for someone to blame. 

In the Rakhine State of Myanmar, arson, murder and rape targeted at Rohingya people broke out in August 2017, according to the U.N. More than 725,000 Rohingya refugees fled between August 2017 and August 2018, mostly to nearby Bangladesh.

Williams said while he thinks countries like the U.S. and China can exert some pressure on the Myanmar government to improve the situation, a foreign government won’t be able to resolve the conflict.

“Powerful people in Burma don’t want to take a brave stand on this subject,” he said. “In the end, there’s very little a foreign government can do to make local politicians be brave.”

More than 25,000 Myanmaris, including Rohingya refugees, currently live in Indiana, according to the Burmese American Community Institute in Indianapolis. This makes Indiana home to one of the largest populations of refugees and immigrants from Myanmar in the country.

IU has a rich tradition of supporting the people of Myanmar, including through the Center for Constitutional Democracy and partnerships with the Burmese American Community Institute, said Elaisa Vahnie, executive director of the institute.

Vahnie came to IU from Myanmar in 2003 after receiving a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State.

Indiana politicians also have a strong history of supporting the people of Myanmar. Former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., promoted democracy in Myanmar throughout his 36 years in the U.S. Senate.

Vahnie said he thinks the focus of both Myanmar and the international community should be on finding long-term solutions. 

He said he thinks getting humanitarian aid to the Rohingya refugees is a short-term priority. In the long run, the Myanmar government needs to create a safe environment for the Rohingya people to voluntarily return to their homes, he said. 

Williams has been working with Myanmar through the Center for Constitutional Democracy for 17 years, he said. 

He said he thinks the conflicting groups in Myanmar are closer to coming to a peace accord now than they have been in the last 17 years, but the work will likely continue for the next five to 10 years.

“That’s when things are going to happen,” Williams said.

The Senate resolution also calls for the release of imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were sentenced to seven years in prison in September 2018 in Myanmar for reporting on murders of Rohingya people committed by Myanmar government security forces.

“The continued detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo only underscores the Burmese military’s efforts to conceal the atrocities they have committed,” Young said in a statement. 

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