VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren testified Wednesday before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on her experience reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
"These people are forgotten. They're stateless, they're homeless, they're nameless," Van Susteren said of the Rohingya refugees who have sought shelter in neighboring Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar. "In Myanmar, the government has rejected the use of the term 'Rohingya.' The Rohingya are non-people to them. They have been dehumanized."
A Rohingya militant attack on Myanmar police in August 2017 sparked a series of reprisals by government security forces, creating a mass exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state and into Bangladesh, mainly Cox's Bazar. More than half of the refugees have been children. Myanmar's military-dominated government denies oppressing the Rohingya.
Van Susteren said she had made four trips to Myanmar and the surrounding region, and that her first trip to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh occurred last December, in her own capacity.
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At the hearing, representatives expressed their anger and horror at the crimes Myanmar authorities are accused of committing.
"Last year, this persecution reached a new low, horrific levels, as the Burmese military drove 700,000 Rohingya from their homes, burning villages, killing scores, doing so-called 'terrorist clearance operations' — that's what the military there calls it as they drive people to their death," said Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican.
The U.S. State Department released a report Monday accusing Myanmar's military of targeting Rohingya civilians indiscriminately and often with "extreme brutality'' in a campaign to drive the mainly Muslim minority out of the majority Buddhist country. Extensive media reporting has documented atrocities such as the burning of villages, rape, torture and killings dating to last year.
The Rohingya are considered to be economic migrants from Bangladesh and are denied citizenship, even though most can show that their families have been in Myanmar for generations. They are discriminated against and are not allowed to move freely. They lack access to education and health care.
Earlier this month, a U.N. fact-finding commission called for members of Myanmar's top military command to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya. In a report, the mission said a yearlong investigation uncovered credible evidence that the Myanmar military has committed the most serious crimes under international law.
The State Department report stopped short of using the term "genocide."
Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Kyaw Moe Tun, scorned the investigators. He said their findings were one-sided, lacked impartiality and were detrimental to his government's efforts to find long-term solutions to the situation in Rakhine state.
Separately, Burmese army chief Min Aung Hlaing has lashed out at the U.N. and all outside criticism of Myanmar, saying no one has "the right to interfere in and make decisions over sovereignty of a country."
Van Susteren expressed her gratitude for the committee meeting to discuss the Rohingya situation.
"Even hearing that the United States has a congressional hearing gives them a bit of hope, even halfway around the world," she said.