Several thousand protesters gathered outside of the U.S. Capitol on Monday to demand the Trump administration ramp up economic pressure on Myanmar amid a state-led campaign of persecution against ethnic minorities.
The demonstrators, made up primarily of refugees belonging to Myanmar's Karen minority group, called on the administration to reinstate targeted sanctions against the government as the Burmese military perpetuates systematic attacks on ethnic minority villages.
"The Burmese military has been responsible for serious abuses, including extrajudicial killing, torture, sexual violence, and destruction of property, while government shelling and airstrikes have been conducted against ethnic areas in violation of the laws of war," said Mu Kpaw, chairman of the nonprofit Karen Organization of the United States of America (KOUSA).
Kpaw, a refugee who fled Myanmar in the mid-1990s, said the military was emboldened last year when the Obama administration "prematurely" lifted longstanding sanctions against the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was democratically elected in November 2015.
Many at the rally wore brightly colored traditional clothing and carried red, white, and blue Karen flags. The crowd, estimated to be around 5,000 people by Capitol Police, was littered with signs condemning the Burmese military of "ethnic cleansing" and religious persecution.
"We deserve to live in peace in our own state, in our own territories, but Burmese militaries are coming in, confiscating our land with their power, giving us no choice but to plead for our life," Kpaw said.
The gathering arrived as President Donald Trump embarked on a 12-day tour of Asia, where he is expected to meet with Myanmar government officials during a regional summit. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Myanmar next week to discuss the ongoing crisis, according to the State Department.
U.S. lawmakers last week introduced bipartisan legislation to impose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on military officials for their atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, who are denied Myanmar citizenship.
The United Nations estimates more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August, when an insurgent attack on government security forces triggered renewed violence.
KOUSA, which organized the rally, said another 100,000 Karen have been displaced since January.
Published under: Protests