(Senate - September 18, 2018)

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[Pages S6233-S6234]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. MERKLEY (for himself, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Young, Ms. Warren, Mr. 
Coons, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Lankford, Mr. Wyden, Ms. Collins, 
and Mr. Markey) submitted the following resolution; which was referred 
to the Committee on Foreign Relations:

                              S. Res. 635

       Whereas the first amendment to the Constitution of the 
     United States enshrines press freedom as a foundational 
     element of American democracy, declaring that ``Congress 
     shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or 
     of the press'';
       Whereas Article 19 of the United Nations Universal 
     Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948, by 
     the United Nations General Assembly, enshrines press freedom 
     as a vital aspect of universal human rights;
       Whereas the Department of State's annual Human Rights 
     Report on Burma for the year 2017 states that--
       (1) ``legal provisions that allow the government to 
     manipulate the courts for political ends, and these 
     provisions were sometimes used to deprive citizens of due 
     process and the right to a fair trial, particularly with 
     regards to the freedom of expression'';
       (2) ``The government continued to detain and arrest 
     journalists, activists, and critics of the government and the 
     military during the year.''; and
       (3) ``Threats against and arrests of journalists increased 
     . . . Freedom of expression was more restricted during the 
     year compared with 2016. This included a higher number of 
     detentions of journalists using various laws, including laws 
     carrying more severe punishments than those used 

       Whereas, according to PEN America, the discontinuation of 
     Radio Free Asia's broadcasting in Myanmar on a domestic 
     channel constitutes a further shrinking of the space for free 
     expression in the country;
       Whereas, additionally, PEN America reports that--
       (1) there continues to be increased legal threats, 
     imprisonment and physical harassment of journalists;
       (2) there continues to be restrictions on the ability to 
     report from and receive information on conflict areas; and
       (3) the lack of reform of media laws and institutions 
     driving a decline in media freedom;

       Whereas, beginning in late August 2017, a concerted 
     campaign directed by the Tatmadaw, the official name of the 
     armed forces of Myanmar, was carried out to assault, kill, 
     rape, burn villages, and force Rohingya to flee from Myanmar 
     to Bangladesh;
       Whereas approximately 700,000 Rohingya people have fled 
     Myanmar in a period of almost 12 months;
       Whereas a 160-page report issued July 19, 2018, by the 
     human rights organization Fortify Rights finds that at least 
     27 Myanmar Army battalions, comprising up to 11,000 soldiers, 
     along with at least three combat police battalions, 
     comprising an estimated 900 police personnel, were involved 
     in the attacks in northern Rakhine State beginning in August 
     2017, and further finds that these attacks constitute 
     ``preparatory action for genocide and crimes against 
     humanity'' and finds ``that there are `reasonable grounds' to 
     believe the Myanmar Army, Myanmar Police Force, border 
     guards, and non-Rohingya civilian perpetrators committed 
     atrocities that constitute genocide and crimes against 
     humanity and should be held liable for those crimes'';
       Whereas earlier Fortify Rights reports have documented the 
     systematic use of torture by Myanmar authorities against 
     Kachin civilians in Kachin State and northern Shan State from 
     June 2011 to April 2014;
       Whereas the August 2018 United Nations report of the 
     Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar 
     Report states, in paragraph 87 that ``the Mission concluded 
     [. . .] that there is sufficient information to warrant the 
     investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the 
     Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can 
     determine their liability for genocide in relation to the 
     situation in Rakhine State'';
       Whereas, on August 28, 2018, United States Ambassador to 
     the United Nations Nikki Haley reported to the United Nations 
     Security Council that the Department of State had conducted 
     interviews with 1,024 Rohingya refugees in camps throughout 
     Cox's Bazar refugee camp and that the results of the 
     interviews were consistent with the United Nations 
     Independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar;
       Whereas, on September 2, 2017, as part of this brutal 
     campaign, Myanmar security forces aided by local Buddhist 
     villagers in the village of Inn Din in Rakhine state detained 
     and then murdered 10 Rohingya men;
       Whereas, Reuters, a highly reputable worldwide news 
     gathering organization, discovered this atrocity as part of 
     its ongoing

[[Page S6234]]

     reporting on the Myanmar military's campaign against the 
     Rohingya, and Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo 
     were doing fact-checking and interviewing eye-witnesses to 
     these and other events;
       Whereas, on December 12, 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were 
     arrested by police and later charged with illegally 
     possessing secret government documents under the colonial era 
     Official Secrets Act;
       Whereas Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in custody from 
     December 12, 2017, to the present, including before, during, 
     and after their trial;
       Whereas, one of the key prosecution witnesses in the trial, 
     Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, said in open court on April 20, 
     2018, that he and others were ordered by the Myanmar police 
     chief to ``trap'' Wa Lone by inviting the journalist to meet 
     them at a restaurant and to give him ``secret documents''--a 
     meeting that Wa Lone attended in the company of his 
     colleague, Kyaw Soe Oo, which led to the immediate arrest of 
     the two journalists;
       Whereas Police Captain Moe Yan Naing was subsequently 
     sentenced to one year in jail for violating police 
       Whereas, on September 3, 2018, Yangon northern district 
     judge Ye Lwin ruled that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo breached the 
     colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sentenced them each to 
     seven years in prison with hard labor;
       Whereas 83 Myanmar civil society organizations have signed 
     a statement condemning the verdict;
       Whereas the people of Myanmar, with assistance from the 
     Department of State and the United States Agency for 
     International Development, have successfully grown their 
     cadre of ethical and hard hitting journalists, journalists 
     who are adhering to the utmost professional standards and 
     able to uncover the abuses being committed in their own 
     country, and these journalists deserve the international 
     community's support and praise for taking on the risky job of 
     fostering press freedom in their country, however nascent it 
       Whereas United States Agency for International Development 
     Administrator Mark Green released a statement calling the 
     convictions ``an enormous setback for democracy and the rule 
     of law in Burma'' and ``urge[d] the Government of Burma to 
     protect journalists and press freedom, which are the bedrocks 
     of democracy and peace'';
       Whereas Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his concern over 
     the sentence against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for ``doing 
     their job reporting on the atrocities being committed on the 
     Rohingya people'';
       Whereas United States Ambassador to the United Nations 
     Nikki Haley described the conviction as ``another terrible 
     stain on the Burmese government'' and called for ``their 
     immediate and unconditional release'';
       Whereas freedom of the press enhances public accountability 
     and transparency and therefore promotes adherence to the rule 
     of law and enforcement of universally recognized human rights 
     by all people; and
       Whereas freedom of the press is a key component of 
     democratic governance and activism in civil society: Now, 
     therefore, be it
       Resolved, That the Senate--
       (1) calls for all the convictions against Wa Lone and Kyaw 
     Soe Oo to be nullified, for the similar changes against many 
     other journalists currently awaiting trial to be dropped, and 
     for the immediate and unconditional release of these 
       (2) expresses concern about the Government of Myanmar's 
     crackdown on journalists and press freedom throughout the 
       (3) reaffirms the central role that independent and 
     professional journalism plays in strengthening democratic 
     governance, upholding the rule of law, mitigating conflict, 
     and informing public opinion around the world;
       (4) urges the Secretary of State to make a determination 
     whether the actions by the Myanmar military constitute crimes 
     against humanity or genocide and to work with interagency 
     partners to impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar military 
     officials responsible for these heinous acts through existing 
     authorities; and
       (5) calls on the President and the Secretary of State--
       (A) to reaffirm the importance of a free press in 
     strengthening democratic governance, upholding the rule of 
     law, mitigating conflict, and informing public opinion around 
     the world; and
       (B) to engage immediately and at the highest levels with 
     the Government of Myanmar, including by encouraging Aung San 
     Suu Kyi to use her influence to secure the immediate and 
     unconditional release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as United 
     States leadership is critical to this issue.