Rohingya CrisisThe Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Many Rohingya trace their roots in Myanmar back to the 15th century, yet they have been denied citizenship since 1982. For decades, the Rohingya have also been denied some of the most basic human rights that are “reserved for citizens only” such as access to secondary education and freedom of movement. Additionally, the Rohingya are constantly subjected to arbitrary confiscation of property and forced labor. Tension has long fomented between the Rohingya and their Buddhist neighbors; however, the current Rohingya crisis has seen tensions escalate into deadly violence.

The long-persecuted Rohingya civilians are bearing the brunt of death and destruction caused by this conflict. Hundreds of Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground, leaving more than a thousand civilians dead. The violence has caused more than half a million Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, and has emptied at least 175 Rohingya villages in Myanmar.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee convened a hearing on October 5, 2017, to discuss the U.S.’ response to Myanmar’s escalating violence against the Rohingya and how to best address the multifaceted crisis.

The goal of the U.S. is to address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering and urgent humanitarian needs of the Rohingya crisis. Yet, there is a major obstacle in the way of the U.S. response: “Our main challenge in responding to the humanitarian crisis is not due to a lack of resources, but a lack of access,” Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, Kate Somvongsiri announced at the hearing.

Although the White House, State Department, and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations have all issued statements calling for immediate unfettered humanitarian access to all affected populations, relief agencies remain severely limited and even suspended in some regions.

“In Myanmar, there is no coverage of [the ethnic cleansing] so people do not actually know what is happening. The generals that run the country have a different narrative and so there is very little recognition of the reality,” Chairman Royce (R-CA) said, “In order to get to that reality it is important to get reporters and [relief agencies] on the ground. As long as that presence is there, it is a check on these types of atrocities.”

The honest and forthright assessment of the Rohingya crisis at the hearing was crucial. Leaders are not complacent and there is a common understanding that increased humanitarian action is desperately needed.

The United States is providing $32 million in additional humanitarian assistance to address the urgent needs of the Rohingya, bringing the U.S. 2017 fiscal year total to $104 million. Additionally, the hearing on October 5, 2017, solidified the opinion of the U.S. that the Rohingya crisis is, in fact, ethnic cleansing. Immediate action is required to stop the violence, deliver humanitarian assistance and hold accountable those who have perpetuated abuses and violations of international standards.

Jamie Enright

Photo: Flickr

agriculture appropriations bill
The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill which will improve the United States’ international food aid. The amendment, authored by U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA), provides funds for the Local and Regional Purchase Program. This program allows the U.S. to buy food closer to afflicted areas and reduce transit time and costs as a result. Representative Royce’s amendment provides $10 million for the program and reduces fundraising for the Agricultural Marketing Services which utilizes taxpayer money to administer food advertising campaigns. In a statement about the amendment’s passage, Royce stated, “It is crucial that the United States has the tools to respond to humanitarian crises while stretching our food aid dollars further.”

It is estimated that 925 million people globally suffer from malnutrition and hunger. That number is roughly three times the size of the U.S. population and a strong indication that hunger is a global health risk. The World Bank estimates that 44 million people have been impoverished since mid-2010 due to recent increases in food prices. This estimation coincides with shrinking foreign aid budgets among developed countries — a result of both fiscal conservatism and slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

Goal one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals established in 2000 is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. This goal came after the Food Aid Convention of 1999 which served as a formal agreement among donor countries to contribute to world food security. It also established minimum annual commitments among member countries. The U.S., with an annual commitment of 2,500,000 metric tons, has the largest commitment.

In fiscal year 2009 alone the U.S. provided $2.9 billion in food assistance to developing countries, which included approximately 2.8 million metric tons of food which reached 70 million people.

The recently-passed amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill is a strong indicator that many of the leading political figures in the U.S. are willing to maintain this level of international support. However, as the global economy continues its slow recovery, foreign aid will continue to be a source of contentious debate both at home and abroad.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Food Aid,, USAID
Photo: Newsela

What Is the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

Generally, a congressional committee is a sub-organization of Congress that addresses issues related to a specified area of legislation or duty. In other words, a congressional committee is a legislative delegate to Congress. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is a sub-organization of the House of Representatives that considers legislation impacting the diplomatic community, which includes national and international governmental organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations. The Department of State, the Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps, and the United Nations, for example, are all members of the diplomatic community.

What Does the House Foreign Affairs Committee Do?

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for oversight and legislation relating to, among other areas, foreign assistance, military activity, enforcement of international sanctions, promotion of democracy abroad, and all other matters not specifically assigned to a subcommittee. As stated on the Committee’s website, “The Committee may conduct oversight with respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Committee as defined in the Rules of the House of Representatives.” Rule X, section (i) of the Rules specifically covers the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

How can the House Foreign Affairs Committee help alleviate Global Poverty?

As mentioned, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for oversight and legislation related to foreign assistance. Specifically, the Committee is charged with oversight and legislation regarding relations of the United States with foreign nations, foreign loans, diplomatic service, and measures to foster commercial intercourse with foreign nations and to safeguard American business interests abroad. As part of this unique mandate, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has not only the power to sponsor direct foreign aid programs to help fight global poverty in foreign countries, but also the responsibility to ensure such measures are taken because American investment in the relief of global poverty is an investment in the American economy.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security, Gov. Tom Ridge was quoted as saying, “By building new markets overseas for American products, the International Affairs budget creates jobs and boosts the economy here at home.” USAID is a clear example of how our assistance develops future markets, as “long-time aid recipients have become strong partners and are the fastest growing markets for American goods.” For exactly this reason and in line with it’s unique mandate, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has both the capacity and an obvious responsibility to help alleviate global poverty.

Contacting your congressperson to voice your opinion on investment in the relief of global poverty goes a long way in creating support for effective policy. To find out if your congressperson is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, visit their website. You can follow the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Twitter: @HFACrepublicans.

– Herman Watson

Photo: Zimbio
Source: GovTrack, Ed Royce, The Hill, USDA Local & Regional Food Procurement, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Chairman Royce on Human Trafficking
 “Trafficking in persons is a grievous offense against human dignity that impacts every country on earth, and disproportionately victimizes girls and children.” – Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce opened a hearing on human trafficking on May 7th, 2013. The hearing will discuss local and private sector initiatives to combat human trafficking.  Modern-day slavery, human trafficking is a growing global crime.

One of the things society must wrestle with is how the vulnerable are treated and protected as well as what their responsibility is in coming to the aid of the exploited. Human trafficking exists in every nation worldwide and targets women and children in disproportionate amounts.  Numbers indicate over 20 million victims of forced labor and forced sex work worldwide. However, bigger than the numbers are the faces and stories of the victims, largely children, who have been stripped of their hope, innocence, and youth.

Chairman Royce’s Chief of Staff, Amy Porter, spent time in India and Cambodia serving victims of human trafficking. She recounts girls as young as 3 years old in awful, disgusting situations. Closer to home, it is estimated that 100,000 children in the US are victims of human trafficking.  The Foreign Affairs Committee has worked tirelessly to get human trafficking on the minds of Congress and will continue to work hard to make the issue an urgent and pressing one in the coming weeks and years.

The hearing will look at some of the promising private sector and community partnerships going on worldwide and the implications of those innovative partnerships in eradicating human trafficking. The tools that are being developed and the relationships established on the local, community level may just be the answer to fighting human trafficking worldwide.

Videos of the Question and Answer session as well as the opening statement can be found here.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: House Foreign Affairs Committee
Photo: Jewish Journal