The violent crackdown on the predominantly Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar amounts to genocide, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, a statement intended to both generate international pressure and lay the groundwork for possible action in justice.
Authorities made the decision based on confirmed accounts of mass atrocities against civilians by the Burmese military as part of a widespread and systematic campaign against the ethnic minority, Blinken said in a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial. Museum.
This is the eighth time since the Holocaust that the United States has concluded that genocide took place. The Secretary of State stressed the importance of drawing attention to the inhumanity even as horrific attacks occur elsewhere in the world, including in Ukraine.
“Yes, we stand with the Ukrainian people,” he said. “And we must also stand with people who suffer atrocities elsewhere.”
The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, has already been under several layers of US sanctions since a military coup toppled the democratically elected government in February 2021. Thousands of civilians across the country have been killed and imprisoned as part of the continued crackdown on anyone opposed. to the ruling junta.
The determination that genocide has taken place could lead other nations to increase pressure on the government, which is already facing genocide charges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
“As we lay the foundation for future accountability, we are also working to end ongoing military atrocities and support the people of Burma in their efforts to put the country back on the path to democracy,” Blinken said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Blinken’s announcement “emphasizes, especially to victims and survivors, that the United States recognizes the gravity of these crimes.”
“Our view is that bringing to light the crimes of the Myanmar military will increase international pressure and make it harder for them to commit further abuses,” she said.
The Rohingya, originally from the Muslim Rakhine State in western Myanmar, have been systematically persecuted by the Buddhist majority for decades under the military junta that ruled the nation for decades as well as under the democratically elected government.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the military launched an operation to drive them out of the country following attacks by a rebel group.
The Rohingya plight status had been the subject of intense scrutiny by US government legal experts since the Trump administration, given the potential legal ramifications of such a finding. The delay in the determination had drawn criticism both inside and outside the government.
“While this determination is long overdue, it is nevertheless a powerful and critically important step in holding this brutal regime to account,” said Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.
Human rights groups also welcomed the decision, which is similar to findings already made by other countries, including Canada, France and Turkey.
“The determination by the United States of the crime of genocide against us is a momentous moment and must lead to concrete actions to hold the Myanmar military accountable for its crimes,” said Tun Khin, president of the Myanmar Rohingya Organization. UK.
Human Rights Watch said the United States and other governments should seek justice for crimes committed by the military and impose tougher sanctions against its leaders.
“The US government should match its condemnations of the Myanmar military with action,” said John Sifton, the group’s Asia advocacy director. “For too long, the United States and other countries have allowed Myanmar generals to commit atrocities with little real consequence.”
A 2018 State Department report documented instances of villages razed by Myanmar’s military and rapes, torture and killings of civilians since at least 2016. Blinken said evidence showed the violence did not was not isolated, but was part of a systematic program that amounts to crimes against humanity.
“The evidence also points to a clear intent behind these mass atrocities, the intent to destroy the Rohingya, in whole or in part, through murder, rape and torture,” he said.
Previous US genocide determinations include campaigns against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in China as well as Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur.