US says Myanmar army committed genocide against Rohingya people


US President Joe Biden’s administration has formally determined that years-long repression of the Rohingya population by the Myanmar military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity, US officials said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making the long-anticipated announcement on Monday at an event at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum which currently features an exhibit on the plight of the Rohingya.

Advocates say the declaration should bolster efforts to hold the junta that now runs Myanmar after a coup last year accountable for the atrocities.

The move comes nearly 14 months after Blinken took office and pledged to conduct a new review of the violence in the southeast Asian country.

US officials and an outside law firm gathered evidence in an effort to acknowledge quickly the seriousness of the atrocities, but then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to make a determination.

Blinken ordered his own “legal and factual analysis”, the US officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The analysis concluded the Myanmar army is committing genocide and Washington believes the formal determination will increase international pressure to hold the junta accountable.

“It’s going to make it harder for them to commit further abuses,” said one senior State Department official.

Officials in Myanmar’s embassy in Washington and a junta spokesperson did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment on Sunday.

Myanmar’s military has denied committing genocide against the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, and said it was conducting an operation against terrorists in 2017.

A UN fact-finding mission concluded in 2018 that the military’s campaign included “genocidal acts”, but Washington referred at the time to the atrocities as “ethnic cleansing,” a term that has no legal definition under international criminal law.

“It’s really signalling to the world and especially to victims and survivors within the Rohingya community and more broadly that the United States recognises the gravity of what’s happening,” a second senior State Department official said of Blinken’s announcement on Monday.

A genocide determination does not automatically unleash punitive US action.

Since the Cold War, the State Department has formally used the term six times to describe massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur, the Islamic State’s attacks on Yazidis and other minorities, and most recently last year, over China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslims. China denies the genocide claims.

Blinken will also announce US$1 million of additional funding for the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), a United Nations body based in Geneva that is gathering evidence for potential future prosecutions.

“It’s going to enhance our position as we try to build international support to try to prevent further atrocities and hold those accountable,” the first US official said.

Days after US President Joe Biden took office, Myanmar generals led by Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power on 01 February 2021, after complaining of fraud in a November 2020 general election won by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. Election monitoring groups found no evidence of mass fraud.

The armed forces crushed an uprising against their coup, killing more than 1,600 people and detaining nearly 10,000, including civilian leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a campaign group, and setting off an insurgency. (Source: CNA)