A Rohingya family stands by their makeshift tent in a new IDP camp in Tankhali, Bangladesh. Nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since late August amid the outbreak of violence in Rakhine state, as recent satellite images released by Amnesty International show security forces attempted to push the Muslim minority out of the country.
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The Biden administration has formally ruled that violence against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity, U.S. officials told Reuters, a move proponents say should bolster efforts to crack down on the junta now Myanmar hold accountable, hold accountable.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the decision Monday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DCUS officials said, which is currently showing an exhibit on the plight of the Rohingya. It comes nearly 14 months after he took office and pledged to conduct a re-evaluation of the violence.
Myanmar’s armed forces launched a military operation in 2017 that forced at least 730,000 of the mostly Muslim Rohingya from their homes into neighboring Bangladesh, where they spoke of murders, mass rapes and arson. In 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup d’état.
US officials and an outside law firm gathered evidence in an effort to quickly recognize the seriousness of the atrocities, but then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to make a decision.
Blinken ordered his own “legal and factual analysis,” the US officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The analysis concluded that Myanmar’s military is committing genocide and Washington believes the formal determination will increase international pressure to hold the junta accountable.
The World’s Largest Humanitarian Aid, Rohingya Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Mondal Falgoonee Kumar | iStock | Getty Images
“It will make it harder for them to commit any more abuse,” said a senior foreign ministry official.
Officials from the Myanmar embassy in Washington and a spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to emails asking for comment on Sunday.
Myanmar’s military has denied committing genocide against the Rohingya, who have been denied Myanmar citizenship, 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 at the time referred to the atrocities as “ethnic cleansing,” a term that has no legal definition under international criminal law.
“It really sends a signal to the world and especially to victims and survivors within the Rohingya community and more generally that the United States recognizes the seriousness of what is happening,” a second senior State Department official said Monday. about Blinken’s announcement.
A determination of genocide does not automatically lead to punitive measures from the US.
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 genocide claims.
Blinken will also announce $1 million in additional funding for the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), a UN body based in Geneva that is gathering evidence for possible future prosecutions.
“It will strengthen our position as we build international support to prevent and hold further atrocities to account,” the first US official said.
Focus on military
Days after US President Joe Biden took office, Myanmar generals led by Supreme Commander Min Aung Hlaing seized power on February 1, 2021, after complaining about fraud in the November 2020 general election won by democracy champion Aung San’s party. Suu Kyi. Election watch groups found no evidence of massive fraud.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a campaign group, the armed forces put down an uprising against their coup that killed more than 1,600 people and detained nearly 10,000 people, including civilian leaders such as Suu Kyi, and sparked an insurgency.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures from the AAPP. The junta has said the group’s figures are exaggerated and that members of the security forces have also been killed in clashes with those who oppose the coup. The junta has not provided its own figures.
In response to the coup, the United States and Western allies sanctioned the junta and its business interests, but failed to convince the generals to restore civilian rule after receiving military and diplomatic support from Russia and China.
Blinken’s recognition of genocide and crimes against humanity mainly refers to events in 2017, before last year’s coup. The move comes after two State Department investigations — one launched in 2018 and the other in 2020 — have failed to deliver any resolve.
Some former US officials told Reuters these were missed opportunities to send a strong message to the Myanmar generals who later took power.
Activists believe that a clear statement by the United States that genocide was committed could bolster efforts to hold the generals to account, such as a case before the International Court of Justice where The Gambia has accused Myanmar of genocide, citing the atrocities of Myanmar against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
Myanmar has rejected the charge of genocide and asked the judges of the court to drop the case. The junta says The Gambia is acting as a trustee for others and had no legal standing to file a case.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), a separate court in The Hague, is also investigating the deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar, and the IIMM in Geneva is gathering evidence for use in future trials.
Myanmar opposes the investigations and has refused to cooperate, saying the ICC has no jurisdiction and that the decision to launch an investigation was influenced by “charged stories of harrowing personal tragedies that have nothing to do with the legal arguments in matter.”
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar’s military “has suffered little real impact from its atrocities, whether against Rohingya or other ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.”
In addition to imposing more economic sanctions on the junta, the United States should push for a UN Security Council resolution referring all alleged military crimes to the International Criminal Court, Sifton said. If Russia and China veto a resolution, as they probably do, Washington should take the lead in the UN General Assembly, he said.
“Condemnations of Myanmar must be accompanied by concrete actions,” he said.
Before Blinken made the decision this month, officials debated whether blaming the Myanmar government — rather than specifically the military — for the atrocities could complicate US support for the country’s deposed democratic forces, according to a source known. with the case.
The State Department chose to put the blame on the military, the ministry’s second senior official said.
“It is not clear to what extent the civilian leadership had control over the actions that took place in Rakhine State, so that’s where the determination ends on this point,” said the official, who did not comment on the internal deliberation.
Forced to share power with the generals, Suu Kyi traveled to the International Court of Justice in 2019 to dismiss the Gambia’s charges of genocide.
She said the country itself would prosecute all soldiers who allegedly committed abuses, but claimed the alleged violations did not reach the level of genocide, which requires proof of the specific intent to destroy a group.
When they took power, the generals put Suu Kyi on trial in nearly a dozen cases that could carry her to more than 100 years in prison. She remains in custody.
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