US rules Myanmar army committed genocide against Rohingya

US officials told Reuters that the Biden administration has formally determined that the violence perpetrated by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya minority amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity, a move its advocates say should bolster efforts to hold the military junta that now runs Myanmar to account.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will announce the decision on Monday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which currently houses an exhibition on the plight of the Rohingya, US officials said. It comes nearly 14 months after he took office and pledged a new review of violence.

Myanmar’s armed forces launched a military operation in 2017 that forced at least 730,000 Muslim-majority Rohingya to leave their homes for neighboring Bangladesh, where they recounted killings, mass rapes and arson. In 2021, the Myanmar army seized power in a coup.

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

US officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Blinken had ordered his own “legal and factual analysis”. The analysis concluded that the Myanmar military is committing genocide, and Washington believes that the official decision will increase international pressure to hold the junta to account.

“It will make it more difficult for them to commit more abuses,” a senior State Department official said.

Officials at the Myanmar embassy in Washington and a spokesman for the military council did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on Sunday.

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

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

“It is a real signal to the world, especially the victims and survivors of the Rohingya community and more broadly, that the United States understands the seriousness of what is happening,” a second senior State Department official said of Blinken’s announcement on Monday.

Defining genocide does not automatically unleash punitive American action.

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

Blinken will also announce additional funding of $1 million for the Independent Investigative Mechanism of Myanmar (IIMM), a Geneva-based UN body working to collect evidence for possible future trials.

“It will strengthen our position as we try to mobilize international support to try to prevent further atrocities and hold these 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 February 1, 2021, after complaining of fraud in the November 2020 general election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the champion of democracy. 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 arresting nearly 10,000, including civilian leaders like Suu Kyi, according to the Association for the Aid of Political Prisoners (AAPP), an electoral group, sparking a rebellion.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the figures from the agency. The military council said the group’s numbers were exaggerated and that members of the security forces were also killed in clashes with opponents of the coup. The junta did not introduce its own characters, read the full story

In response to the coup, the United States and its Western allies imposed sanctions on the junta and its business interests, but were unable to persuade 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 refers primarily to the events of 2017, prior to last year’s coup. The move comes after two State Department exams – one started in 2018 and the other in 2020 – failed to reach a decision.

Some former US officials told Reuters those missed opportunities to send a firm message to the generals who later seized power.

Activists believe that a clear statement by the United States about committing genocide could boost efforts to hold the generals accountable, such as a case at the International Court of Justice where The Gambia accused Myanmar of genocide, citing Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

Myanmar has rejected the genocide charge and urged the court’s judges to drop the case. The junta says the Gambia is acting as an agent for others and has no legal standing to bring 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 that can be used in future trials.

Myanmar has opposed the investigations and refused to cooperate, asserting that the ICC has no jurisdiction and that its decision to open an investigation was influenced by “suspected accounts of horrific personal tragedies unrelated to the legal arguments involved”.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the Myanmar military faced “little real consequences for its atrocities, whether against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities in Myanmar.”

In addition to imposing more economic sanctions on the junta, Sifton said, the United States should push for a UN Security Council resolution that would refer all alleged military crimes to the International Criminal Court.

He said that if Russia and China veto a resolution, as is likely, Washington should lead the action in the UN General Assembly.

“Myanmar’s condemnations must be accompanied by concrete actions,” he said.

Before Blinken made the decision this month, officials debated whether blaming Myanmar’s government — not specifically its military — for the atrocities might complicate US support for the country’s ousted democratic forces, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The second ministry official said the State Department chose to blame the military.

The official, who did not comment on the internal deliberations, said, “It is not clear to what extent the civilian leadership was in control of the actions that were taking place in Rakhine State, and here the determination ends at this point.”

Suu Kyi, who was forced to share power with the generals, traveled to the International Court of Justice in 2019 to dismiss the genocide charges brought by The Gambia.

She said the state itself would prosecute any soldiers found to have committed abuses, but emphasized that the alleged violations did not amount to genocide, and that the specific intent to destroy a group must be proven.

When they seized power, the generals put Suu Kyi on trial in nearly a dozen cases that could result in a sentence of more than 100 years in prison. Still in detention.

(Reuters)

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