WASHINGTON: US officials said, a move that advocates say should bolster efforts to hold the junta that now runs Myanmar accountable, the Biden administration has formally determined that violence committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority by Myanmar’s military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity.
It comes nearly 14 months after he took office and pledged to conduct a new review of the violence.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the decision on Monday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, US officials said, which currently features an exhibit on the plight of the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s armed forces launched a military operation in 2017 that forced at least 730,000 of the mainly Muslim Rohingya from their homes and into neighbouring Bangladesh, where they recounted killings, mass rape, and arson. In 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup.
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 recognizes 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, Daesh’s attacks on Yazidis and other minorities, and most recently last year, over China’s alleged abuses of Uighurs and other Muslims. China denies the genocide claims.
Blinken will also announce $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.