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Biden administration rules Myanmar army committed genocide against Rohingya


An Rohingya family stands in front of their temporary tent at the new IDP camp Tankhali, Bangladesh. Since the violence broke out in Rakhine State, nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh. Amnesty International recently released satellite images that showed evidence of security forces trying push this minority Muslim group from the country.

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Officially, the Biden administration determined that Myanmar’s violence against the Rohingya minorities amounts to genocide.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken announced the decision. The decision will be made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. Officials said that the museum currently has an exhibit about the Rohingya’s plight. This comes almost 14 months after his election and he pledged to do a fresh review.

In 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a major operation that drove at least 730,000 mainly Muslim Rohingya refugees from their homes. They then moved to Bangladesh where they recollected the killings, mass-rapes and arson. Myanmar’s military took power by coup in 2021.

U.S. officials and a law firm outside the United States gathered evidence to quickly acknowledge the severity of the atrocities. However, then-Secretary Mike Pompeo refused to give a definitive answer.

Blinken ordered his “legal and factual analyses,” according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity with Reuters. Washington feels that the official determination by the United States will intensify international pressure on the Myanmar junta to be held accountable for genocide committed by the Myanmar army.

Rohingya refugees camps, Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh, the largest humanitarian response

Mondal Falgoonee Kumar | iStock | Getty Images

One senior State Department official stated that “it’s going make it harder for them further abuses.”

The Sunday email request for comment was not answered immediately by officials from Myanmar’s embassy at Washington or a spokesperson of the junta.

Myanmar’s military denied genocide against Rohingya. They are not allowed to apply for citizenship in Myanmar. It claimed it was conducting an attack against terrorists in 2017.

U.N. Fact-finding Mission concluded that 2018’s military campaign contained “genocidal Acts,” however Washington called the atrocities “ethnic cleaning” at that time, a term which has no legal definition in international criminal law.

On Monday, a senior State Department official stated that Blinken’s announcement was “really communicating to the world, especially the Rohingya victims and survivors and more broadly that America recognizes the gravity and seriousness of what is happening.”

An American genocide declaration does not necessarily lead to punitive U.S. actions.

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 has denied the claims of genocide.

Blinken also announced $1 million in additional funding for Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. This United Nations entity based at Geneva gathers evidence for future prosecutions.

According to the U.S.’s first official, “it will enhance our position while we try to gain international support to try and prevent more atrocities”

Military is the focus

After complaining about fraud at the November 2020 election, won by Aung San Suu Kyi, democracy champion, Myanmar Generals led by Commander In Chief Min Aung Hlaing took power in Myanmar on February 1, 2021. There was no evidence that mass fraud had been detected by elections monitoring groups.

According to AAPP, a campaign group that tracks the events, more than 1,600 civilian leaders were killed and nearly 10,000 people were detained by the armed forces. This set off an insurgency.

Reuters could not independently confirm the AAPP figures. According to the junta the numbers are exaggerated, and members of security forces were also killed in fighting with the opposition. However, the junta did not provide its figures.

The United States and Western Allies responded to the coup by sanctioning the junta along with its business interests. However, they were unable to persuade the generals to reinstate civilian rule once Russia and China had provided military and diplomatic support.

Blinken recognizes genocide as well as crimes against humanity, but that is only in reference to 2017, prior to the 2016 coup. After two State Department investigations, one conducted in 2018, and the second in 2020, failed to find a definitive answer, Blinken took this step.

Reuters heard from former U.S. officials who said that those messages were not sent to the Myanmar Generals.

According to activists, the United States should make a clear statement that genocide took place. This could be a boost for efforts to hold those generals responsible, as in the case before the International Court of Justice in which The Gambia accuses Myanmar of genocide. They cite Myanmar’s atrocities against Rohingya people in Rakhine state.

The Myanmar government has refused to accuse the country of genocide, and asked the judges at the court to dismiss the case. The junta asserts that The Gambia was acting as a proxy and has no legal standing to bring a case.

The International Criminal Court, a separate court at The Hague is investigating Rohingya’s deportation from Myanmar. The IIMM in Geneva also gathers evidence for future trials.

Myanmar has opposed the investigation and refused to cooperate. It asserts that the ICC doesn’t have jurisdiction over Myanmar and that the ICC made the decision to open a probe based on “charged narratives about harrowing personal tragedy which do not relate to the legal arguments.”

John Sifton (Asia advocacy director, Human Rights Watch), stated that Myanmar’s military faced few real consequences for atrocities it committed against Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar.

Sifton stated that the United States should not only impose more economic sanctions against the junta but also press for a U.N. Security Council Resolution to refer all alleged military crimes to the International Criminal Court. He said that if Russia or China oppose a resolution as it is probable, Washington should take the lead in U.N. General Assembly.

He stated, “Condemnations should be combined with concrete actions”

According to an insider, Blinken’s decision was made before officials considered whether the U.S. could support the deposed democracy forces by blaming Myanmar’s government, rather than its military, according to one source.

Second senior official from the department stated that the State Department decided to put the blame on military personnel.

According to the official, it was not known to what extent civilian leadership exercised control over the actions in Rakhine State.

Suu Kyi was forced to take power with generals and travelled to The International Court of Justice to deny the Genocide Charges brought against The Gambia in 2019.

Although she said that any soldier found to have violated the law would face prosecution by the United States, she maintained that they did not amount to genocide.

After they took power, Suu Kyi was brought before the Generals in roughly a dozen cases. She could be sentenced in excess of 100 years. She is still in prison.