Biden administration labels Myanmar military actions against Rohingyas as genocide
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Biden administration labels Myanmar military actions against Rohingyas as genocide

The Biden administration Monday formally announced its determination that Myanmar’s military had committed acts of genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya Muslims.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken ordered his own “legal and factual analysis” of the atrocities committed against the minority group. He announced the determination on Monday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. He also announced additional funding of $1 million to the Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), a UN-based fact-finding mission responsible for gathering evidence for prosecutions against the junta.

The Rohingya community has faced years of systematic violence, discrimination, and statelessness in Myanmar. In 2017, Myanmar’s military launched an offensive against the Rohingyas, forcing nearly 745,000 of them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), entire villages were razed, families were separated and killed, and women and girls were gang raped.

Under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), the term “genocide” encompasses acts committed with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This includes killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group, bringing about physical destruction of the group, preventing births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article I of the Genocide Convention enjoins parties “to prevent and punish” acts of genocide. 18 USC § 1091 criminalizes and punishes genocide committed within the US, but a determination of genocide committed outside the US does not form a part of this legal framework. The objective of the genocide determination is to appropriately apportion blame to the military and make it difficult for atrocities to continue in the face of international condemnation. It seeks to establish a historical record of the crime, acknowledge the plight of the victims, and help mobilize international efforts to impose sanctions.

Previously, the US has used the term “genocide” to describe the atrocities committed by Bosnia (1993), Rwanda (1994), Iraq (1995), Darfur (2004), ISIS (2016 and 2017), and China (2021). 

This announcement follows many actions regarding Myanmar from other countries and organizations. More recently, on March 15 the UN urged the international community to take “concerted, immediate measures” to stop human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar.