Ninety-five human rights organizations on Tuesday urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to declare that Burmese authorities committed genocide against the stateless Rohingya minority, as the fourth anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh approaches.
In a joint letter to America’s top diplomat, the groups called on the United States to come out with such a declaration about alleged atrocities that took place in Rakhine state, the home of the Rohingya, when the Burmese military launched an offensive there after deadly raids by Rohingya insurgents on police and army outposts in August 2017.
“[A]s the fourth anniversary of the brutal campaign against the Rohingya approaches – and with the ongoing risk of further atrocities – we urge you to publicly announce your determination and to refer to the crimes by their proper name: crimes against humanity and genocide,” Refugees International and the other groups wrote, referring to the offensive launched in the wake of the rebel attacks on Aug. 25, 2017.
Neither the Trump administration, which was in power then, nor the new Joe Biden administration have publicly declared what happened in Rakhine at the time as genocide or crimes against humanity.
However, U.S. government officials have issued statements condemning the violence that took place and caused nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya to seek shelter in neighboring Bangladesh.
In November 2017, then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.”
As a result of the massive influx of refugees, Cox’s Bazar and nearby areas in southeastern Bangladesh are home to about 1 million Rohingya refugees.
While Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to repatriate the Rohingya within months of the crackdown, those efforts have failed. That prospect dimmed in February when the Burmese military overthrew the government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi that had won last year’s general election.
“The Feb. 1st coup by the same military that perpetrated abuses against the Rohingya, and the ongoing abuses by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya, other ethnic groups and the Burmese population in general, only underscore the importance of recognizing the military’s past crimes against the Rohingya for what they are,” the rights groups told Blinken.
“The military coup places an increased urgency on this request as the last trappings of democratic restraints on the military are pulled away. The military’s actions are already greatly exacerbating the COVID pandemic and a growing humanitarian crisis.”
A U.S. determination of genocide and crimes against humanity would subject the Myanmar government and its military to “much needed” international scrutiny, the rights groups said. They pointed out that along with Rohingya, ethnic minority groups including the Chin, Karen, Kachin, Rakhine and Shan face increased risks of atrocities.
“Such a determination would be wholly consistent with findings of the Department of State which concluded that the attacks on the Rohingya were ‘well-planned and coordinated’ and that they were ‘extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” the letter said, referring to an August 2018 report, titled “Documentation of Atrocities in Northern Rakhine State.”
In a report to Congress on July 12, 2021, Blinken’s State Department said the Biden administration was “committed to promoting democratic values that underpin a stable international system critical to freedom, prosperity, and peace.”
“This Administration will defend and protect human rights around the world, and recognizes the prevention of atrocities is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility,” the department said last month.
Meanwhile during a visit to Bangladesh in April, John Kerry, Biden’s special envoy on climate, praised Dhaka for its “extraordinary” generosity in sheltering the Rohingya. He also described the post-coup situation is Myanmar as “one of the great moral challenges of the planet today.”
“So the new administration, Secretary [of State] Tony Blinken, is very cognizant of this issue, and very focused on it, and I know that he and the administration are going to do everything in their power to try to restore democracy to Myanmar, and in the doing of that, to try to be able to help relieve the pressure and the challenges that the Rohingya represent,” Kerry said in response to a request by a reporter for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
The joint letter sent by Refugees International and 94 other NGOs noted that, in September 2019, an independent U.N. fact-finding mission had found a pattern of conduct that “infers genocidal intent” by Myanmar to destroy the Rohingya.
“Now is the time to use the words that fit the crimes. U.S. leadership matters. We call upon you to demonstrate the moral leadership and courage necessary to push global action in the face of genocide,” the letter concludes.
Among the 95 signatories are the Arakan Institute for Peace and Human Rights; the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights; the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network; Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia; the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America; and World Rohingya Organization.
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