The United States has formally declared that Myanmar’s military junta has committed genocide and crimes against humanity on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.
The official declaration was announced by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on Monday.
Blinken read some of the accounts of the junta’s victims in his speech. Some victims were reportedly tortured, shot and raped amid the crisis in the Southeast Asian country. The U.S. Secretary of State also said during the formal declaration, which did not establish any direct punitive measures against the junta, that innocent civilians were targeted.
“Since the coup, we have seen the Burmese military use many of the same tactics,” Blinken said. “Only now the military is targeting anyone in Burma it sees as opposing or undermining its repressive rule.”
“For those who did not realize it before the coup, the brutal violence unleashed by the military since February 2021 has made clear that no one in Burma will be safe from atrocities so long as it is in power,” he added.
Previously, the U.S. described the junta’s acts as “ethnic cleansing.” Since 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya have reportedly been driven away from their homes to seek refuge in neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former de facto leader, came under fire in 2017 for seemingly defending the country’s violent treatment of the Rohingya people. As a result of her actions, councilors in central southern England’s city of Oxford issued a motion to withdraw her Freedom of Oxford award.
The situation in Myanmar took a turn for the worse when the junta took control of the country during a coup in February 2021. It detained some of the country’s leaders, including Suu Kyi, who was accused of cheating in the December 2020 election.
“There is no doubt that being allowed to get away with genocide of the Rohingya encouraged the military to think it could get away with holding a coup as well,” Rohingya activist and head of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Tun Khin, told Reuters.
“Accountability for Rohingya genocide will not just help protect the Rohingya, it will help protect all the people of Burma,” Khin, who was also present at Blinken’s speech, added.
Those who have committed atrocities against the Rohingya people are now reportedly in power following last year’s coup. Blinken addressed this during his speech, saying that “the day will come when those responsible for these appalling acts will have to answer for them.”
Blinken also vowed that the U.S. government will continue its effort to push for accountability by allocating $1 million of funding to the United Nations’ Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IMM).
Although the investigative team has already found evidence pointing to the junta’s “genocidal acts,” the IIMM is reportedly still gathering evidence that could be used to prosecute military commanders in the future.
“We urge the administration, and the international community, to continue to do more to hold the military junta accountable, redouble efforts to restore democracy and bring about a genuine national reconciliation to Burma,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and James Risch (R-ID) said.
Before the formal declaration on Monday, the U.S. had only formally used the word “genocide” seven times to describe past atrocities, such as the Islamic State’s attacks on Yazidis and other minorities and China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.