The United States says Myanmar is carrying out a genocide of its country’s Rohingya Muslims.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the declaration Monday morning in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. He had just visited its exhibit, Burma’s Path to Genocide.
Blinken said it is his responsibility as Secretary to investigate possible atrocities in foreign countries. He said his examination of Burma found its military guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.
“Beyond the Holocaust, the United States has concluded that genocide was committed seven times. Today marks the eighth,” Blinken said.
He called Burmese attacks against the Rohingya population "widespread and systematic." He said they pointed to evidence of a clear goal to destroy the mainly Muslim minority group.
In 2017, suspected Rohingya militants launched attacks against security forces in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine. The attacks led the government to launch military operations against the rebels and their supporters. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled the area to escape the violence. Most are now living in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.
The United Nations described the government’s military operation as genocidal and a well-organized example of ethnic cleansing. Other countries have also recognized the conflict as a genocide.
Myanmar officials have denied the military carried out human rights abuses. The government said the campaign was necessary to defend against attacks by Rohingya militants.
The U.S. State Department has documented many cases of Myanmar security forces destroying villages and carrying out rapes, tortures and mass killings of civilians.
Blinken said of the security campaign, “The military’s attacks in 2016 forced nearly 100,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. In 2017, attacks killed more than 9,000 Rohingya, and forced more than 740,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh.
The latest U.S. declaration is not expected to result in immediate, new measures against Myanmar's military-ruled government. The government is already facing numerous U.S. sanctions over its military activities against the Rohingya population.
But the declaration could lead to increased international pressure on Myanmar, which also faces accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Human rights groups and lawmakers had long pressed the U.S. government to make the genocide declaration.
“As we lay the foundation for future accountability, we’re also working to stop the military’s ongoing atrocities, and support the people of (Myanmar) as they strive to put the country back on the path to democracy,” Blinken said.
Thousands of civilians across Myanmar have been killed and imprisoned as part of an ongoing campaign of repression against those opposed to the ruling military government.
Tun Khin is president of the Britain-based Burmese Rohingya Organization. He said in a statement he sees the U.S. declaration as “a momentous moment and must lead to concrete action to hold the Burmese military accountable for their crimes.”
Past U.S. declarations of genocide include campaigns against Uyghurs and other largely Muslim minorities in China, as well as atrocities carried out in Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur.
I’m Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
atrocity – n. a very cruel or terrible act or action
conclude – v. to decide something after carefully studying all the information about it
commit – v. to make a firm decision to do something
sanction – n. an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country
foundation – n. the main idea or principle that something is based on
accountable – adj. being responsible for what you do and being able to explain your actions
strive – v. to try very hard to do or complete something
momentous – adj. very important
concrete – adj. certain or based on facts