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U.S. officially says Myanmar's violence against Rohingya was genocide

Anti-coup protesters are shown running around their makeshift barricade on March 28, 2021, as they make a defense line during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 28, 2021.
Anti-coup protesters are shown running around their makeshift barricade on March 28, 2021, as they make a defense line during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 28, 2021.

Updated March 21, 2022 at 12:58 PM ET

The Biden administration has officially determined that recent violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was genocide.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday, accused Myanmar's military of carrying out a genocide and crimes against humanity in 2016 and 2017.

Blinken said it was only the eighth time in history that the U.S. had determined a genocide had occurred, and he hoped the announcement would help the Rohingya on their path out of the conflict.

"Today's determination is one step on that path – as it tells Rohingya, and victims in particular, that the United States government recognizes the gravity of the atrocities committed against them," Blinken said. "And it reaffirms Rohingyas' human rights and dignity – something the Burmese military has tried to destroy."

Blinken said he arrived at his decision based on a State Department factual assessment and legal analysis, which included a report on two periods of violence in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks after viewing the "Burma's Path To Genocide" exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
Kevin Lamarque / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks after viewing the "Burma's Path To Genocide" exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

The report, based on a survey of more than one thousand Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh, found that the military killed, raped and tortured people and razed villages.

Blinken said the results showed that the abuses weren't isolated but rather part of a widespread and systemic pattern of violence against Rohingya.

"The evidence also points to a clear intent behind these mass atrocities – the intent to destroy Rohingya, in whole or in part," he added.

More than 9,000 Rohingya were killed in the 2017 attacks, the report concluded.

The military has ruled Myanmar since a coup last year

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border into Bangladesh as the result of a counterinsurgency campaign launched by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw. The military saidit was responding to coordinated attacks on Myanmar security forces by Rohingya extremists.

Last week, the United Nations released a report that said the 2021 military coup by the Tatmadaw, which has claimed at least 1,600 lives, may be "crimes against humanity."

Myanmar's armed forces overthrew the civilian government, which was led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, in early February of last year. The military detained Suu Kyi along with other leaders of the then-existing National League for Democracy following accusations of fraud in the 2020 national elections.

The army said at the time that power would be transferred to Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing in a statement broadcast on military-owned television that also declared a one-year state of emergency, Reuters reported. The military, called the Tatmadaw in Myanmar, named its new regime the State Administration Council.

Since the coup, the Tatmadaw has targeted anti-coup protesters and allegedly used sexual violence, shootings, electrocutions, starvation, forced drug injections and more against the public, according to the U.N. report, which was pieced together from interviews with about 155 witnesses to the violations.

"Since 1 February 2021, acts that may amount to crimes against humanity may have been committed, in particular: murder, forcible transfer, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law..." the report said.

More than 12,500 people have been detained, at least 440,000 have been displaced and about 14 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, the report says.

"Crimes against humanity under customary international law may be perpetrated when certain acts are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population," the U.N. said.

A political opposition is vying for control of Myanmar

Anti-military groups have emerged in Myanmar and come together as the National Unity Government, a successor of the National League for Democracy. About 543 people who supported the military have died, with anti-coup groups claiming responsibility for 95 of the deaths, according to the report.

The State Administration Council and the National Unity Government are both wanting international recognition as Myanmar's official government.

International organizations have been unable to achieve lasting peace, with actions such as council resolutions remaining "limited in scope and impact on the ground," according to the report.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recommended in the report that Myanmar's military immediately stop all attacks and release all detainees, and that "all parties" in Myanmar cooperate with the UN's Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

To outside nations, Bachelet advises placing sanctions on Myanmar that will cut off the military's arms supply, cutting relationships with businesses tied to the Tatmadaw and providing long-term assistance to those fleeing the country.

"The human rights situation in Myanmar has deteriorated significantly as the far-reaching impacts of the military coup continue to devastate lives and hopes across the country," she said in November 2021."Conflict, poverty and the effects of the pandemic are sharply increasing, and the country faces a vortex of repression, violence and economic collapse."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
Joe Hernandez

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