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US Declares Myanmar's Treatment of Rohingya Minority a 'Genocide'

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FILE - Ethnic Rohingya women and children sit by a fire on a beach after their boat was stranded on Idaman Island in East Aceh, Indonesia, June 4, 2021, after leaving a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

The United States has determined Myanmar’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its campaign against the Rohingya minority.

The formal announcement was made on Monday by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who quoted accounts of Rohingya victims as examples of the widespread and systematic evidence that the military of Buddhist-majority Myanmar intended to destroy the mainly Muslim minority.

“Beyond the Holocaust [of Nazi-era Germany], the United States has concluded the genocide was committed seven times. Today marks the eighth as I've determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya,” said Blinken during a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Just prior to his remarks, the secretary of state, who is the son of a survivor of the Nazi’s genocidal campaign against the Jews, toured an exhibition at the museum focused on the plight of the Rohingya.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, also known as Burma, to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh since the August 2017 launch of a military operation intended to clear them from the country following attacks by a rebel group. The campaign involved murder, mass rape and the burning of homes.

FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2017, photo, houses are on fire in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar.
FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2017, photo, houses are on fire in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar.

“As we lay the foundation for future accountability, we’re also working to stop the military’s ongoing atrocities and support the people of Burma as they strive to put the country back on the path to democracy,” said the top U.S. diplomat.

Blinken also vowed “the day will come when those responsible for these appalling acts will have to answer for them.”

As long as the military junta remains in power, no one in Myanmar will be safe, predicted Blinken.

It is unclear what impact the designation will have in terms of policy toward the country.

The government of Myanmar has already endured a barrage of sanctions from the United States and other countries over the treatment of the Rohingya, as well as for the military coup in February 2021.

The U.S. government still needs to do more in response, including coordinating with other countries to pursue justice, according to the Human Rights Watch non-governmental organization.

The U.S. sanctions in place are not biting, according to the group’s Asia advocacy director, John Sifton.

"It's disappointing that the U.S. has not escalated the sanctions to capture foreign currency revenues on oil, gas and mining in particular,” Sifton told VOA.

“While this determination is long-awaited, as a Rohingya, this decision is historical, important and humanizing for us,” said Yasmin Ullah, a board member of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

“We must also acknowledge that it is only the first step of many, and we must ensure that the Biden administration takes the necessary and appropriate tangible course of actions to hold the Burmese military accountable for their [atrocities and] crimes, not only for genocide of Rohingya, but for war crimes and crimes against humanity against our ethnic brothers and sisters as well,” added Ullah in a statement.

"I applaud the Biden administration for finally recognizing the atrocities committed against the Rohingya as genocide," said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, in a statement.

"While this determination is long overdue, it is nevertheless a powerful and critically important step in holding this brutal regime to account," Merkley said. "Such processes must always be carried out objectively, consistently, and in a way that transcends geopolitical considerations."

The United State has previously declared genocides after massacres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur, Islamic State’s attacks on Yazidis and other minorities. It has also described China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority as genocide.

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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