The United States called out genocide and atrocities happening in six countries —Myanmar (also known as Burma,) China, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan — as part of a report highlighting how the U.S. government is using financial, diplomatic and other measures to try to stop them.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday released an annual report on genocide and atrocities prevention.
"This year, for the first time, the report provides direct detailed accounts of atrocities taking place in specific countries, including Burma, Ethiopia, China and Syria. These places represent some of the toughest foreign policy challenges on our agenda," Blinken said.
"We'll use all of the tools that are at our disposal, including diplomacy, foreign assistance, investigations in fact-finding missions, financial tools and engagements, and reports like this one, which raise awareness and allow us to generate coordinated international pressure and response," Blinken added.
In January, Blinken affirmed that China was committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. The State Department continues to restrict visas for Chinese officials believed to be responsible for detaining or abusing Muslim minorities.
The U.S., European Union, Britain and Canada had sanctioned two Chinese officials for their involvement in the human rights abuses. Dozens of Chinese companies have also been added to the U.S. Entity List for their roles in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The prevention of a genocide is not only a moral responsibility but also an obligation under international law, said some experts, while noting some limitations.
"Acts of genocide are crimes of universal jurisdiction in U.S. federal courts. No matter where the crimes of genocide were committed, the perpetrators can be tried in U.S. federal courts," Gregory Stanton, the founding president of Genocide Watch, told VOA.
But those perpetrators "must be physically present in the U.S. because U.S. courts do not try anyone in absentia," Stanton added.
"The 1948 Genocide Convention, which the United States ratified in 1988, requires states to prevent and to punish genocide," Tom Dannenbaum, an assistant professor of international law at Tufts University's Fletcher School, told VOA.
"But the duty to prevent does not include an authority to use military force abroad to that end," Dannenbaum said.
Although China is party to the Genocide Convention, along with the U.S. and 150 other states, Dannenbaum said, the Beijing government has issued a reservation to one of the articles under the Convention, blocking the viability of legal cases against China at the International Court of Justice.
On Myanmar, the U.S. has sanctioned its military leadership and suspended military engagement following the February 2021 coup. Coup leaders include many of those responsible for atrocities against Rohingya in Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017, which the U.S. determined to be acts of ethnic cleansing.
The U.S. has also extended temporary protected status for people from Myanmar in the U.S. for 18 months following the military coup while calling on the country's regime to return power to the democratically elected government and stop killing and attacking protesters.
In March, Blinken called atrocities committed in Ethiopia's Tigray region acts of ethnic cleansing. The U.S. is restricting certain nonhumanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, as well as placing new defense trade controls on that country.
"Both reviews are ongoing. We're bringing together the facts, the legal assessments, and both are being very actively considered," said the top U.S. diplomat on Monday when asked about the U.S. government's decision on whether to call atrocities committed in Tigray and in Burma (against Rohingya) crimes against humanity or genocide.
But Genocide Watch's Stanton criticized the State Department, saying its lawyers have blocked declarations that genocide had been committed in many other countries.
"For three months during the Rwandan genocide, they refused to call it genocide. They are still blocking recognition that genocide was committed against the Rohingya in Burma. They are blocking recognition that genocide is being committed against Christians in Nigeria," Stanton told VOA in an email on Monday.
The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018 was signed into U.S. law on January 14, 2019. The law requires updates on the U.S. government's efforts to prevent and respond to atrocities based on a global assessment of ongoing atrocities and countries at risk of atrocities.