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Blinken declares Myanmar’s military committed genocide against Rohingya

The formal declaration, announced at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, is a significant step and comes after the Trump administration declined to classify the atrocities — including mass killings, rape, and torture — as genocide or crimes against humanity.

It also comes more than a year after members of Myanmar’s military — many of whom played roles in committing the genocide — ousted the country’s civilian-led government in a coup.

“Beyond the Holocaust, the United States has concluded that genocide was committed seven times,” Blinken said. “Today marks the eighth as I have determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.”

The top US diplomat said the responsibility of determining whether genocide has been committed is one he takes “very seriously,” especially given his own family history as the stepson of a Holocaust survivor. In his remarks at the museum – where he also took a tour of an exhibit called “Burma’s Path to Genocide,” Blinken also made mention of the ongoing human rights abuses in Ukraine, the genocide in China’s Xinjiang region, and atrocities in Ethiopia.

Blinken said he made the Myanmar determination “based on reviewing a factual assessment and legal analysis prepared by the State Department, which included documentation by a range of independent, impartial sources, as well as our own rigorous fact-finding.”

He specifically highlighted a 2018 State Department report, which focused on violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in October 2016 and August 2017.

That report, which was quietly released in late September 2018, found that violence against the Rohingya was “extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” but stopped short of calling the violence “genocide.”

According to the report, most of the refugees witnessed a killing, two-thirds witnessed an injury, and half witnessed sexual violence. One-fifth of the refugees in the survey witnessed a mass-casualty event with more than 100 people. Seventy-five percent said they saw members of the army kill someone. That same percentage said they saw the army destroy huts and villages.

Blinken said the evidence in the report “points to a clear intent behind these mass atrocities — the intent to destroy Rohingya, in whole or in part, through killings, rape, and torture.”

“Percentages, numbers, patterns, intent — these are critically important to reach the determination of genocide. But at the same time, we must remember that behind each of these numbers are countless individual acts of cruelty and inhumanity,” Blinken said, adding that the victims of these crimes must be remembers as more than that, “as whole human beings. As mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”

Blinken said the genocide determination is “fundamental to understanding Burma’s current crisis.”

“Many of the military leaders who led the genocidal campaign against Rohingya in 2016 and 2017, including the general who led it, were also involved in abuses committed against other ethnic and religious minority groups. “They’re the same ones who overthrew Burma’s democratically elected government on February 1, 2021 and seized power,” he said.

“Since the coup, we have seen the Burmese military use many of the same tactics. Only now the military is targeting anyone in Burma it sees as opposing or undermining its repressive rule,” he noted.

The US had already sanctioned a number of Myanmar’s military officials, including commander in chief of Myanmar’s armed services Min Aung Hlaing, for their roles in the atrocities committed against the Rohingya.

In his remarks Monday, Blinken said the US is committed to working for accountability. He announced “nearly a million dollars in additional funding” to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

“We have also shared information with The Gambia in connection with the case it has filed against Burma under the Genocide Convention at the International Court of Justice for the atrocities committed against Rohingya,” he noted.

“With today’s determination, the United States reaffirms its broader commitment to accompanying Rohingya on this path out of genocide — toward truth, toward accountability, and toward a home that will welcome them as equal members, and respect their human rights and dignity, alongside that of all people in Burma,” Blinken said.

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