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U.S. to declare Myanmar army committed genocide against Rohingya

Rights groups have been calling for the designation for years after hundreds of thousands of members of the Muslim minority were driven out of the country.
Rohingya in Bangladesh view higher education as path to dignified future
Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in November.Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Biden administration has made a formal determination that the Myanmar military has committed genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, a U.S. official and a source familiar with the decision said Sunday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to make the announcement Monday morning at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where he is scheduled to speak about Myanmar, also known as Burma, after he tours an exhibition called “Burma’s Path to Genocide.” 

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U.S. law does not require any specific action after the government declares a genocide, but the designation could increase international pressure on the Myanmar military, which seized power in a coup last year.

Since August 2017, more than 700,000 members of the mostly Muslim Rohingya group have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh, where they live in crowded refugee camps. The refugees have accused Myanmar security forces of killings, mass rape and arson to drive them out. The military denies the allegations.

The U.S. had previously described the Myanmar military’s campaign against the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing” and imposed sanctions on top generals. Lawmakers and rights groups have been calling for the genocide designation for years.

“The U.S. genocide declaration is a welcome and profoundly meaningful step,” the humanitarian group Refugees International said in a statement. “It is also a solid sign of commitment to justice for all the people who continue to face abuses by the military junta to this very day.”  

In a report released last week, the U.N. human rights office said that since the coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the military junta had committed widespread and systematic abuses against civilians that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The appalling breadth and scale of violations of international law suffered by the people of Myanmar demand a firm, unified, and resolute international response,” said Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.