The United States has officially determined that violence committed against the Rohingya minority by the Myanmar military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity, U.S. officials told Reuters news agency.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce the decision on Monday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, U.S. officials told Reuters, which is currently hosting an exhibit on the plight of the Rohingya.
This comes nearly 14 months after he took office and pledged to conduct a new review of the violence.
Myanmar’s armed forces launched a military operation in 2017 that forced at least 730,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya to leave their homes and travel to neighboring Bangladesh, where they have told of killings, gang rapes and arson. In 2021, the Burmese military seized power in a coup.
U.S. officials and an outside law firm gathered evidence in an effort to quickly acknowledge the severity of the atrocities, but then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to make a decision.
Blinken ordered his own “legal and factual analysis,” U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The analysis concluded that the Myanmar military was committing genocide, and Washington believes the formal determination will increase international pressure to hold the generals accountable.
“It will make it harder for them to commit further abuses,” said a senior State Department official.
Officials at the Myanmar embassy in Washington, DC and a military government spokesman did not immediately respond to Reuters emails seeking comment on Sunday.
The Myanmar military has denied committing genocide against the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, and said it was conducting an “operation against terrorists” in 2017.
A United Nations fact-finding mission concluded in 2018 that the army’s campaign included “acts of genocide,” but Washington at the time called the atrocities “ethnic cleansing,” a term that has no legal definition under international criminal law.
“It really shows the world and particularly the victims and survivors within the Rohingya community and more broadly that the United States recognizes the gravity of what’s going on,” a second senior State Department official said Monday of Blinken’s announcement.
A determination of genocide does not automatically trigger punitive action by the United States.