WASHINGTON – The Biden administration intends to declare that Myanmar’s years-long repression of the Rohingya Muslim population is a “genocide," U.S. officials said Sunday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to make the long-anticipated designation on Monday at an event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the move had not yet been publicly announced.
The designation does not in and of itself portend drastic new measures against Myanmar’s military-led government, which has already been hit with multiple layers of U.S. sanctions since the campaign against the Rohingya ethnic minority began in the country's western Rakhine state in 2017.
But it could lead to additional international pressure on the government, which is already facing accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Human rights groups and lawmakers have been pressing both the Trump and Biden administrations to make the designation.
At least one member of Congress, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, welcomed the anticipated step, as did Refugees International.
“I applaud the Biden administration for finally recognizing the atrocities committed against the Rohingya as genocide," he said in a statement released immediately after the State Department announced that Blinken would deliver remarks on Myanmar at the Holocaust Museum on Monday and tour an exhibit entitled “Burma’s Path to Genocide.” Myanmar is also known as Burma.
“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 humanitarian group Refugees International also praised the move. “The U.S. genocide declaration is a welcome and profoundly meaningful step,” the group 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 today.”
Merkley called on the administration to continue the pressure campaign on Myanmar by imposing additional sanctions on the government to include its oil and gas sectors. “America must lead the world to make it clear that atrocities like these will never be allowed to be buried unnoticed, no matter where they occur,” he said.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a clearance operation in response to attacks by a rebel group. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes.