Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves the United States and the country of Myanmar and their military.
The United States government has concluded that the widespread campaign of rape, crucifixions, and drownings and burnings of families and children in Myanmar amounted to genocide. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to announce the determination; a legal designation for crimes that American investigators have been documenting since 2018; at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on Monday. It will most likely trigger additional economic sanctions, limits on aid and other penalties against Myanmar’s military junta.
The Tatmadaw overthrew Myanmar’s civilian government and its nascent democratic efforts which was led by the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in February 2021. In one of its first acts in office, the Biden administration declared that the military takeover amounted to a coup. But an internal debate that began during the Trump administration had, until now, delayed a decision on whether the State Department should formally accuse Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya, a minority ethnic group that is largely Muslim.
The decision also comes as the Biden administration grapples with whether Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes for his military’s indiscriminate and deadly attacks in Ukraine, including against a maternity hospital and a theatre that was sheltering children in the southeastern city of Mariupol.
A senior State Department official confirmed the genocide determination on Sunday, after it was reported by Reuters. “This is a recognition of the atrocities that have occurred and of the ways in which those atrocities are manifesting themselves even today,” Anurima Bhagavad, the former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan panel that makes policy recommendations to the federal government, said on Sunday. She also said that “those who committed this genocide continue to be in power.”
In the year that Mr. Blinken and his team have been weighing a declaration, Myanmar has spiraled into a state of constant conflict and economic collapse.
Thousands of civilians have been killed by the tatmadaw, fomenting a widespread uprising and a shadow government that oppose the military control. Fighting has reached every part of Myanmar, and the junta has lost control over some territory in northern Rakhine State, where the most intense atrocities against the Rohingya occurred, including violence that has intensified since August of 2017. At that time, Aung San Suu Kyi was Myanmar’s de facto leader. Though she had been championed for years by the United States and other democratic nations, she defended Myanmar from accusations of genocide against the Rohingya during a 2019 appearance at the International Court of Justice that tarnished her international credentials as an activist.
In 2018, the State Department quietly released a report detailing the planned and coordinated nature of widespread violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, resulting in mass casualties, including against religious leaders who had been singled out.
But it conspicuously did not conclude that Myanmar’s military had committed genocide or crimes against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi now is among more than 100 elected Myanmar officials whom the country’s military has arrested, and ahe faces 173 years in prison on 17 charges that her supporters say are trumped up. With the declaration, the Biden administration appears to have concluded that calling out the human rights abuses is more important than backing Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy drive. President Biden has made both values a priority on his foreign affairs policy and last April went as far as to declare the attrocities in Armenia committed by the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
International charges of genocide would almost certainly be brought against the military leaders who ordered the atrocities against the Rohingya and who, presumably, remain in power in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal culpability is less certain, Bhargava said, although “we know that those who have taken over Burma currently were in the driver’s seat in terms of the many atrocities are committed in 2017.” In the nearer term, the Biden administration’s new genocide determination would increase pressure on other nations and foreign companies that have even indirectly helped the Tatmadaw remain in power.