US declares Rohingya repression in Myanmar a ‘genocide’

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration plans to declare that Myanmar’s years of repression of the Rohingya Muslim population is a “genocide,” US officials said Sunday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to make the much-anticipated appointment Monday at an event at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the move had not yet been publicly announced.

The designation in itself does not mean drastic new measures against Myanmar’s military-led government, which has already been hit with multiple layers of US 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 accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Human rights groups and lawmakers have pressured both the Trump and Biden administrations to make the nomination.

At least one member of Congress, Democratic Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, welcomed the expected move, as did Refugees International.

“I applaud the Biden administration for finally recognizing the atrocities against the Rohingya as genocide,” he said in a statement released immediately after the State Department announced that Blinken would make remarks at the Holocaust Museum on Monday. Myanmar and would visit an exhibit titled “Burma’s Path to Genocide.” Myanmar is also known as Burma.

“While this determination is long overdue, it is nevertheless a powerful and extremely important step to hold this brutal regime to account,” Merkley said. “Such processes must always be conducted objectively, consistently and in a way that transcends geopolitical considerations.”

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

Merkley called on the government to continue the pressure campaign on Myanmar by imposing additional sanctions on the government to also include its oil and gas sectors. “America must lead the world to make it clear that atrocities like this should never go unnoticed, wherever they take place,” he said.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when Myanmar’s military launched a clearance operation in response to attacks by a rebel group. Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of mass rape, murder and burning of thousands of houses.

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