Washington, DC: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today marked the fifth anniversary of the Burmese military’s genocidal campaign against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State by calling for accountability of the military junta, known as the Tatmadaw, and for an end to its brutal coup. On March 21, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.
“The Biden administration took a pivotal step in recognizing the Burmese authorities’ violent actions against the Rohingya as genocide and crimes against humanity,” USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck stated. “We urge the United States government to actively support multilateral efforts to hold the Tatmadaw and other Burmese officials accountable through the international legal system.”
On August 25, 2017, the Tatmadaw launched a genocidal campaign in Rakhine State against mostly Rohingya and other Muslims. The United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar documented instances of Burmese military units engaging in indiscriminate killings of civilians, mass rape, and arbitrary detentions. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees reported that over a million Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers are in Bangladesh, including hundreds of thousands displaced to other countries throughout the region.
Currently, there are three ongoing cases seeking to hold the Burmese authorities accountable for their actions against Rohingya. In February 2022, the National Unity Government (NUG), which is Burma’s shadow government opposing the ruling military junta, accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On July 2022, the ICJ rejected the Tatmadaw’s objections against one of those cases, brought forth by The Gambia, allowing the ICJ to proceed trying the case.
“Five years ago, the Tatmadaw resumed a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people, a prelude to their violent overthrow of democracy in February 2021,” added USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland. “USCIRF reiterates its recommendation to the U.S. government to increase engagement with multilateral and regional partners, including ASEAN and local actors such as the National Unity government, to stem ongoing religious freedom violations and promote accountability. We call on the U.S. State Department and Congress to hold the perpetrators accountable immediately so the Rohingya can return back to Burma.”
In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF reported on the Tatmadaw’s atrocities against the Rohingya as well as its myriad of other religious freedom violations. Since the February 2021 coup, the U.S. government has issued a series of sanctions against the Tatmadaw, though to date none have cited religious freedom violations.
Following the State Department’s announcement, USCIRF discussed what the genocide determination means going forward and ongoing accountability processes on an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast, as well as a factsheet titled “Pursuing Justice and Accountability: Next Steps for the Rohingya Community of Burma.”
USCIRF also held two hearings last year in a series titled Ending Genocide, in which Burma was a focus. The May 2021 hearing highlighted the U.S. government’s genocide determinations and next steps, while the July 2021 hearing discussed accountability for perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.
Joint Ministerial Statement Marking the 5th Anniversary of the Myanmar Military’s Attack against Rohingya and Ensuing Crisis: Five years ago, the Myanmar military launched a violent attack on Rohingya communities in Rakhine, killing, raping, and torturing thousands of Rohingya men, women, and children and forcing over 700,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh – where they joined other Rohingya, who had fled earlier attacks and decades of systemic discrimination.
These deplorable actions against Rohingya precipitated one of the largest mass exoduses of a minority in recent history. We are concerned by the UN Fact Finding Mission’s establishment of consistent patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses, of which many amount to grave crimes under international law.
We also recognize other initiatives to hold perpetrators accountable, including The Gambia’s efforts before the International Court of Justice, which is currently examining whether the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military against Rohingya amounted also to genocide. We reiterate that Myanmar must comply with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures order.
The same actors that committed these reprehensible actions led the military coup d’état in February 2021, and today continue to perpetrate atrocities against political dissidents and vulnerable populations, including other ethnic and religious minorities across Myanmar, and have done so for decades.
The Rohingya themselves suffer human rights violations and abuses, discrimination, systematic persecution, and denial of access to basic services – including the right to citizenship. Around 150,000 Rohingya have been confined to camps without freedom of movement in Rakhine for a decade. Women and girls continue to be at extreme risk under the current conditions.
As we mark five years since the brutal 2017 campaign against Rohingya, we commend the courage of Rohingya communities and remember all the victims. We reiterate our commitment to holding the perpetrators of these violations and abuses to account, and acknowledge the work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar and others contributing to this objective.
We call on the military regime to cease its violence against those who have suffered under its rule, including the decades of grave human rights violations and abuses endured by Rohingya and other communities in Myanmar. We thank the UN relevant bodies, Bangladesh, and other hosting nations for their generosity and providing lifesaving support to Rohingya and remain dedicated to supporting Bangladesh to ensure that the needs and rights of all refugees and impacted host communities are met.
We also appreciate the important efforts of humanitarian organizations to extend protection and assistance for Rohingya communities. At the same time, we call on the international community to help to ensure justice for Rohingya victims, support host communities, and foster conditions that will allow for the safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return to their communities. Rohingya must be meaningfully included in discussions around the future of Myanmar.
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