By Special Correspondent
Washington, DC/ New Delhi: Marking the fourth anniversary of the Burmese military’s genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State of Myanmar, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Wednesday urged the President Joe Biden administration and the international community to make the military junta accountable for war crimes.
The military junta known as the Tatmadaw has perpetuated the violence against Rohingya Muslims who were forced to flee from the country to save their lives.
Expressing serious concern over the plight of Rohingya Muslims, USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said, “Four years after the beginning of the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people, Burma has entered a new period of instability in which its most vulnerable face even greater risk”.
“We urge the United States government to support efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable and provide justice for Rohingya survivors, which is needed to break the cycle of impunity that emboldened the Tatmadaw to seize control,” Maenza asked.
On August 25, 2017, the Tatmadaw launched a genocidal campaign in Rakhine State against the largely Muslim Rohingya community. The United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar has documented instances of Burmese military units involved in indiscriminate killings of civilians, mass rape, and arbitrary detentions. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 740,000 Rohingya refugees fled to camps in Bangladesh, while another 120,000 are displaced internally.
This past February, the Tatmadaw launched a coup that plunged Burma into unprecedented chaos. Violence and persecution of the Rohingya Muslim community, which existed prior to the coup, has become an even greater threat. On August 1, 2021, Burmese military General Min Aung Hlaing declared himself Prime Minister and extended the military dictatorship until at least 2023.
“The Burmese military committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the Burmese people, including the Rohingya. Yet, General Hlaing pronounced his plans to extend the military coup and his dictatorship for the next couple of years,” added USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “USCIRF reiterates its recommendation to the State Department to definitively and publicly conclude if the Tatmadaw’s actions against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State meet the legal definition of crimes against humanity or genocide. Doing so would assist the worldwide efforts at the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice to hold Burmese authorities accountable for their crimes.”
Shortly after the coup took place in Burma, USCIRF discussed the implications on religious communities in an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast.
In its 2021 Annual Report, the Commission urged the U.S. government to use its authority under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the International Religious Freedom Act to impose targeted sanctions on Burmese officials responsible for severe religious freedom violations against Rohingya Muslims. Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh, India and other countries. They have been facing some problems in India due to unsympathetic attitude of the Indian government.
Since the February 2021 coup, the U.S. government has issued a series of sanctions, though to date none have cited religious freedom violations.
The Commission held two hearings in a series titled Ending Genocide in which Burma was a focus. The May 2021 hearing was on the U.S. government’s genocide determinations and next steps and the July 2021 hearing discussed accountability for perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.