ISTANBUL: The US is “very actively” looking to designate the ongoing repression of the Rohingya population of Myanmar as a “genocide,” the top US diplomat said on Wednesday.
“We continue also to look actively at determinations of what are the actions taken in Myanmar and whether they constitute genocide and that’s something we’re looking at very actively right now,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in Myanmar in 2012.
More than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women, and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar’s forces launched a violent crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, including killings, beatings, rape, and burning down homes.
Blinken said the situation in Myanmar after the military coup this February has “gotten worse,” calling for the release of those detained by the junta regime, including deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I think it’s going to be very important in the weeks and months ahead to look at what additional steps and measures we can take individually, collectively to pressure the regime to put the country back on a democratic trajectory,” Blinken said.
“The long and short of it is we have to look at what additional steps, measures could be taken to move things in a better direction and that’s something that we’re looking at,” Blinken told a joint news conference alongside Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
According to Blinken, additional measures may include sanctions to pressure the Southeast Asian nation’s military leaders to return to a “democratic trajectory.”
Role of ASEAN
Blinken is on a three-nation trip to Southeast Asia, beginning in Indonesia.
Abdullah said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must do some “soul-searching” when it comes to Myanmar.
ASEAN, a regional grouping of 10 nations, has restricted its measures against Myanmar due to its “policy of non-interference in its members’ internal affairs.”
Since Myanmar’s Feb. 1 coup, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed and over 5,400 others, including the top leadership of the previous administration, were arrested by junta forces.
Blinken called for the release of all prisoners who have been “unjustly detained,” including Suu Kyi, besides urging the junta administration to allow unhindered humanitarian access and end violence against protesters.
“I understand that we celebrate the principles of non-interference, but … ASEAN should also look at the principle of non-indifference because what happens in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar,” Abdullah said.
Malaysia is hosting nearly 200,000 Rohingya refugees.
“We have to do some soul-searching,” he said, expressing hope that an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in January would be able to clarify the group’s position on Myanmar and lay out clear demands and milestones for the country’s military to meet along with a specific timeline for completing them.-AA