One of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State is determining, on behalf of the United States, whether atrocities have been committed. On March 21, Secretary Antony Blinken exercised that responsibility by declaring that members of Burma’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
“It’s a decision that I reached based on reviewing a factual assessment and legal analysis prepared by the State Department, which included detailed documentation by a range of independent, impartial sources, including human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as our own rigorous fact-finding."
One such source is a 2018 report compiled by the Department of State.
“The report was based on a survey of more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh, all of whom were displaced by the violence in 2016 or 2017. Three-quarters of those interviewed said that they personally witnessed members of the military kill someone. More than half witnessed acts of sexual violence. One in five witnessed a mass-casualty event – that is, the killing or injuring of more than 100 people in a single incident.”
“The evidence also points to a clear intent behind these mass atrocities – the intent to destroy Rohingya,” said Secretary Blinken.
“Intent is evident in public comments by Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Burmese military, who was overseeing the operation. On September 1, 2017, as soldiers were razing villages, killing, torturing, raping men, women, and children, he said this, and I quote: ‘The Bengali problem was a long-standing one that has become an unfinished job… The government in office is taking great care in solving it.’"
“Percentages, numbers, patterns, intent: these are critically important to reach the determination of genocide,” said Secretary Blinken.
“Of course, the path out of genocide also runs through justice … Local and international human rights organizations … have spent years documenting atrocities against Rohingya and other ethnic and religious groups in Burma.” The case files are growing, he said, and “the day will come when those responsible for these appalling acts will have to answer for them.”
“With today’s determination, the United States reaffirms its broader commitment to accompany Rohingya on this path out of genocide – toward truth, toward accountability, toward a home that will welcome them as equal members, that will respect their human rights and dignity, alongside that of all people in Burma.”