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US concludes atrocities against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims was genocide: Report

Rohingya refugees sit on wooden benches of a navy vessel on their way to the Bhasan Char island in Noakhali district, Bangladesh, December 29, 2020. (Reuters photo)

The administration of US President Joe Biden will formally declare that the Myanmar military's atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority constituted genocide and crimes against humanity, according to a report.

American officials told the Reuters news agency that the decision will be announced by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which currently features an exhibit on the plight of the Rohingya.

"It's going to make it harder for them to commit further abuses," a senior State Department official told the news agency.

Blinken ordered his own "legal and factual analysis," according to US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The analysis concluded the Myanmar army is committing genocide.

Blinken will also announce $1 million in funding for the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), a UN body gathering evidence for possible prosecutions, Reuters reported.

A United Nations fact-finding mission concluded in 2018 that the Myanmar military's offensive included "genocidal acts," but the US referred at the time to the crimes as "ethnic cleansing," a term that has no legal definition under international criminal law.

"It's really signaling to the world and especially to victims and survivors within the Rohingya community and more broadly than the United States recognizes the gravity of what's happening," a second senior State Department official said of Blinken's announcement on Monday.

The Rohingya Muslims based in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been subjected to a campaign of killings, rape, and arson attacks by the military-backed by the country’s majority Buddhist extremists in what the UN has described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The brutal campaign has forced more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee their homeland since August 2017 and seek refuge in Bangladesh.

The 2017 clampdown is the subject of a genocide investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, are denied citizenship and are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.

On the fourth anniversary of the crackdown, several groups in Myanmar last year issued statements calling for accelerated efforts to prosecute those responsible for the 2017 military action.

"Four years on justice for the Rohingya remains shamefully elusive. Not a single individual who committed the heinous crimes against the Rohingya has been held to account," said Progressive Voice, an advocacy group.

Facebook has come under fire in Myanmar for over a decade for the volume of hate speech directed against the Rohingya Muslims who have been subjected to waves of brutal violence during this time.

United Nations investigators say Facebook played a key role in spreading hate speech that fueled the violence against the community in 2017.

The UN Human Rights Council in July last year adopted a resolution denouncing violations by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities. 

The resolution, brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was approved at the Geneva-based 47-member council in July last year.

Khalil Hashmi, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, voiced concern over the rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

"Unfortunately, the humanitarian and human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims remains dire, and therefore requires a collective call by the council asking Myanmar to immediately halt human rights violations, and to uphold their fundamental rights," he said.

The text of the resolution expresses "grave concern" at reports of serious abuses, including arbitrary arrests, deaths in detention, torture, forced labor and "the deliberate killing and maiming of children."

The resolution also demands an immediate cessation of fighting and hostilities, of the targeting of civilians, and supports "the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations" and "the democratic transition in Myanmar."

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