U.S. rules Burmese military’s attacks on Rohingya genocide

In 2016, the Burmese military attacked members of Burma’s Rohingya minority, forcing nearly 100,000 to flee to Bangladesh. Burmese military attacks in 2017 killed more than 9,000 Rohingya and forced more than 740,000 to flee the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has determined that the Burmese military’s repeated attacks on the Rohingya, including razing villages, rape, torture and killing, amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

The determination — the eighth finding of genocide ever made by the U.S. government — follows the U.S. State Department’s in-depth analysis, which included information from the United Nations, independent groups and a State Department survey of nearly 1,000 Rohingya refugees.

Speaking at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum March 21, Blinken called the Burmese military’s atrocities “widespread and systematic,” adding they demonstrated clear “intent to destroy Rohingya,” a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group.

Blinken said that the Rohingya had been an integral part of Burmese society for generations and that many of those responsible for atrocities against them had also committed atrocities against other ethnic and religious minority groups for decades.

Shirtless man showing gunshot scar (© Wong Maye-E/AP Images)
Mohammadul Hassan stands outside his family’s tent in the Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh November 24, 2017. Hassan said he bears scars from being shot by soldiers. (© Wong Maye-E/AP Images)

Many of the Burmese military officials responsible for the Rohingya genocide also participated in the February 1, 2021, coup against Burma’s democratically elected government. Their regime has killed more than 1,670 people, including women and children, and unjustly detained at least 12,800 people, Blinken said.

The State Department issued an August 2018 report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh. Among those:

  • All were forced to flee Burma.
  • Three-quarters witnessed members of Burma’s military kill someone.
  • More than half witnessed acts of sexual violence.
  • One in five witnessed a mass casualty event.

Blinken also noted that evidence shows the Burmese military clearly intended to destroy the Rohingya. Before attacks, they confiscated knives and machetes, marked Rohingya homes with red ribbons and blocked escape routes. Afterward, they sank boats carrying fleeing refugees.

A member of Burma’s military said his commanding officer told him to “shoot at every sight of a person” and to burn villages and rape and kill women.

Aerial view of remains of burned village (© Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)
The remains of a burned Rohingya village near Maungdaw, Burma, September 27, 2017. (© Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

U.S. officials are working with international partners to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities as well as those committed against others across Burma, both before and after the coup.

In his March 21 remarks, Blinken said the U.S. determination of genocide recognizes the gravity of atrocities committed against the Rohingya and represents one step toward a day when all Burmese people can enjoy equal rights and dignity.

“The day will come when those responsible for the appalling acts will have to answer for them,” Blinken said of the Burmese military’s atrocities against the Rohingya.