Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today marked the fifth anniversary of the Burmese military’s genocidal campaign against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State by calling for accountability of the military junta, known as the Tatmadaw, and for an end to its brutal coup. On March 21, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.
“The Biden administration took a pivotal step in recognizing the Burmese authorities’ violent actions against the Rohingya as genocide and crimes against humanity,” USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck stated. “We urge the United States government to actively support multilateral efforts to hold the Tatmadaw and other Burmese officials accountable through the international legal system.”
On August 25, 2017, the Tatmadaw launched a genocidal campaign in Rakhine State against mostly Rohingya and other Muslims. The United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar documented instances of Burmese military units engaging in indiscriminate killings of civilians, mass rape, and arbitrary detentions. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees reported that over a million Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers are in Bangladesh, including hundreds of thousands displaced to other countries throughout the region.
Currently, there are three ongoing cases seeking to hold the Burmese authorities accountable for their actions against Rohingya. In February 2022, the National Unity Government (NUG), which is Burma’s shadow government opposing the ruling military junta, accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On July 2022, the ICJ rejected the Tatmadaw’s objections against one of those cases, brought forth by The Gambia, allowing the ICJ to proceed trying the case.
“Five years ago, the Tatmadaw resumed a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people, a prelude to their violent overthrow of democracy in February 2021,” added USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland. “USCIRF reiterates its recommendation to the U.S. government to increase engagement with multilateral and regional partners, including ASEAN and local actors such as the National Unity government, to stem ongoing religious freedom violations and promote accountability. We call on the U.S. State Department and Congress to hold the perpetrators accountable immediately so the Rohingya can return back to Burma.”
In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF reported on the Tatmadaw’s atrocities against the Rohingya as well as its myriad of other religious freedom violations. Since the February 2021 coup, the U.S. government has issued a series of sanctions against the Tatmadaw, though to date none have cited religious freedom violations.
Following the State Department’s announcement, USCIRF discussed what the genocide determination means going forward and ongoing accountability processes on an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast, as well as a factsheet titled “Pursuing Justice and Accountability: Next Steps for the Rohingya Community of Burma.”
USCIRF also held two hearings last year in a series titled Ending Genocide, in which Burma was a focus. The May 2021 hearing highlighted the U.S. government’s genocide determinations and next steps, while the July 2021 hearing discussed accountability for perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org.