Washington: The house of representative on Thursday passed a resolution declaring that Myanmar’s military has carried out a genocide against Rohingya Muslims and urged Mike Pompeo to take a stand .
The resolution was backed by 394 votes from both parties, with a single Republican opposing. It also called for the release of two journalists imprisoned in Myanmar for their reporting on the Rohingya.
The resolution urges the Trump administration, specifically Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to take a position on whether the Rohingya were victims of genocide. Pompeo has declined to make that legal determination, other than to say it is at least an “ethnic cleansing”, Politico reported.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has never publicly talked about the Rohingya crisis.
“The United States has a moral obligation to call these crimes genocide,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Failing to do so gives the perpetrators cover and hinders efforts to bring those accountable to justice.”
The House resolution’s lead sponsor is Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). The sole vote against the measure was Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). A spokesman for Biggs said the congressman “condemns” what has happened to the Rohingya, but implied that he was wary of any potential reliance on international law.
“The U.S. should not cede its leverage and sovereignty to international institutions, particularly the International Criminal Court, of which we are not a member state,” said the spokesman, Daniel Stefanski.
Starting in late August 2017, a military crackdown on the Rohingya reached epic proportions: killing thousands and forcing 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they now wait in refugee camps.
The Myanmar military insists the Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and that it was staging clearance operations against terrorists. It denies the numerous accounts of atrocities it perpetrated against the Rohingya, many of which were documented by the State Department.
The Trump administration declared last year that the Rohingya were victims of ethnic cleansing. But that term has little meaning in international law.
In the past year, a United Nations panel, human rights activists, legal experts and others have accused Myanmar’s military of crimes against humanity as well as genocide, both of which can be tried in international courts.
In response to the House resolution on Thursday, a State Department spokesman said that the administration‘s conclusion that ethnic cleansing had occurred “in no way prejudices any potential further analysis on whether other mass atrocities have taken place, including genocide or crimes against humanity.“ But the spokesman gave no indication that Pompeo was preparing any new legal determination.
The administration has devoted hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to helping Rohingya refugees; it has also sanctioned several individual Myanmar military officers for their alleged role in attacking the Muslim group.
But human rights activists and others say the administration’s refusal to say whether a genocide or crimes against humanity have taken place undercuts international efforts to spotlight the crisis and hold the perpetrators accountable.
The two journalists honored by the resolution, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were recently named among Time magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2018.
Among those urging the Trump administration to take a position on the genocide question are U.S. religious leaders. Some said Thursday that they hoped the House resolution would nudge the administration in that direction.
“A declaration of genocide by the U.S. would force the international community to fully investigate the atrocities against the Rohingya and accelerate the repatriation process for the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya to their homeland with their deserved civil rights,” said Malik Mujahid, chairman of the Faith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma, another name for Myanmar.