RANGOON — The US Embassy in Rangoon said Wednesday that a federal court summons for President Thein Sein and several Burmese ministers for human rights violations allegedly committed against the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority has nothing to do with Washington’s policy toward Burma.
Last week the US District Court for New York’s Southern District issued the summons after a lawsuit was filed by the Burma Task Force USA, a coalition of 19 Muslim-American organizations.
The case was submitted under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, and charges Thein Sein and his ministers with crimes against humanity, extra-judicial killing, torture, and mental and physical trauma. It was filed on behalf of three plaintiffs, all US resident Rohingya refugees who claim to have experienced torture and discrimination in Burma. The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
A spokesperson from the US Embassy in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the mission was aware of reports about the lawsuit and added that “federal court actions occur independently of the executive branch.”
“This lawsuit is unrelated to US policy toward Myanmar,” the spokesperson added.
The Burmese government has not officially responded to the summons nor the accusations it was based on, and presidential spokesman Ye Htut has made clear that no response should be expected.
“We are surprised to learn that a US court accepted the case filed by an unknown coalition that constructed the case on weak evidence,” he told Radio Free Asia last week.
“We will not respond to it and couldn’t care a fig,” he said, before adding that the case was a “cheap stunt” by groups that have been putting pressure on the Burmese government over its handling of “the Bengali issue,” using the government’s official term for Rohingya.
Through official diplomatic channels, the United States has not shied away from criticizing the treatment of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority residing mostly in western Arakan State that the Burmese government considers to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Most recently that criticism has focused on the systematic disenfranchisement of Rohingya voters ahead of Burma’s Nov. 8 general election, and the disqualification of most Muslim candidates hoping to stand for election in Arakan State.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma by boat since violence between Arakanese Buddhists and the Muslim minority flared in 2012, displacing more than 100,000 people—mostly Rohingya—to temporary camps where most still live today. Conditions at the camps have deteriorated severely since the violence, with movement of Rohingya inhabitants restricted and access to health care and jobs limited, prompting the mass exodus.