YANGON—The US House of Representatives declared crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority as genocide on Wednesday, in a resolution which received an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 394 to one.
This comes just months after the US State Department in September released a report documenting widespread acts of violence against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State in western Myanmar which stopped short of labeling the atrocities as genocide.
“With this resolution, the House will take the important step of naming the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in Burma what they are: genocide,” said Chairman Ed Royce to the House earlier this week.
More than 700,000 Rohingya people fled Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh last year amid clearance operations by government security forces following Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s (ARSA’s) serial attacks on police outposts. The Myanmar government has denounced ARSA as a terrorist organization. Those who made it to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh accused the security forces of rape, arbitrary killings and arson.
Ed Royce told the Voice of America about the importance of this resolution and the need to hold Burmese military and security leaders accountable for their atrocities.
“We want to send the message with one voice to those who are involved in this that ‘you will be held accountable.’ And we want to put things in motion so that the international community understands the gravity of it,” he said.
A UN fact-finding mission in August said Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and the military chief and five generals should be prosecuted for orchestrating the gravest crimes under law.
International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, also called for the referral of the generals to the International Criminal Court.
The Myanmar military has denied all accusations, saying their troops followed the rules of engagement.
The Myanmar government has set up an independent commission led by international experts to investigate whether human rights abuses were committed as accused. The commission on Wednesday made a public request for evidence of atrocities to be submitted to them.
Correction: A previous version of this article was mistakenly titled to suggest the US government had labeled the crimes genocide. In fact, only the US House of Representatives has labeled them as such. The US State Department has yet to use the term to refer to the alleged crimes.