Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC) on March 22 said it “categorically rejects” a US declaration that its armed forces committed genocide against the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority during a “military crackdown” five years ago.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar following the 2017 crackdown, which is now the subject of a genocide case at the highest UN court in The Hague.
On March 21, the US officially declared violence against the Rohingya community amounted to genocide, saying there was clear evidence of an attempt to “destroy” the group.
Myanmar’s SAC-appointed foreign ministry slammed the declaration as “far from reality” in a statement on March 22.
“Myanmar has never engaged in any genocidal actions and does not have any genocidal intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial or religious group or any other group,” it said.
Around 850,000 Rohingya are languishing in camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, recounting mass killings and rape during the crackdown.
Another 600,000 members of the community remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine state where they report widespread oppression.
Since dissolving the civilian administration of Aung San Suu Kyi last year, the SAC has doubled down on widespread perceptions that the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh and continues to deny them citizenship, rights and access to services.
SAC chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – who was head of the armed forces during the 2017 crackdown – has dismissed the word Rohingya as “an imaginary term”.
Citing the killings of thousands and forcing close to a million to flee the country in 2016 and 2017, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had “determined that members of the [Myanmar] military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya”.
Blinken said it will support global efforts, including in the International Court of Justice, to bring cases of crimes against humanity against the Myanmar military.
A legal designation of genocide – defined by the UN as acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” – could be followed by further sanctions and limits on aid, among other penalties, he said.