The State Department on Tuesday sanctioned four top Myanmar military officials for human rights abuses against the Rohingya population in the country’s northern Rakhine State.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the officials were responsible “for gross human rights violations,” including extrajudicial killings, during the campaign of violence beginning in August 2017. Under the designations, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s Armed Forces Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, Brigadier General Than Oo, Brigadier General Aung Aung and their families will not be permitted to enter the United States.
A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that they believe the designations “send a message to other Burmese officials that should they commit atrocities or other serious human rights abuses, there will be consequences under US law.” However, in a statement, Pompeo noted that the US remains “concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country.”
The violence against the Rohingya was “extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents,” a US State Department report from September 2018 found.
The report suggested that Myanmar’s security forces engaged in a “well planned and coordinated” campaign of violence against the Muslim minority that included mass killings, sexual violence and destruction of villages. Information collected by a UN fact-finding mission “suggests that the estimate of up to 10,000 deaths is a conservative one,” their extensive report from August 2018 noted. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled into neighboring Bangladesh. As of June, more than 900,000 remain in Cox’s Bazar, according to a UN report.
The United Nations has called for Myanmar’s military leaders, including the commander-in-chief, to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes and genocide. The United States has stopped short of calling the crime genocide and has instead labeled them ethnic cleansing. The senior State Department official defended the move Tuesday, saying, “There’s no legal obligation to make any of these determinations, so typically they are made when there is a view here at the Department or within the US government that they will have a policy impact.”
The announcement of the sanctions came amid the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, at which at least one survivor of the atrocities will share their story. The official said the timing of the designations was “coincidental.”
“We had been working on this for some time,” they said. “It has taken us a while to collect the necessary evidence to reach these determinations, The official noted that it was almost the two year anniversary of the crimes and said the State Department “felt it was an important time to again demonstrate our interest in accountability.”