When an insurgent Rohingya militia attacked a series of 30 police posts in the Rohingya dominated Rakhine state, the Myanmarese government responded with a brutal campaign of violence which drove over 700,000 out of the country. The bulk of these refugees ended up in the largest refugee camp in the world, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. State oppression of the Rohingya has existed since the two sides aligned themselves on opposite sides during World War II, and in 1982 led to the military government denying citizenship to most Rohingya, seen by the Buddhist majority as foreign “Bengalis”. The Myanmarese government sent a delegation to Bangladesh on Saturday in an attempt to convince the refugees to return home. Thus far, representatives for the refugees have refused, demanding assurances regarding their safety and the question of their citizenship.

On July 16th, the US State Department announced sanctions on four high level Myanmarese military officials that they claim are directly responsible for the campaign of ethnic cleansing. Acknowledging 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.”, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s Armed Forces Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, Brigadier General Than Oo, and Brigadier General Aung Aung were responsible for “gross human rights violations,” and would not be allowed to enter the United States.

As it stands, these sanctions serve a mostly symbolic purpose. Being unable to enter the United States is unlikely to have an effect on these military officials. However, this could be the first step towards an actual reckoning for those responsible for these crimes against humanity. Dan Sullivan of Refugees International expressed hope that these sanctions would lead to “international efforts to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or to establish an ad hoc tribunal”. As it stands now, even de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who fought for democracy in her country, has largely given up on reigning in the largely autonomous Myanmese military, instead refusing to call the campaign ethnic cleansing and telling the BBC that “Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subjected to violence”. If the US State Department can maintain restrained and cooperative pressure on the Myanmese government, the international community may be able to provoke the change needed to allow the Rohingya people to return home.

Resistance Resources:

  • Refugees International – An international organization advocating for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promoting solutions to displacement crises.
  • Helping Hand Relief and Development – A global humanitarian relief and development organization which has been working to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact

Photo by Evgeny Nelmin

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