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Determination of Genocide Against the Rohingya

By Quincy Lehane //

Determination of Genocide in the U.S.

On March 21 2022, the United States Government formally determined that the Burmese military had committed a genocide against the Rohingya in Burma. This decision marks only the eighth time since the Holocaust that the U.S. has declared a genocide (“Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity”).

By declaring a genocide, the United States Government commits to four genocide related obligations.

First, the U.S. is required to prevent and punish the perpetrators of genocidal acts.

Second, the U.S. is required to act in accordance with our constitution to provide penalties for persons convicted of acts of genocide.

Third, the U.S. must try persons charged with genocide in its territory, unless an international tribunal is doing so.

Fourth, and finally, the U.S. is obliged to grant extraditions in accordance with their laws and treaties.

The declaration of a genocide against the Rohingya Muslims allows the U.S. to proceed with taking punitive action against the government of Burma. But, as with past declarations of genocide, the United States has great freedom in determing whether, and what type, of actions to take against the government in Burma (“Buchwald and Keith”).

The Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya Muslims are one of the ethnic minorities that live in Burma. The Rohingya possess their own language and culture, as they are the descendants of Arab traders and other ethnic groups that have lived in the predominantly Buddhist country of Burma for generations.

In 1982, the Burmese military junta effectively declared the Rohingya non-citizens of Burma. Decades of hostilities followed. Then, in acts of genocide, the Burmese military burned villages and attacked civilians. For example, in August 2017, the military killed more than 6,700 Rohingya. Among the Rohingya killed, 730 were children under the age of five. Additionaly, according to Amnesty International, the military also raped and abused women and girls. More than 288 villages were either completely or partially destroyed by the fires started by the military. The Government of Burma insists that the military actions ended on September 5th, 2017 and that the death toll was only 400. However, Human Rights Watch claims that the genocidal acts continued until September 25, 2017, with the majority of the villages that were destroyed in 2017 being destroyed after September 5th. With their villages being destroyed and their people killed, Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh for safety.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees live in U.N. settlements in Bangladesh. As of January 7th, 2020, there were 905,822 refugees living in Bangladesh, with 613,272 living in the Kutupalong refugee settlement otherwise known as Cox’s Bazar (“Myanmar Rohingya”).

While the Government of Bangladesh is attempting to provide for the refugees, it does not have the resources to provide robust support. Because of this, the U.S. has provided more than $1.1 billion dollars of aid to refugee programs in Bangladesh since August of 2017. The most recent provision of financial aid came in the form of the Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis. The Joint Response Plan gave 155 million dollars in new assistance to support refugees in Bangladesh. However, providing financial aid is a short term solution; it only allows the Bangladesh government to extend the amount of time they can provide for the refugees (“Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis”).

To address the situation for the long term, the U.S. is working on making Burma a country that the Rohingya will be safe in. In order to accomplish this, the U.S. Congress is currently working on a bill titled the Burma Act (“Burma Act”).

Burma Act

The Burma Act is a bill, not yet signed into law, with the goal of restoring peace, democracy, and civilian rule in Myanmar. The Burma Act would allow President Biden to direct sanctions to individuals acting in support of Burma's military, individuals that engage in policies that undermine democracy, and individuals that commit serious human rights violations. These sanctions include the freezing of assets, prohibiting foreign exchange under U.S. jurisdiction, revoking visas, and barring entry into the U.S. The Burma Act would also ensure the safety of democracy activists, civil society leaders, participants in the Civil Disobedience Movement, and government defectors. Additionally, the Burma Act would not only ensure the safety of activists, but also provide aid and training to human rights activists in Burma.

The Burma Act was passed through the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021, read twice by the U.S. Senate and then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Article author Quincy Lehane


“The United States Announces New Assistance to Respond to the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis.” State Department, 18 May. 2021, The United States Announces New Assistance to Respond to the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis. Press release.

"Burma Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis." BBC, 23 Jan. 2020, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

Buchwald, Todd, and Adam Keith. "By Any Other Name." U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

S.2937 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): The Burma Act,”, Library of Congress, 5 October 2021, Burma Act.

"Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya in Burma." U.S. Department of State, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

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