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As US cries ‘genocide’ at China for Xinjiang, its silence on Myanmar’s Rohingya is deafening

Rohingya children wait for food aid at a refugee camp in Bangladesh in 2017 after fleeing the violence in Myanmar. Photo: AP

Why has the United States not accused Myanmar of committing genocide against it Rohingya Muslim minority, almost a year after saying the same of China and its Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang?

Given that the grim details of both countries’ alleged abuses against their respective minority groups emerged in 2017, the lack of censure from Washington as it drags its heels on condemning Naypyidaw is rather unfathomable.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to the region that Washington was looking “actively” at whether actions taken in Myanmar might constitute genocide.

I am not sure what there is to look at, much less “actively”, given that thousands of Rohingya were killed by Myanmar troops after a brutal military crackdown in August 2017.

Nearly 1 million Rohingya subsequently fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to take refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar faces genocide charges in several international courts and a United Nations fact-finding mission even described the killings as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing and slow-burning genocide”.

Apart from abducting and raping women and girls, the report noted that soldiers had piled bodies in at least five mass graves before burning their faces off with acid.

An estimated 24,000 Rohingya have been killed, according to a Ontario International Development Agency report, with 34,000 more thrown into fires, 114,000 beaten and 18,000 women and girls raped.

What more evidence does Washington want?

A house burns in Gawdu Tharya village near Maungdaw in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017. Photo: AFP

Even the US State Department, in a 2018 investigation, found that Myanmar’s security forces had engaged in a “well planned and coordinated” campaign of violence against the Rohingya.

That year, bipartisan senators urged Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo to formally declare that the killings were genocide, arguing that failing to do so would “deny truth-telling and accountability” for the Rohingya.

A bill was also introduced to Congress in April this year by 10 US senators to “require a determination” on whether genocide has been committed against the Rohingya.

Perhaps some in Washington had reservations about calling the killings genocide when the democracy-friendly Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was still in power, in view of the punitive measures such a label would legally imply.

But Suu Kyi’s civilian administration was overthrown by the Myanmar military in February, prompting a slew of Western countries – including the US – to impose trade and military sanctions on the junta.

So why the delay? Washington should have no compunctions about censuring Myanmar now.

Not doing so risks conveying the message that the US’ strategic considerations in countering China’s influence are more important than righting the injustices faced by the Rohingya, who have been described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people.

Or worse, that the brutal killings and wanton acts of terror against the Rohingya are “lesser” crimes – as compared to activists’ allegations of mass incarceration, hi-tech surveillance and forced sterilisation of women in Xinjiang.