The United States on Tuesday, July 16, took the strongest action yet against those responsible for the extrajudicial killing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma. Sanctions have been placed on Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy, Soe Win, Brigadier Generals Than Oo and Aung Aung and their families, barring them from entry to the United States.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement at the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, on day one of an international ministerial conference on religious freedom. More than 100 ministers attended, including Yazidi, Uighurs, and Rohingya representatives. “With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” said Pompeo.
“We remain 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,” said Pompeo, a strong advocate of religious freedom.
Min Aung Hlaing was responsible for the release of the military that were imprisoned over the extrajudicial killings at Inn Din village that occurred during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in 2017, “One egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership,” said Pompeo.
“The commander-in-chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days,” Pompeo said.
Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo who exposed the atrocities happening in Burma in 2017 were convicted on charges of obtaining state secrets. They spent almost a year and a half of a seven-year sentence in prison before being released in an amnesty on May 6.
The military forces drove over 730,000 Rohingya Muslims out of Rakhine State in Burma in 2017, forcing them to flee to Bangladesh. In the process, the military committed mass killings, gang rape, and arson, with most of those who escaped still living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The U.N. special rapporteur on Burma, Yanghee Lee has warned that recent fighting between the military and insurgents has been “devastating” to the civilian population, with 35,000 having fled the area. “The conflict with the Arakan army in northern Rakhine State and parts of southern Chin State has continued over the past few months and the impact on civilians is devastating,” Lee told the council. “Many acts of the [military] and the Arakan army violate international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes, as well as violating human rights,” said Lee in a statement.
“We must not forget that these are the same security forces that have so far avoided accountability for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State less than two years ago,” she added.