The US House of Representatives yesterday passed a resolution with overwhelming bipartisan support declaring the violence against Myanmar's Rohingyas genocide.
“Today, the House of Representatives took a stand by passing H. Res. 1091, declaring those crimes genocide,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a press statement.
“With this resolution, the House will take the important step of naming the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in Burma [Myanmar] what they are: genocide,” said the committee Chairman Ed Royce while speaking on the House floor.
The statement said the Myanmar's military and security forces had unleashed a targeted campaign against the Rohingyas -- killing unarmed civilians, raping women and children, burning down villages, and planting landmines along border areas transited by refugees fleeing for their lives.
The passage of the resolution is particularly striking because it brought Democrats together with House Republicans. Republican House leadership pushed for the vote to come up before the end of the year, according to ABC News, sending a signal to the White House that more should be done to punish Myanmar for the atrocities.
The resolution also condemned the arrest of two Reuters journalists who helped uncover one of the Myanmar military's mass graves.
It called for their immediate release.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested around a year ago on December 12, 2017 and sentenced in September this year to seven years in prison for breaching a law on state secrets -- charges that have been roundly criticised and described as trumped up.
Myanmar has long oppressed the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities. Starting last August, the country began what the United Nations called a systematic campaign to eradicate the Rohingyas and drive them from their homes into Bangladesh.
More than 700,000 refugees escaped to make the journey and joined hundreds of thousands who already lived in camps in Cox's Bazar. There are now close to 1 million there.
"It is time we call these atrocities against the Rohingya what they are: genocide," Steven Joseph Chabot, a member of the Republican Party, had said in a statement on September 27 this year when he introduced the bill.
He even cited the US State Department's own report, saying, "If this determination wasn't obvious before, the recent report ... should leave little doubt in anyone's mind. The perpetrators must be held accountable."
Chabot introduced the resolution this week with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, including the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce of California and Eliot Engel of New York.
While the legislation has faced some stops and starts, including a delay last week because of former President George HW Bush's funeral, it finally got its vote at the request of leadership like Ed Royce.
Ed Royce said the Rohingya people in Rakhine state, are often called the world's most persecuted minority and are essentially stateless people, as the Myanmar government refuses to recognise them as citizens -- despite the fact that the Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar for generations.
The most recent wave of persecution began in August of 2017, when Myanmar security forces and civilian mobs began a horrific wave of attacks. Mass murder, rape and destruction of villages throughout Rakhine State has been documented.
“A year and a half later, the evidence is overwhelming. As I said at our hearing on the subject this past September, it is time that we take the next step in declaring that these crimes amount to genocide,” Royce added.
The US State Department's investigation revealed countless heart-wrenching pieces of evidence, like the account of one woman who hid in bushes as she watched Myanmar soldiers throw infants and toddlers into a river to drown and shot their mothers who tried to save them.
The United States has a moral obligation to call these crimes genocide, the statement said. “Failing to do so gives the perpetrators cover and hinders efforts to bring those accountable to justice. With this resolution, the House fulfills its part of that duty”.