Watch CBS News

Blinken declares Myanmar's repression of Muslim Rohingya a genocide

Weaponizing Social Media: The Rohingya Crisis
Weaponizing Social Media: The Rohingya Crisis 28:59

Violent repression of the largely Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar amounts to genocide, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday, a declaration intended to both generate international pressure and lay the groundwork for potential legal action.

Authorities made the determination based on confirmed accounts of mass atrocities on civilians by Myanmar's military in a widespread and systematic campaign against the ethnic minority, Blinken announced in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Monday. Blinken said evidence showed the "attack against Rohingya was widespread and systematic, which is crucial for reaching a determination of crimes against humanity."

"The day will come when those responsible for these appalling acts will have to answer for them," Blinken said. 

The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is already under multiple layers of U.S. sanctions since a military coup ousted the democratically elected government in February 2021. Thousands of civilians throughout the country have been killed and imprisoned as part of the ongoing repression of anyone opposed to the ruling junta. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the military launched an operation aimed at clearing them from the country following attacks by a rebel group.

It is the eighth time since the Holocaust that the U.S. has concluded a genocide has occurred. 

"It's a decision that I reached based on reviewing a factual assessment and legal analysis prepared by the State Department, which included detailed documentation by a range of independent, impartial sources, including human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as our own rigorous fact-finding," Blinken said. 

The secretary of state announced the U.S. would provide $1 million in new funding for the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which continues to examine reports of atrocities.

Following Blinken's announcement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the designation "emphasizes, especially to victims and survivors, that the United States recognizes the gravity of these crimes."

"Our view is that shining a light on the crimes of Burma's military will increase international pressure, make it harder for them to commit further abuses," she said.

Blinken noted the importance of calling attention to inhumanity even as horrific attacks occur elsewhere in the world, including Ukraine, and made the crisis in Ukraine a central part of his speech. 

"As we meet, the Russian government continues to wage its unprovoked, brutal war on Ukraine," Blinken said. "Each day brings more harrowing attacks, more innocent men, women, and children killed. That includes the five people who were killed in a strike on March 1, on a TV tower and the surrounding area on the outskirts of Kyiv, the same site where, just over 80 years ago, 33,771 Jews were killed by the Nazis in just two days."

Blinken also pointed to atrocities elsewhere, including in Xinjiang where the Chinese government continues to commit genocide against Muslims and ethnic minorities

 –CBS News' Camilla Shick contributed to this report 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.