While the United States has stopped short of describing the events in Myanmar as genocide, it has labeled them “ethnic cleansing.” Olivia Enos, a policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, told me it would be “positive” if the Trump administration called the events in Burma genocide. She added: “It would be a positive step forward even if the administration called it crimes against humanity, which would be an upgrade from ethnic cleansing.” According to Politico, a “State Department investigation … found that Myanmar’s military exhibited ‘premeditation and coordination’ ahead of” the massacre of the Rohingya, but the “Trump administration has apparently not yet decided whether to call it a ‘genocide.’”
‘We, too, were forced to seek refuge.’
The fact-finding mission’s recommendation of a genocide investigation represents perhaps the most severe criticism by the UN of the government of Myanmar. The mission alleged that Myanmarese soldiers committed gang rapes in at least 10 village tracts, on occasion raping or gang-raping 40 women and girls together, often in public spaces, and in front of families and communities. One survivor told investigators: “I was lucky, I was only raped by three men.”
The UN mission was highly critical of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, for not using “her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine State.” The UN report acknowledged that the military, which ruled the country for five decades until 2011, still controls most aspects of security and, indeed, the instruments of force, but it said Myanmar’s civilian government “through their acts and omissions … contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”
Significantly, the UN report also focused on Facebook’s role in the crisis, calling it a “useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate.” It called Facebook’s response “slow and ineffective,” calling for an independent investigation into the social-media platform, which in many parts of the world, such as Myanmar, is the only window to the internet. Following the report’s release, Facebook said it had removed 18 Facebook accounts, 52 pages, and one Instagram account related to hate speech in Myanmar. Accounts removed included those of the top generals named in the UN report.
The misunderstood roots of Burma’s Rohingya crisis
The UN Human Rights Council is scheduled to meet next month to discuss the mission’s findings, and could issue a resolution to take the matter further. Separately, the UN Security Council meets Tuesday to discuss the Myanmar crisis. The meeting was scheduled prior to the release of Monday's report.