US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said Washington holds Myanmar
’s military leadership responsible for a harsh crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims but stopped short of saying whether Washington would take any action to address the issue.
“The world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area,” Tillerson said at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday.
“We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening in the Rakhine area,” he added, referring to the state in Myanmar where the Rohingya Muslims have been facing government-sanctioned violence since late last year.
“Someone, if these reports are true, is going to be held to account for that,” Tillerson said, apparently referring to the widespread reports of killings, rapings, and other abuse against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Apart from expressions of concern, the US has taken no action to pressure the government or the military in Myanmar to end the abuses.
Forty three US lawmakers recently called on the administration of President Donald Trump to re-impose US travel bans on Myanmar’s military leaders and slap sanctions against those responsible for the crackdown. Their call, however, was not heeded.
Tillerson’s Wednesday remarks may also be an attempt at diverting blame away from Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, with whose government America has had close ties.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has taken almost no meaningful action to end the abuses against the Rohingya. While some reports have said she may not have an influence over the military leaders, she has taken a stance that most resembles theirs.
Tillerson’s comments came a day after a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that nearly 300 villages of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority had been burned in Myanmar since the start of the latest military offensive in Rakhine.The Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine have been subjected to violence by soldiers and Buddhist mobs since October 2016. The violence has seen a sharp rise since late August.
Over the past weeks, there have been numerous reports of systematic violence against the Rakhine-based Muslims, including random shootings, rape, and arson attacks, in what is censured by the UN as an ethnic cleansing campaign against the minority group.
Rohingya Muslims, recognized by the UN as the world’s most persecuted minority group, are denied Myanmarese citizenship as the country’s leadership brands them illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
According to the latest UN figures, some 582,000 Rohingya refugees have now fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since late August, while between 10,000 to 15,000 others have amassed near a crossing point, waiting to join the makeshift camps on the Bangladeshi border.
Myanmar has failed to protect Rohingya: UN
Separately on Wednesday, two UN special advisers said Myanmar’s government had failed to meet its international obligations and protect Rohingya Muslims from the atrocities taking place in Rakhine.
Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, and Ivan Simonovic, the special adviser on the responsibility to protect, said in a joint statement that the international response to the crisis in Myanmar had been a failure.
Rohingya refugees carry a woman over a shallow canal after crossing the Naf River as they flee violence in Myanmar to reach Bangladesh, in Palongkhali near Ukhia, on October 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
“Despite warnings issued by us and by many other officials, the government of Myanmar has failed to meet its obligations under international law and primary responsibility to protect the Rohingya population from atrocity crimes,” the statement said.
“The international community has equally failed its responsibilities in this regard,” it added.
The UN Security Council has called on Myanmar to end the military operations in Rakhine, grant access to aid workers, and allow the safe return of the Rohingya refugees.