Yangon (AFP) – The US decision to label Myanmar’s military crackdown on the Rohingya minority as genocide is a victory for rights activists, but will do little to ease the suffering of those still languishing in the camps, according to activists.
Hundreds of thousands of members of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya community fled the Buddhist-majority country for Bangladesh in 2017, reporting stories of rape, murder and arson, while another 600,000 remain in camps refugees in junta-ruled Myanmar.
On Sunday, Washington said the violence amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity, with media reporting the decision could be followed by new sanctions and aid limits, among other sanctions against the already isolated junta.
Thin Thin Hlaing, a Rohingya rights activist, welcomed the move.
“I feel like we were going through a blackout but now we see a light because they recognize our suffering,” she told AFP.
But she added: “My parents, my sister and my niece still have to live in camps in poor conditions and without any human rights standards.”
More outrage at Myanmar’s military – already an international pariah – will do little to change the miserable conditions in which many Rohingya live, said David Mathieson, an analyst formerly based in the country.
“It’s hard to see how this (the designation) will improve the lives of people who have suffered from overwhelming state repression and extreme violence,” he said.
“Myanmar’s military didn’t care about the charges when they started, and given that they are now fighting almost everyone in the country, I doubt this finding will affect them in any way.”
Since ousting the government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year, the junta has doubled down on the widespread perception that the Rohingya are intruders in Bangladesh and continues to deny them citizenship, rights and access to services.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing – who led the armed forces during the 2017 crackdown – called the word Rohingya an “imaginary term”.
Any sanctions that may follow Washington’s designation are also unlikely to damage or dislodge the generals behind the crackdown, Mathieson added.
“Unless the United States actively blocks arms sales … or provides anti-aircraft assistance to the resistance as it does in Ukraine, Washington has little leverage or punitive options it can. exercise,” he said.
The designation also makes uncomfortable reading for a shadow “national unity government” (NUG) dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s ousted party, which is working to overturn the coup.
His National League for Democracy was in power during the 2017 crackdown and his government’s handling of the crisis has deeply tarnished his reputation abroad.
His office has denied allegations that fleeing refugees have suffered rape, extrajudicial executions and arson attacks on their homes by Myanmar troops.
When a genocide case opened in the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December 2019, the Nobel laureate went to court to defend the generals, who just over a year later would overthrow his government and plunge the country into turmoil. .
Last year, the NUG called on the Rohingya to “join hands” to end military rule, promising to repatriate those who fled to Bangladesh and grant citizenship to the minority.
But it holds no territory and has not been recognized by any foreign government, leaving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya at the mercy of authorities on both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
“Unfortunately, the resolve of the United States itself will not help bring the Rohingya back home,” Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
“But hopefully it’s an indicator that the Rohingya will finally have a way to seek justice for what has been done to them.”
The determination “should have been made long before,” said a Rohingya at a camp for those displaced by the crisis near Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
“I believe the US decision will help” the Rohingya case before the ICJ, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Asked about the impact on daily life in the wooden shack camp at the end of a rutted road, he replied: “I don’t know”.
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