Frustrated Congress pushes Biden administration on Myanmar genocide designation

Members of both parties have expressed frustration with president’s slow pace of determining whether ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas amounts to genocide

A child looks on as Rohingya vendors sell vegetables at a market at Thet Kal Pyin camp in Rakhine Sate. AFP
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Members of the US Congress have grown increasingly frustrated over the slow pace of the State Department’s legal review to determine whether the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority amounts to genocide.

On Thursday, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee grilled officials from President Joe Biden's administration over why it has taken the State Department so long to complete the review.

“I remain shocked and saddened that our government has not acknowledged what we already know to be true,” said Democrat Andy Levin.

“Military forces in Burma committed atrocities that amount to genocide against the Rohingya.

“In fact, I shudder to think that it is in part because of our government’s refusal to recognise this fact that the Tatmadaw [Myanmar's junta] continue to act with impunity and their brazenness grows by the day.”

Republicans Ann Wagner and Scott Perry also questioned the slow review process, with the latter noting that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had vowed to make a determination on the Rohingya genocide during his Senate confirmation process last year.

Craig Hart, the State Department’s deputy assistant administrator for East Asia and the Pacific, repeatedly declined to lay out a specific timeline for when the Biden administration would issue a final determination.

“I wouldn’t agree with the characterisation that we’re slow-walking this at all,” said Mr Hart.

“We’re still in the process of finalising and we’re just going to be very meticulous. We take this very, very seriously.”

The committee advanced a bipartisan Myanmar sanctions bill by voice vote last year in response to the military's coup against the civilian wing of the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

That legislation would also force Mr Blinken to issue a genocide determination within three months after it becomes law.

“I hope that you will take into account Congress’s lead in calling this, in fact, what it is — a genocide, because it’s been very bipartisan,” said Ms Wagner.

Mr Hart noted that the department reviews “all evidence”.

“We review the interviews of people and then we make an objective determination,” he said.

“What makes this determination so impactful is that we review factual information.”

Updated: February 17, 2022, 8:32 PM