People take part in a rally in Yangon on Dec. 10 in support of Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi as she prepares to defend Myanmar at the International Court of Justice against accusations of genocide against Rohingya Muslims. (Photo: AFP)
The United States has imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military chief and three top generals for alleged rights abuses against the Rohingya and other minorities.
Those targeted are commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy Soe Win as well as two other generals who headed army divisions that spearheaded a crackdown on Rohingya in August 2017.
The sanctions were implemented under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption.
It freezes any US assets held by those targeted and prohibits Americans from doing business with them.
The US Treasury Department said in a Dec. 10 statement that military forces had committed serious rights abuses under Min Aung Hlaing’s command.
“The United States will not tolerate torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, murder or brutality against innocent civilians,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
In July, the US imposed travel bans on Myanmar’s military leaders including Min Aung Hlaing and their families over their responsibility for gross human rights violations. The US, however, avoided the terms “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide.”
A UN fact-finding mission found that the military committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against Rohingya. It said Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals should be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine state due to a bloody crackdown by Myanmar's military that started in August 2017 following border post attacks by Rohingya militants.
Myanmar’s military has yet to respond to the US sanctions.
ICJ told of mass atrocities
The US sanctions came on the same day that Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the first day of hearings at the UN’s top court in The Hague, where she will lead Myanmar’s defense against genocide charges filed by the Gambia.
The Gambia’s legal team told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of mass rape, the burning of families in their homes and the killing of dozens of Muslim Rohingya children with knives.
Abubacarr Tambadou, the African nation’s justice minister, said: “All that the Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings. To stop these acts of barbarity and brutality that have shocked and continue to shock our collective conscience. To stop this genocide of its own people.”
Lawyers urged the ICJ to grant a petition for provisional measures to compel Myanmar to take action to prevent further genocidal acts against Rakhine Muslims.
Suu Kyi looked on impassively as she heard the detailed report of alleged atrocities presented by Gambian lawyers.
Myanmar has long denied accusations of genocide and most allegations of targeted military-led violence, claiming that its actions in 2017 were meant to protect the country against Rohingya militants.
Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been criticized for remaining mostly silent on accusations of violence against Rohingya.
Her decision to personally defend her country against genocide charges at the ICJ has garnered public support in a Buddhist-majority country where the Rohingya get little sympathy and are widely seen as illegal immigrants.
On Dec. 10, thousands of supporters waved national flags and held pictures of Suu Kyi at rallies in cities including Yangon and Mandalay.
In commercial hub Yangon, a big screen outside the City Hall was erected and showed a live stream of the ICJ hearing, while some private satellite channels and local media also showed live reports.
Myanmar faces several legal challenges over Rohingya atrocities including a probe by the International Criminal Court and a separate lawsuit in Argentina personally mentioning Suu Kyi.