The US announced sanctions against the Myanmar army’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other officials who were reportedly responsible for extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims.
The sanctions also covered Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Soe Win, and two other senior commanders and their families. These are the strongest measures taken by Washington so far against Myanmar for the persecution of Rohingyas Muslims.
“We remain concerned that the Burmese (Myanmar) government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said a recent disclosure, first reported in May, that Min Aung Hlaing ordered the release of soldiers convicted of extrajudicial killings at the village of Inn Din during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in 2017 was “one egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership.”
“The Commander-in-Chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days,” Pompeo said.
The Inn Din massacre was uncovered by two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. The two were released in an amnesty on May 6.
The US announcement came on the first day of an international ministerial conference on religious freedom hosted by Pompeo at the State Department that was attended by Rohingya representatives.
“With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” said Pompeo, who has been a strong advocate of religious freedom. “We designated these individuals based on credible information of these commanders’ involvement in gross violations of human rights,” he said.
Myanmar Condemns Sanctions
A spokesperson for the Myanmar military, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, said by phone the military had not ignored the accusations, citing internal probes. One army-led investigation in 2017 exonerated security forces of all accusations of atrocities. Another is ongoing.
“Right now we have an investigative committee … to conduct a detailed investigation,” he said. “They should value these facts.” He said the soldiers had been lawfully released. Myo Nyunt, a spokesperson for the ruling National League for Democracy Party, condemned the decision to impose sanctions.
“This kind of action happened because they don’t understand the real situation of Myanmar,” he said. Myanmar’s leaders had not ignored human rights concerns, Myo Nyunt said.