On Anniversary of Mass Atrocities Against Rohingya, Secretary Pompeo Urged to Declare a Genocide

Refugees International Petition Reflects Broad Support for Genocide Designation

WASHINGTON–Refugees International announced today that it delivered a petition to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to call Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya by their rightful name: genocide. The delivery of the signatures of nearly 9,000 individuals, including prominent legal and human rights experts, faith groups, Rohingya activists, NGOs, and celebrities—comes just one day before the three-year anniversary of the August 25th commencement of Myanmar’s mass killing and expulsion of the Rohingya people.

Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children were ruthlessly expelled, in a campaign of murder, rape, and other grievous abuses intended to destroy, in whole or in part, the Rohingya people. But the United States has yet to formally designate Myanmar’s crimes as genocide—despite robust evidence from the United Nations, Refugees International, the United States Holocaust Museum, and many others. The U.S. State Department itself reported that the attacks on the Rohingya were extreme, widespread, and well-planned.

“I was on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border three years ago as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were fleeing for their lives to escape the Myanmar military’s brutality,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International. “I listened to Rohingya recount unimaginable horrors and the evidence of a genocide has only accumulated since then. A U.S. genocide determination would help support international efforts to hold Myanmar accountable, would keep faith with the Rohingya people, and would demonstrate U.S. leadership on one of the most compelling moral issues of our time.”

Refugees International launched its Call It Genocide campaign in May 2020, supported by the International Campaign for the Rohingya, Fortify Rights, the Burma Task Force, and many others. Over the last three months, there has been broad support for the petition from some 80 NGOs, more than 30 prominent international legal and human rights experts, and over thirty faith-based groups. In letters to both President Trump and Vice President Biden, Refugees International has also urged both presidential campaigns to support a genocide designation.

Notable supporters of the petition include Samantha Power, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the UN in the Obama Administration; Arthur “Gene” Dewey, who served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for refugee issues in the George W. Bush administration; Juan Mendez, the former Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide; and David Scheffer, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues. Supporters also include prominent Rohingya activists, such as Tun Khin and Wai Wai Nu; actors and other figures in public life, such as Thomas Sadoski and Sam Waterston; and faith groups, such as the Evangelical Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and HIAS; among many others.

As Rezuwan, a Rohingya refugee living in Bangladesh said, “A genocide determination by the U.S. can change our fate.”

Even today, nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees live in dangerously overcrowded camps in Bangladesh at heightened-risk of COVID-19, and roughly 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar face ongoing risk of genocide.

“The United States has a moral obligation to stand with the Rohingya,” said Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International. “A genocide determination is the single most important immediate step that the United States can take to address the plight of the Rohingya. I hope Secretary Pompeo will answer the call.”

Read the petition in English and Burmese and listen in Rohingya here. 

For press inquiries, please contact Sarah Sheffer at ssheffer@refugeesinternational.org or +1 203 305 9880.