KATY, Texas — On April 15, 2021, Senator Edward J. Markey [D-MA] introduced S. 1142 to the Senate. The bill, which aims to obtain justice for the Rohingya, has 10 cosponsors. Titled the Rohingya Genocide Determination Act of 2021, this bill would require the Department of State to assess the situation regarding the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The Department of State must report on this assessment to Congress and determine “whether the situation constitutes genocide under U.S. law.” This report must also detail actions on the part of the U.S. government to hold perpetrators accountable “and prevent further mass atrocity crimes” in Myanmar. The situation gained international attention when, in 2017, about 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee Myanmar to escape systematic killing, seeking refuge in Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group from Myanmar residing in the Rakhine State. Injustice against the Rohingya dates back as far as 1982 when the predominantly Buddhist nation of Myanmar denied the Rohingya citizenship, thus “making them the world’s largest stateless population.” Statelessness is a term describing an entire ethnic group that is denied citizenship, basic human rights and protection by the nation that they live in. This marks them as “illegal.” As such, stateless people are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, as is evident throughout the Rohingya’s history.
In 1977, Myanmar, known as Burma at the time, created Operation Dragon King. For about a year, Operation Dragon King inflicted persecution and violence on the Rohingya, causing around 200,000 to flee to Bangladesh for the first time. Though they were initially given refuge by Bangladesh, the Rohingya were sent back to Myanmar in 1979.
In 1989, a military government took control and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Under this council, the Rohingya were “subject to compulsory labor, forced relocation, rape, summary executions and torture,” causing 250,000 Rohingyas to flee.
In 2016, militant attacks on the Rakhine State caused another large mass of refugees to flee across the border. In 2017, provoked by Rohingya militia attacks, the state security launches a wave of “horrific violence and terror targeting the Rohingya community.” This led to the largest mass exodus for the Rohingya people in the 21st century. The BBC reported that “at least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of 5, were killed in the month after the violence broke out.” Kutupalong in Bangladesh, where many of the Rohingya have set up temporary shelters, now holds the largest refugee camp in the world.
How S.1142 Fights for Justice for the Rohingya
The Rohingya Genocide Determination Act of 2021 would recognize the continual and extended persecution of the Rohingya people as genocide. Naming what the Rohingya people have endured as genocide would increase the need for accountability for those who orchestrated the attacks. The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network, in a press release by Senator Markey, states that “We also understand all too well the cost of silence. The international community must not remain silent — the United States must champion the call for justice for the Rohingya people by making a genocide determination.”
The history of the Rohingya people shows the story of an ethnic group that has been vulnerable for decades, forced into a cycle of fleeing their homes and returning. By recognizing the Rohingya’s history and the persecution that they have endured, the United States has the opportunity to show its support to one of the most vulnerable populations and help obtain justice for the Rohingya.