US genocide designation brings little comfort to Rohingya camps

Hundreds of thousands of the mostly Muslim Rohingya community fled the Buddhist-majority country for Bangladesh in 2017, bringing stories of rape, murder and arson, while another 600,000 remain in refugee camps in junta-ruled Myanmar.

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Yangon, The US decision to brand a crackdown by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya minority as genocide is a victory for human rights campaigners but will do little to alleviate the suffering of those still languishing in camps, activists say.

Hundreds of thousands of the mostly Muslim Rohingya community fled the Buddhist-majority country for Bangladesh in 2017, bringing stories of rape, murder and arson, while another 600,000 remain in refugee camps in junta-ruled Myanmar.

On Sunday, Washington said the violence amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity, with media reporting the decision could be followed by further sanctions and limits on aid, among other penalties against the already-isolated junta.

Thin Hlaing, a Rohingya rights activist welcomed the move.

“I feel like we were living through a blackout but now we see a light, because they recognise our suffering,”.

But she added: “My parents, my sister and my niece still have to live in camps in bad conditions and with no standard of human rights.”

More outrage towards Myanmar’s military — already an international pariah — will do little to change the wretched conditions many Rohingya live in, said David Mathieson, an analyst formerly based in the country.

“It’s hard to see how it (the designation) will improve the lives of people who have suffered from crushing state repression and extreme violence,” he said.

“The Myanmar military didn’t care about the accusations when they started, and given they’re now fighting almost everyone else in the country, I doubt this finding will affect them in any way.”

Since ousting Aung San Suu Kyi’s government last year, the junta has doubled down on widespread perceptions that the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh and continues to deny them citizenship, rights and access to services.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing — who was head of the armed forces during the 2017 crackdown — has dismissed the word Rohingya as “an imaginary term”.

Any sanctions that may follow Washington’s designation are also unlikely to damage or dislodge the generals behind the crackdown, Mathieson added.

“Short of the US either actively blocking arms sales… or supplying anti-aircraft assistance to the resistance as they’re doing in Ukraine, then Washington has little leverage or punitive options it can exert,” he said.

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