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Liberty and Leadership Program Scholar on U.S. ruling that violence against Rohingya people amounts to genocide

This week, the Biden administration determined that violence committed against the Rohingya people by Burma's military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity. Liberty and Leadership Program Scholar Wai Wai Nu, Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Peace Network, reacts to the ruling and discusses next steps she would like to see from the U.S. and international community.

March 23, 2022 //   7 minute read

Full transcript from our Q&A with Liberty and Leadership Program Scholar Wai Wai Nu below. 

The Biden administration has determined that violence committed against the Rohingya people by Burma's military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity. Can you explain what this means and how the ruling will affect the people of Burma?

The U.S. government's genocide determination is very important for the Rohingya genocide victims and survivors, as well as the country and for Myanmar as a whole. Because we do believe that the atrocity that has committed by the Myanmar military for several decades has been given impunity for the military, and the perpetrators of these heinous crimes remain unpunished. And that has emboldened the perpetrators, mainly, the militaries in Myanmar, militaries leadership in Myanmar to actually stage the coup and to continue to commit their serious forms of violence against people, serious human rights violations against the entire country, people of Burma.

Since the February coup, 2021, the Myanmar military has actually killed over 1,600 people and detained over 20,000 people, including young students. Most of them are young students. And there has been severe forms of tortures against detainees, young people, and many forms of violence against the entire people of Burma as a whole. And many human rights organizations, including UN Office of The High Commissioners and International Fact-Finding, and International Independent Missions on Myanmar has actually expressed that the violence by the Myanmar military against people of Myanmar have been in nature widespread and systematic, and that they amount to the crimes against humanity.

And we believe that is, that could only happen because the Myanmar military has enjoyed impunity for the previous crimes and ongoing crimes, including the crimes of genocide against the Rohingya populations for decades. So, we do think that these determinations will give us opportunity to end the impunity for the Myanmar military, and to push the world leaders to take responsibilities to help us end impunity for the military and hold the military leaders accountable so that we will be able to end dictatorships in Myanmar. We will be able to end this, all of this violence attack against the people and to militarization. And we will have a chance to rebuild the country, we will have a chance to really build democracy in Myanmar. So it's been a lot for not only for the Rohingya, but also for entire country and other people who have suffered severely from the military's violence.

What actions do you think the U.S. and international community should take next? How can we support the people of Burma at this time?

I hope to see the U.S. government take prompt, rigorous, and concerted actions after the determinations. It has to be followed by the concerted actions. That should, that means using all available means and tools that U.S. has, including adopting legislations by the Congress including the BURMA Act, as well as the U.S. government putting sanctions on Myanmar militaries, sanctions on the oil and gas, and arms embargo, and most importantly taking leadership at the UN Security Council, adopting resolutions on Myanmar that include accountability, that include financial penalties and global arms embargo, and that include the support for the victims of genocide. And I also want to see the U.S. government dedicate resources and funding for the victims and survivors of genocide in Myanmar and other crimes. I also want to see the U.S. government encouraging other countries and other governments to take the similar actions, and I really hope that other governments will follow as well.

The U.S. government at this point should not let the Myanmar in the hands of the ASEAN. ASEAN already has proven that they have, they cannot solve the Myanmar problem, Myanmar issue and they cannot deal with the Myanmar military in a way it's supposed to be dealing with, and which is genocidal military. This military has to be punished and the U.S. government has a power to do, and I hope that they are going to take really concerted actions to hold the military leaders accountable. And one last thing, I think this is really important, this determinations for us, it feels like our voice, and our urge, and our sake for justice has been responded, answered, or taken seriously. For many years we have, we felt that we were not, we were unheard.

So, now finally we feel like we are heard. Therefore, we think that any response from the U.S. government, any support or any strategy should be really victim-centered, so that having a strong victim-centered approach may benefit everyone better, the victim communities as well as the policymakers as well as help us end the crisis earlier.

As a leading advocate and representative for the Rohingya community, what does this decision mean to you?

As an activist, working on democracy, human rights and peacebuilding for years, what we want to see, our ultimate goal is to improve situations in Myanmar, to improve human rights situations, and to build democracy, to promote democracy and to build peace in Myanmar ultimately for all communities. And when we advocated for the accountability and justice for the Rohingya people, it's actually, it's for the future of the country too. We have reminded the world that we cannot build democracy with the bones and bloods of Rohingya. While genocide is in the corner of the yacht, we cannot actually build democracy through, without addressing the genocide. And we felt like we were, our voices were not taken seriously, our calls and our knowledge were not taken seriously. And we were sidelined, we were abandoned, we sometimes even felt humiliated, through the many forms of rejections by the different governments and policymakers around the world.

So now that it's... The determination has, for us, it's overdue. It's already, it's too late, but we still feel like this is something which is needed to be done, which need to be done. And we are thankful, and I am grateful that this happened. The U.S. government made the atrocities determinations, and as a powerful nations in, on planet earth, it is critical that the U.S. government stand with us and help us, and listen to our voices. People like our voices and gave us opportunity and chance to live in dignity and build our future, our common future in Myanmar.