The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House approves resolution calling persecution of Myanmar Muslims a ‘genocide,’ in contrast with Trump’s silence

Activists, some holding the Time “Person of the Year” cover showing the wives of two detained Reuters journalists, mark the anniversary of their arrest Wednesday in Yangon, Myanmar. (Thein Zaw/AP)

The House overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday to label the deadly persecution of a Muslim minority group in Myanmar by the country’s military a “genocide,” in sharp contrast to President Trump’s public silence on the matter.

The bill, approved by a vote of 394 to 1, also calls on Myanmar’s government leaders, including state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, to pardon two Reuters journalists who have been jailed for over a year for their coverage of the violence, which resulted in more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country last year. Though estimates vary, one independent report this year said more than 43,000 Rohingya parents are missing and presumed to have been killed.

This week, Time magazine included the two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on the cover of its “Person of the Year” issue, which paid tribute to journalists across the globe who were killed or imprisoned for their work.

The House resolution said the violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state last year met the U.N. definition of genocide and called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make his own determination “based on available evidence.” The United Nations issued its report in August saying military leaders in Myanmar, also known as Burma, must face criminal prosecution on charges of genocide.

The resolution also called on Trump to impose additional economic sanctions on members of Myanmar’s military and security forces responsible for human rights abuses, specifically naming the military commander, Min Aung Hlaing.

In all, 211 House Republicans and 183 Democrats voted in support of the measure. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) was the only one who voted against it.

“There’s a moral obligation obviously here for Americans, for all of us — regardless of political party, regardless of ideology — to stand up and say, ‘Enough. No genocide on our watch. This has to end now,’” Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview on Voice of America this week.

The Trump administration has denounced the violence against the Rohingya, with Pompeo in August decrying the “abhorrent ethnic cleansing.”

“The U.S. will continue to hold those responsible accountable,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Other administration officials also have spoken out, including U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Vice President Pence. In a brief meeting with Suu Kyi on the sidelines of a regional summit in Singapore last month, Pence called the jailing of the journalists “deeply troubling” and said the violence against the Rohingya was “without excuse.”

But Trump has not spoken publicly about the matter. Myanmar officials, including Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, have employed Trump’s language in denouncing news coverage of the slaughter of the Rohingya as “fake news.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Congress had lifted some economic sanctions on Myanmar in 2016, after measures aimed at ending five decades of brutal rule by a military junta led to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy winning power.

The Obama administration had offered considerable political support to the reform effort, with President Barack Obama making trips to the country in 2012 and 2014.