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Amid Rohingya Crisis, White House Mulls Sanctions On Myanmar's Military

Rohingya Muslim refugees wait to receive food distributed from a Turkish aid agency at Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh on Saturday.
Tauseef Mustafa
AFP/Getty Images
Rohingya Muslim refugees wait to receive food distributed from a Turkish aid agency at Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh on Saturday.

The Trump administration has threatened to slap sanctions on Myanmar unless it ends a deadly campaign against its Muslim Rohingya minority that the United Nations has called "textbook genocide."

The State Department said Monday that it is looking into targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, a law that allows the U.S. to freeze assets and impose visa bans on selected individuals. The original version of the law, passed by Congress in 2012, targeted Russian officials linked to the 2009 prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old accountant and lawyer-turned-whistleblower.

"We express our gravest concern with recent events in Myanmar's Rakhine state and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured," the department said in a statement.

"It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable," the statement said.

The Trump White House has been accused of not moving more forcefully to try to end the ongoing Rohingya crisis in northern Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Last month, President Trump said he wants the U.N. Security Council to take "strong and swift action" to end the violence and Vice President Mike Pence has decried the "savage" attacks against the Rohingya. And, last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration is "extraordinarily concerned" about the situation there.

But The Washington Post writes: "As the humanitarian crisis in northern Burma worsens, the international community and the Trump administration seem paralyzed. The Burmese military is perpetrating ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and the United States has responded with a series of critical statements backed by no action and no clear strategy to stop the slaughter."

In its latest statement, the department on Monday said: "We are exploring accountability mechanisms available under U.S. law, including Global Magnitsky targeted sanctions."

The State Department has already ended travel waivers for current and former members of Myanmar's military.

"We have rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend U.S.-sponsored events; we are working with international partners to urge that Burma enables unhindered access to relevant areas for the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, international humanitarian organizations, and media," the statement said.

The U.S. was also "consulting with allies and partners on accountability options at the UN, the UN Human Rights Council, and other appropriate venues," the statement said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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