U.S. Sanctions Myanmar Military for Human Rights Violations

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration imposed sanctions on four commanders and two military units in Myanmar over their involvement in alleged ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population.

The sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, will freeze the U.S. assets of the military officials and prohibit American citizens and businesses from engaging in business with them. The penalties appear narrowly targeted toward individuals and units who conducted specific acts of violence in a civil war that has seen hundreds of thousands of minority Muslim Rohingya refugees flee the country.

Those sanctioned include Aung Kyaw Zaw, who oversaw military and border police operations that resulted in the death of thousands of people in what the U.S. government calls an ethnic cleansing; Khin Maung Soe, who oversaw security forces who reportedly beat, killed, and sexually assaulted dozens of people; Thura San Lwin, whose subordinates are accused of extrajudicial killings; and Khin Hlaing, whose troops are accused of using villagers as human shields.

“Burmese security forces have engaged in violent campaigns against ethnic minority communities across Burma, including ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings, and other serious human rights abuses,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement.

“Treasury is sanctioning units and leaders overseeing this horrific behavior as part of a broader U.S. government strategy to hold accountable those responsible for such wide scale human suffering,” Mandelkar added.

American leaders have warned of the possible sanctions for months, with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying last year that the U.S. would “pursue accountability through U.S. law, including possible targeted sanctions.”

The U.S. decision to impose sanctions could drive the Myanmar government closer to China. The Chinese backed Myanmar’s military junta for over two decades as the West applied sanctions on the regime, and is now seeking to build an economic corridor stretching from landlocked Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal.

The Rohingya crisis was sparked last August when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 police and army posts, killing a dozen security officials in Rakhine state.

The military responded with what it calls “clearance operations.” Multiple reports have since accused security forces and Buddhist vigilantes of indiscriminately attacking Muslims in the state and burning their villages.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and former political prisoner, has seen her reputation tarnished by the crisis. She has come under fire for not speaking out more forcefully against the violence and for questioning reports of government and Buddhist attacks against the Rohingya and burned villages.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.