International desk – The United States has imposed sanctions on four military leaders, including the commander-in-chief, for alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups.
The sanctions was targeted the army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday when Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in the UN’s International Court of Justice in Hague to defend her country over a genocide hearing.
The US Treasury Department said in a statement on Tuesday that Burmese (previous name of Myanmar) military forces had committed “serious human rights abuse” under Min Aung Hlaing’s command.
“During this time, members of ethnic minority groups were killed or injured by gunshot, often while fleeing, or by soldiers using large-bladed weapons; others were burned to death in their own houses,” the statement said.
In August 2017, a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar drove nearly 750,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Unknown number of people were killed, many women raped and homes belonging to the minority group were burnt to ashes during the military offensive, which the United Nations termed textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar denied accusations of widespread abuses and said the military operations were part of an anti-insurgence measures.
The sanctions on Tuesday were among a round of targets implemented under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption, marking International Human Rights Day, according to Aljajera television.
The sanctions freeze any US assets held by those targeted and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.
The sanctions also targeted Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Soe Win, and two subordinates who headed the elite army divisions that spearheaded the crackdown on the Rohingya.
Earlier in July, the US imposed a travel ban by the US military chief and few others. The additional sanctions come months after Washington faced criticism by UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee in July, who said the earlier travel ban was not enough.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, called it a welcome but overdue step, saying “better late than never.”
“It is unfortunate the decision took so long. The crimes in question were incredibly serious,” he said.
“If the EU follows suit with similar measures and works with the US to press other jurisdictions to crack down, soon the Myanmar military will find that their world is geographically and financially shrinking.”