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U.S. Investigators Conclude Violence Against Rohingya Muslims Amounts To Genocide


The State Department stopped short of calling the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar a genocide when it released a report a few months back. The investigators who contributed to that report, however, conclude that is exactly what's happening. Today they came forward to say there's plenty of evidence of genocide in Myanmar. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. And a warning - many of the details in this story are disturbing.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: One of the investigators, a U.S. Naval Reserve JAG, Gregory Noone, says he's seen a lot of horrible things in Afghanistan, Sudan and Rwanda. But he says he was shocked by what he saw as he traveled through refugee camps, talking to Rohingya Muslims.

GREGORY NOONE: I was ready to hear the same story over and over again, that there would be some level of just kind of buzz throughout the camps, that everyone kind of knew their talking points. We didn't get that at all. From the first story to the second story to the third all the way through to 1,024 we heard different stories from different people, all these horrific events.

KELEMEN: Victims told him that Myanmar's military forces gang-raped women in front of villagers, killed and tortured civilians. He even heard that local villagers and Buddhist monks were involved in crimes.

NOONE: The level of depravity was so shocking to all of us. When I had people telling me not once but several times - and this happened to all the investigators - that they would rip babies from the arms of mothers and throw those babies into the fire or throw the babies into the river, it was a whole new level of, what's going on; why are they doing this?

KELEMEN: The interviews he and others conducted where the basis of a State Department report released in September with little fanfare and no statement calling the situation a genocide. So Paul Williams, the president of the Public International Law & Policy Group, had his lawyers come up with their own analysis.

PAUL WILLIAMS: It is clear from our intense legal review that there is in fact a legal basis to conclude that the Rohingya were the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

KELEMEN: That doesn't necessarily lead to specific legal consequences, says Sandy Hodgkinson, one of the lawyers tapped to go over the data. But it does conjure up a moral case to respond.

SANDY HODGKINSON: War crimes, crimes against humanity, all horrific. But when it gets to the level of a population trying to destroy the culture and history and legacy of a particular people, whether in whole or in part, there's something of a higher moral imperative I think that comes from that.

KELEMEN: She isn't the only one labeling what happened to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as a genocide today. The Holocaust Memorial Museum held a conference call to outline similar findings. And a Rohingya activist, Tun Khin, told reporters that the situation remains dire.


TUN KHIN: The military and their proxies have tried to wipe us out as a community for a long time. They can't be successful.

KELEMEN: He's hoping these latest reports will spur international action and attention. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.