Intent and premeditation have long been a part of criminal justice.
This is true historically and it is true internationally. The severity of the crime is partly determined by what led up to it.
Judges rightly distinguish a murder of momentary passion from a murder that was premeditated. Though in both cases the result is the same (a person that was alive is now dead) the crime is not the same. The former is horrible, the latter is heinous.
Genocide is the action of killing others because of a desire not only to murder persons, but also to murder an entire defined group of persons. It is defined as deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.
Premeditation is implied, as genocide is far from an impulsive momentary action. It takes planned effort to kill a large number of people of the same race or ethnicity. It took years for the Nazis to come up with their horrific “final solution.”
This, in part, explains why the determination of genocide is so very important and occasionally so vexed. The standard for what meets the definition needs verification.
On March 21, 2022, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the Biden Administration determined that the atrocities committed by the Burmese military, known as the Tatmadaw, against the Rohingya constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.
The Rohingya are largely a Muslim minority living in the Rakhine state of Burma.
Secretary Blinken made the announcement at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. In part, he said, “The United States has concluded that genocide has been committed seven times. Today marks the eighth. I have determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity.”
In his speech, Blinken pointed to multiple parallels between the Burmese military’s campaign to wipe out the Rohingya and the Holocaust and the slaughter of Rwandan Tutsi.
While Burma has long been a place of ethnic and religious strife, in 2017, the Burmese military escalated attacks on Rohingya. The Tatmadaw perpetrated mass killings and rapes, forcing over 745,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
Human rights defenders around the world have been advocating for this determination for years.
This action will hopefully aid the cause of the Rohingya who are still fighting for the recognition of their rights. These rights include the restoration of their citizenship, freedom of movement, and a safe and dignified return to their homes in Rakhine State (in Burma).
Unfortunately, this determination comes at a time when the Tatmadaw is turning its attention to other areas of the country.
The Burma Human Rights Network released a statement that in part reads: “The same military that committed genocide against the Rohingya are committing massacres, airstrikes, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary mass arrests, sexual and gender-based violence, violence against children and mass displacement following its attempted coup – an attempt that failed, largely due to courageous and united resistance from the people of Myanmar in defense of their democracy.”
On March 21, Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that: “War crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed every day with impunity by the military junta of Myanmar.”
Andrews was unyielding in his condemnation of the tepid international response to the crisis.
“The people of Myanmar have been told that the world has a ‘responsibility to protect,’ victims of atrocity crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he said. “As the military junta escalates its ruthless attacks on the people of Myanmar, the people of Myanmar see only endless expressions of concern from the international community, vague declarations that something should be done and a tedious, endless wait for a consensus to act.”
While some U.N. member states have sanctioned individuals and entities linked to the Myanmar military, Andrews made it clear that these are welcome but insufficient steps.
The U.S. Congress is considering a stronger response to the Burmese crisis, and I hope that you will consider encouraging your representatives to act on the Burma Act of 2021. An easy way to do this is to look at this site of the Burma Advocacy Group and sign up.
These days, we are reminded daily that we must do all we can to stop the onslaught of unbridled autocracy.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to April as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. The previous article in the series is:
Why There Is No Room for Neutrality | Michael Knopf
Stearman directs the International Advocacy Baptist Collaborative that seeks to amplify and coordinate the advocacy work of the global Baptist family at the United Nations and in WDC. He is vice chair of the board of trustees for the Parliament of World Religions and writes regularly on the intersection of religion and international/cultural affairs. For over three decades, he served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His educational background includes theological degrees from Southwestern and Princeton Seminaries and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.