The U.S. House of Representatives nearly unanimously on Thursday adopted a resolution calling the Myanmar military's campaign against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority a genocide.
The 394-to-one vote by the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress adds to the pressure on the U.S. administration about Myanmar.
Members of Congress called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "determine, based on available evidence, whether the actions by the (Myanmar) military in northern Rakhine State in 2017 constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, or other crimes under international law."
It added that "all those responsible for these crimes against humanity and genocide should be tracked, sanctioned, arrested, prosecuted, and punished under applicable international criminal statutes and conventions."
The resolution also calls on the government of Myanmar to release Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were imprisoned one year ago in a landmark free speech case.
House members called for release of Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who were found guilty in September of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. The case has raised questions among a number of political leaders in the United States and Europe, human rights advocates and the United Nations about Myanmar's progress towards democracy.
The measure is non-binding, but intended as a strong message to the government of Myanmar as well as to President Donald Trump's administration that members of the U.S. Congress want the two men released.
The one "no" vote came from Representative Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona. Asked to comment on Biggs' vote, Daniel Stefanski, a spokesman for the congressman, did not directly address the question but said the Myanmar military's "continuing oppression of the Rohingya is inhumane" and called on the Trump administration "to use maximum diplomatic pressure to end the genocide and demand the release of the two journalists."
In a report issued on Aug. 27, U.N. investigators said Myanmar's military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with "genocidal intent" and for the first time explicitly called for Myanmar officials to face genocide charges over their campaign.
The U.S. Department of State, which would make an official determination, has not made that official designation using the term genocide.
Lawmakers pointed to the displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine state following a military crackdown and the documentation of mass murder, rape and destruction of villages.
In November 2017, Pompeo's predecessor Rex Tillerson called the military's campaign against the Rohingya "ethnic cleansing" and in August issued sanctions against four commanders and two military units involved.
Since then, the State Department has been examining whether the actions of the military can be classified as genocide, a tougher, more legally binding term than "ethnic cleansing."
Vice President Mike Pence told Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month that the actions of the military were "inexcusable."
"That conclusion of ethnic cleansing... in no way prejudices any potential further analysis on whether mass atrocities have taken place, including genocide or crimes against humanity," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters this week.
The military in Myanmar, where Buddhism is the main religion, has denied past accusations that it had committed genocide against the Rohingya and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.
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