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U.S. Names China, Ethiopia, Myanmar In Genocide Prevention Report

July 13, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
President Xi Jinping casts his vote during the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

A report from the U.S. voiced concern over ongoing human rights abuses, which the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, at a press conference on Monday characterized as an attempt to apply international pressure to stop atrocities.

In the 2021 Wiesel report, the country’s annual atrocity prevention report and only the third such report since an accompanying law was put into place, the U.S. listed Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, Iraq and Syria, and South Sudan as countries of concern. 

During the press conference, Secretary Blinken said that the U.S. is “very actively considering” labeling the abuses in Ethiopia and in Myanmar, which the U.S. officially recognizes under the name Burma, as genocide and crimes against humanity.

One of the most internationally charged names on the list was China. 

The U.S. government has said that the People’s Republic of China is responsible for crimes against humanity for some time, according to the report. The U.S. takes exception to the treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, which it says have been imprisoned, tortured, persecuted, and forcibly sterilized.

Many western governments, including the U.S., U.K., European Union, and Canada, have put sanctions in place against Chinese officials over the abuses.

The U.S. has put in place other restrictions as well. For example, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has banned the import of some items from that region of China, including cotton and tomatoes, due to the connection of those products to forced labor.

Myanmar, one of the other countries named in the report, suffered a coup in February which the U.S. government says has led to “brutal killings and attacks against protestors, forced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions.” Ethnic cleansings against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State have caused mass displacement in the country and in neighboring countries like Bangladesh, according to Human Rights Watch.

In Ethiopia, another name on the list, the human rights abuses in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, have received international attention and outcry, especially due to the killing and displacement of Tigray and Eritrean refugees. In March, the secretary used the phrase “ethnic cleansing” to describe the situation in western Tigray. In May, the U.S. also committed assistance funds to avoid a severe famine there. The U.S. wants a full withdrawal of Eritrean troops and Amhara security from the region as well as an end to the fighting and investigations into human rights abuses, according to the report.

In addition to listing areas of specific concern, the report indexed the steps the U.S. has taken in regards to preventing atrocities and it offered steps for improving the ability of the U.S. government to halt atrocities.

Much of the U.S. effort has revolved around funding for prevention programs and the sanctioning of those involved with genocidal efforts. The U.S. Treasury Department, for example, has sanctioned people from China, Cambodia, Gambia, Haiti, Iraq, Lebanon, Russia, South Sudan, and Yemen, the report said.

The report said that atrocity prevention will be combined with the country’s work under the Global Fragility Act, a relatively new act, signed in 2019. According to an article from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the act was a bipartisan effort to give the U.S. more resources to reduce violent conflict, migration, and extremism as a matter of active policy.

It also said that the U.S. will pursue “gender-sensitive” atrocity prevention more strongly and that it will use “atrocity assessments” when developing U.S. strategies for embassies and missions.

The report was issued under the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which was enacted in 2019. The act is meant to “bolster” the U.S. response to atrocities and genocide across the world which legislators who passed the bill argued was in America’s direct interest.

“America’s strength around the world is rooted in our values. It is in our national interest to ensure that the United States utilizes the full arsenal of diplomatic, economic, and legal tools to take meaningful action before atrocities occur,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in 2018.

The name for the bill traces back to the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor freed from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. He authored 57 books, written mostly in French and English, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

America’s atrocity prevention edifice has evolved since the Obama administration when it was first put into place.

The goal was to identify “low-cost, low-risk” actions that would prevent atrocities.

In 2008, a Genocide Prevention Task Force published a blueprint with 34 recommendations for putting a stop to genocide. “The conclusions and recommendations reached in this report emanate from the fundamental reality that genocide and mass atrocities threaten American values and interests,” the report said.

Then in 2011, President Barack Obama published a presidential memo that created an atrocity prevention board and ordered the study of mass atrocities by U.S. agencies. 

“Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods,” the memo said, adding, “America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.”

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