The United States officially declared Monday that violence against the Rohingya committed by Myanmar's military amounted to genocide, saying there was clear evidence of an attempt to "destroy" the Muslim minority.
Citing the killings of thousands and forcing close to a million to flee the country in 2016 and 2017, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had "determined that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya".
"The military's intent went beyond ethnic cleansing to the actual destruction of Rohingya," Blinken said at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"The attack against Rohingya was widespread and systematic, which is crucial for reaching a determination of crimes against humanity."
Around 850,000 Rohingya are languishing in camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, recounting mass killings and rape, while another 600,000 members of the community remain in Myanmar's Rakhine state where they report widespread oppression.
- Rohingya welcome move -
The move was cautiously welcomed by activists and members of the beleaguered community.
"This should have been done way before, however I believe the US decision will help the ICJ (International Court of Justice) process for the Rohingya," said a Rohingya at a camp for those displaced by the crisis near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine.
Thin Thin Hlaing, a Rohingya rights activist, also welcomed the US move.
"I feel like we were living through a blackout but now we see a light, because they recognize our suffering," she told AFP.
Blinken noted 2017 remarks by Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military, that the government was "solving" an "unfinished job" in its destruction of Rohingya communities.
Blinken added that Min Aung Hlaing led the 2021 coup overthrowing the elected government of Myanmar.
The Holocaust Museum prepared its own report in late 2017 with the group Fortify Rights that concluded there was compelling evidence of crimes against humanity in Myanmar.
The State Department released a report in 2018 that detailed violence against the Rohingya in western Rakhine state as "extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents."
A legal designation of genocide -- defined by the UN as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" -- could be followed by further sanctions and limits on aid, among other penalties against the already-isolated military junta.
A case opened against Myanmar at the ICJ in 2019 has been complicated by last year's coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government, triggering mass protests and a bloody crackdown.
The Nobel peace laureate, who faced criticism from rights groups for her involvement in the Rohingya case, is now under house arrest and on trial by the same generals she defended at The Hague.