WASHINGTON • The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling Myanmar's expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims a "genocide". The Lower House of Congress also accused the Myanmar military of "crimes against humanity" and called for the immediate release of two Reuters journalists who have been detained for covering the crisis.
Thursday's resolution was backed by 394 votes from both parties, with a single Republican opposing.
The United Nations has already classified the mass expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from their homes as a "genocide".
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". They 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".
In November last year, Mr Pompeo's predecessor, Mr Rex Tillerson, called the military's campaign against the Rohingya "ethnic cleansing".
In a report issued on Aug 27 this year, UN 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.
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.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the violence in Rakhine state since the Myanmar military launched an offensive in August last year.
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.
The House of Representatives also called for 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.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty in September of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.
The reporters, who pleaded not guilty, said they were handed papers by police shortly before they were detained, and a police witness testified that they had been set up. They had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys as part of a military response to insurgent attacks.
Lawyers for the two reporters have lodged an appeal against their conviction and sentence. An appeal hearing is scheduled for Dec 24.
The case has raised questions among a number of political leaders in the US and Europe, human rights advocates and the UN about Myanmar's progress towards democracy.
The Myanmar embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the House of Representatives vote.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS