WASHINGTON • The US has imposed sanctions on 52 people and entities for alleged human rights violations and corruption, a list that included Myanmar's General Maung Maung Soe, cited for an ongoing deadly crackdown on the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group.
Gen Maung Maung Soe was the chief of the Myanmar army's Western Command during a crackdown that survivors say involved government soldiers stabbing babies, cutting off the heads of boys, gang-raping girls and burning entire families to death.
More than 620,000 refugees have flooded into neighbouring Bangladesh since August, fleeing what US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described as "ethnic cleansing".
Gen Maung Maung Soe is the first high-level Myanmar military official named in sanctions, an action that the Treasury Department said grew out of credible evidence of his involvement in the crackdown.
"Today, the United States is taking a strong stand against human rights abuse and corruption globally by shutting these bad actors out of the US financial system," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, adding that the sanctions send "a message that there is a steep price to pay for their misdeeds".
Among others penalised on Thursday was Gambia's former president Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 and stepped down this year. South Sudan's Benjamin Bol Mel, Dan Gertler, who did business in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Pakistan's Mukhtar Hamid Shah were also on the list.
The designations are the first to result from the passage last year of the Global Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan Bill intended to punish people around the world who are credibly accused of serious violations of human rights and of corruption.
The law was a follow-on to a similarly named law passed in 2012 designed to punish such people only in Russia.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on five Russians in designations from that earlier law. Among those targeted was the leader of the Republic of Chechnya.
The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals or entities hold in the US and also prevent them from using any US financial institution for banking or other purposes. Since the US financial system has such broad global reach, the sanctions make it difficult for the individuals to use major banks anywhere in the world.
Human rights advocates cheered Thursday's designations.
"The fact that these listings were made reflects the reality that despite many disagreements in Washington about the US government's role in promoting human rights, there is a bipartisan consensus the US government can and should act to hold human rights abusers to account," said Mr John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
The sanctions against Gen Maung Maung Soe are among the first concrete actions by the US against a top Myanmar official for the continuing murderous campaign against the Rohingya.
Administration officials have been nervous about punishing Myanmar's government, fearing that broader sanctions could jeopardise the country's fragile transition to democracy after decades of repressive military rule.