Thomas Sadoski
5 min readDec 30, 2023

Author’s Note: These introductory remarks were made on Thursday August 13, 2020 at a virtual public conversation hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Refugees International demanding the United States make a genocide determination regarding the Rohingya people in Myanmar. It was moderated by Sam Waterston. Speakers that day were Rohingya activists Wai Wai Nu, Yasmin Ullah and advocate Daniel Sullivan. A link to the video is available at the bottom of the page.

Image: Tomas Munita — The New York Times/Redux

Good afternoon. It is an honor to be asked to speak alongside such tremendous individuals. My name is Thomas Sadoski and I am an emeritus board member of Refugees International, a board member of the International Network for Aid Relief and Assistance and an ambassador for War Child USA. I have been involved in advocacy and activism for marginalized and vulnerable populations for the past decade and I am glad to speak to you today.

Beginning in August of 2017, the Myanmar security forces committed widespread and systematic attacks against the Rohingya, among them:

  • Unlawful killing of civilians, including of infants.
  • Torture.
  • Rape and other sexual violence.
  • Arson attacks and destruction of more than 350 villages.

During the first 30 days of military and paramilitary operations alone, an estimated 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children, were murdered.

Between August and December of 2017, almost 800,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians were forced to flee their homes.

This was not an organized exodus. Too often I think we have in mind our own cultural migration images when we hear that phrase. I think we subconsciously flash to American images of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, heartbreaking sepia-tone images of trucks loaded up and tied down, rattling off on a dusty trail in search of a better life. Hard to be sure. But for our purposes today I want to put instead in your mind the images of what the reality was for the Rohingya people: no time to prepare. Neighbors, family members shot or hacked to pieces or raped to death around you. Fires lit with the intention of burning your entire village to the ground. Fleeing, on foot, overwhelmingly without food, water, clothing or shelter into the countryside. Organizing on the fly on how to get to the border. The young carrying the old and infirm. Fording rivers, again, on foot. And behind you, driving relentlessly, the horrors of torture, mass rape and death, sparing no one, not even children or infants. These are the images that the Rohingya see when they hear the phrase “flee their homes”.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide is universally binding on all states as well as non-state actors. That’s a very important distinction because it speaks to a number of important points. As the facts of the crimes committed are not in dispute by any reasonable person, the primary point of focus in any further discussion on this issue and what stance each country and international body should take will ultimately be the discussion of intent.

In a comprehensive report by Fortify Rights, easily among the most well-versed organizations today, as well as the findings in the case brought to the ICC by The Gambia, the facts necessary to make a case for intent are laid bare and the evidence is indisputable and overwhelming.

Among the most startling findings are the revelation that the Myanmar Army began arming and training paramilitary and civilian groups in October of 2016, long before the horrific events that bring us here today.

Once the August 2017 military crackdown began, these paramilitary groups were activated and, this is the damning fact that seals it, directed by the military and riot police in the perpetration of genocidal crimes. Some paramilitary and civilian groups not previously given firearms, but prepared for participation by state sponsored dehumanization campaigns, were armed on the day of so-called “clearance operations” with swords and knives with which they participated in the slaughter.

I take a parenthetical here to note that these paramilitary and civilian groups were not limited to adults. Local children were armed and guided to join in the slaughter as well.

And it must be restated that the commission of these atrocities happened in conjunction with and in addition to the military itself committing its own parallel and equally as horrific crimes of infanticide, mass rape and mass murder.

Important to note: these instances of paramilitary armament, training and utilization need not stand alone to make the case for intent, although they could.

During this same time period, before the events of 2017, state police and military forces conducted multiple campaigns.

  • One of disarmament of Rohingya people; confiscating knives, farming tools and household items, anything that could be perceived or used as weaponry.
  • Another campaign in which fencing and structures around Rohingya homes were removed in order to provide both improved line-of-sight to police and, more advantageously to a force preparing for genocidal efficiency, a lack of defensive armature.
  • There was an additional campaign of suspending humanitarian aid and the access of humanitarian organizations to Rohingya people which furthered the dehumanization suffered — and as it speaks to intent, weakened the population and removed any potential third party witnesses to the planned genocide.
  • Furthermore, in Northern Rakhine state a muslim-only curfew was adopted and enforced and subsequently, again solidifying the intent question, thousands of non-Rohingya citizens were evacuated from the area.
  • And finally a campaign to build up an unusually stout military presence, one out of proportion to the supposed threat faced to the state.

The voices and stories that these brave Rohingya activists share speak more clearly to the moral, ethical and human need for the global community to respond immediately and with unshakable unity than anything I could say.

The legal case laid out by Refugees International, Fortify Rights and many other government and non-governmental bodies is clear and complete. What remains is that we, as a country of citizens who celebrate courage and refuse injustice, have leaders stand up with the integrity of our national principles and the strength to represent them when it matters.

There’s a lot of political talk these days about greatness. The moment that greatness becomes real, tangible and evident is the moment when that which is right and just burns so bright in the heart that the body with humble dignity picks up the heavy standard of service and strikes out, often alone, but gathering a multitude, enduring until the day of noble jubilee. The time has long since passed for our country, our people baptized in the love of righteousness, to cast off the cowardice of idleness and stand up for and beside the Rohingya people.

Video Link

Thomas Sadoski

INARA—board of directors; Fortify Rights— advisory council; Refugees International— board member emeritus. Actor. Human Rights Activist.