WASHINGTON — The United States imposed sanctions on 52 people and entities Thursday for alleged human rights violations and corruption, a list that included Maung Maung Soe, a top Burmese general cited for an ongoing deadly crackdown on the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group.
Maung Maung Soe was the chief of the Burmese 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 neighboring Bangladesh since August, fleeing what Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson described as “ethnic cleansing.”
Maung Maung Soe is the first high-level Burmese military official to 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 U.S. financial system,” said Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, adding that the sanctions send “a message that there is a steep price to pay for their misdeeds.”
Among others penalized on Thursday was Yahya Jammeh, former president of Gambia who came to power in 1994 and stepped down in 2017. Mr. Jammeh created a terror and assassination squad called the Junglers that he used to intimidate, interrogate and kill people who threatened him, according to the Treasury designation. Benjamin Bol Mel of South Sudan, Dan Gertler, who did business in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mukhtar Hamid Shah of Pakistan 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 on Wednesday was the leader of the Republic of Chechnya.
The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals or entities hold in the United States and also prevent them from using any American financial institution for banking or other purposes. Since the United States financial system has such broad global reach, the sanctions make it difficult for the individuals to use major banks anywhere in the world.
The laws were named after Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in pretrial detention after exposing a $230 million tax-theft scam plotted by Russian officials.
Human rights advocates cheered Thursday’s designations.
“The fact that these listings were made today reflects the reality that despite many disagreements in Washington about the U.S. government’s role in promoting human rights, there is a bipartisan consensus the U.S. government can and should act to hold human rights abusers to account,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
The sanctions against Maung Maung Soe are among the first concrete actions by the United States against a top Burmese official for the continuing murderous campaign against the Rohingya. Administration officials have been nervous about punishing Myanmar’s government because they worry that broader sanctions could jeopardize the country’s fragile transition to democracy after decades of repressive military rule.
The crackdown on the Rohingya is thought to be broadly popular in Myanmar, which is majority Buddhist.
The Trump administration has cut back on refugee resettlements, arguing that preserving refugees in their home countries is better and more efficient. Whether the Rohingya will ever be able to return to Myanmar is far from certain.
Trump administration officials would not say whether more Burmese leaders would be added to the sanctions list. Mr. Sifton said the State Department may be keeping some names in reserve in hopes of persuading Burmese officials to stop the brutal campaign.
Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona, and Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland, who co-authored the Global Magnitsky Act, released a joint statement welcoming Thursday’s designations.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the administration and the human rights community to end a global culture of impunity and ensure robust and comprehensive implementation of this landmark law,” the statement said.