The United States on Wednesday joined other world powers and declared that the brutal campaign against Muslims in Myanmar amounts to ethnic cleansing.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the ongoing violence that has claimed the lives of thousands of Rohingya Muslims and driven many more from their homes must be stopped.
Tillerson visited Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, on Nov. 15 but failed at the time to vociferously condemn the violence. A statement released Wednesday went further.
“The key test of any democracy is how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as the ethnic Rohingya and other minority populations,” Tillerson said. “Burma’s government and security forces must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders, and hold accountable those who fail to do so.”
He said those responsible must be held accountable.
“After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state [of Myanmar] constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” Tillerson said.
The statement in theory opens up a menu of sanctions or other punishments that the United States can take against the government of Myanmar.
The Trump administration, which has infrequently emphasized human rights issues in other countries, had been reluctant to crack down on Myanmar because of its potential usefulness in challenging China and North Korea.
Human rights organizations have documented widespread abuse by the Myanmar military, including the systematic rape of women and killings of others. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
Tillerson said his government was joining the United Nations and other countries to document facts in Myanmar and “pursue accountability.”
Tillerson blamed Myanmar’s security forces and “local vigilantes” for what he called “intolerable suffering” by the Rohingya. The Myanmar military has denied it is engaged in a widespread campaign to eliminate the Rohingya and blamed Muslim militants for provoking violence.