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U.S. Secretary Tillerson Denounces Myanmar's Actions As 'Ethnic Cleansing'

Matt Charnock
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Matt Charnock
U.S. Secretary Tillerson Denounces Myanmar's Actions As 'Ethnic Cleansing'

Earlier this morning, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson officially shifted his stance on the Myanmar government's actions against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country, defiantly labeling their actions "ethnic cleansing.”

Previously, Tillerson had refused to use the term when describing the Myanmar military's actions in their western Rakhine State, saying instead that he was "very concerned" about the reports. But, aside from his “concern,” Tillerson didn’t publicly condemn the actions as a form of genocide.

"What we know occurred in Rakhine state ... has a number of characteristics of crimes against humanity," he said on November 15, after an official visit to Myanmar. "Whether it meets all the criteria of ethnic cleansing we continue to determine ourselves."

However, on Wednesday, the US's top international diplomat was unequivocal in his statement denouncing Myanmar's military.

"No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued," Tillerson said.

"These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering ... After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya."

The actions weren’t just condemned by Tillerson, but other members of the State Department, as well.

"The term 'ethnic cleansing' is not defined in the context of either international law or domestic law," a senior State Department official cautioned Wednesday. "However, it is a descriptive term, and it carries with it this sense of urgency."

While the Trump administration, in it’s entirety, is not specifically calling out Myanmar's government for the acts of ethnic cleansing, the official who gave the aforementioned publica statement said that they hope it "will increase pressure on the parties to reach an accommodation about repatriation of people who are displaced, and also pressure on the military in Burma and the civilian government to work quickly to respond to events on the ground."

The United States is now in talking about taking additional steps it can take with other nations — or more directly, including possible targeted sanctions. 

(Feature image, courtesy of Flickr)