US declaration of “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar on way

US declaration of “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar on way

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration moved toward a condemnation of “ethnic cleansing” against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, as officials were preparing a recommendation for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to unequivocally use the term for the first time. Angry lawmakers on Tuesday demanded an immediate denunciation as they explored a new, tougher U.S. policy.

“My bosses have said it appears to be ethnic cleansing. I’m of that view as well,” said Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. diplomat for Southeast Asia, while adding that the final call wasn’t his to make.

Tillerson could receive the recommendation to adopt such terminology as a matter of policy as early as this week, officials familiar with the process told The Associated Press. He would then decide whether to follow the advice of his agency’s policy experts and lawyers, which would raise pressure on the U.S. government to consider new sanctions on a country that had been lauded for its democratic transition.

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, lawmakers pressed Murphy and other administration officials to hastily clarify their view of the brutal crackdown on Muslims in Rakhine State that has caused more than 600,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh. But U.S. officials have been weighing several factors for their policy toward the country also known as Burma, including concerns about undermining the civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for the last 18 months.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine was among those calling for a clear determination “with dispatch.” Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized it “may be time for a policy readjustment.” Other lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed new U.S. penalties on the military, which retains significant power in Myanmar and is blamed for the violence.

The U.S. officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the internal process and requested anonymity, told the AP the State Department won’t make a call yet on whether crimes against humanity have occurred in Myanmar. Such a determination would be even more detrimental to Myanmar’s military, as it could force the U.S. to push harder for legal accountability.

According to the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention, “ethnic cleansing” isn’t recognized as an independent crime under international law, unlike crimes against humanity and genocide. It surfaced in the context of the 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia, when a U.N. commission defined it as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.”

Nevertheless, Murphy stressed that “a determination of ethnic cleansing will not change our pursuit of full accountability.” The issue also is sensitive because President Donald Trump will make his first official trip to Asia next month and hasn’t spoken about the crisis.

Human rights groups accuse security forces of launching a scorched-earth campaign in late August as they responded to Rohingya insurgent attacks.

Rohingya

 

US declaration of “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar on way

Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS                                A Rohingya Muslim boy Rehmat Ullaha, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, carries a sack of rice given to him in aid at Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Monday.

Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A Rohingya Muslim boy Rehmat Ullaha, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, carries a sack of rice given to him in aid at Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Monday.