The U.S. State Department has a designation for the brutal crackdown on Muslims in Myanmar — “ethnic cleansing.”
“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,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
Tillerson, who visited Myanmar last week, said the U.S. would work through the United Nations and “pursue accountability through U.S. law.”
That likely means sanctions, just as Myanmar was beginning to recover from decades of economic isolation under its former military junta.
After his visit, Tillerson said the ongoing violence had the “characteristics of crimes against humanity,” but stopped short of describing the events as ethnic cleansing.
The decision to adopt the term “ethnic cleansing” as official U.S. policy followed a recommendation made by senior State Department officials.
The United Nations came to that conclusion in September.
Tillerson also did not call for an international investigation into the atrocities, a blow to human rights advocates.
The change in terminology was quite a turnaround for an administration seen at home and abroad as hostile to Muslims.
Trump has been criticized for pushing an immigration policy that would ban travelers from majority Muslim countries including Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen.
Federal judges have blocked three of Trump’s travel ban orders.
Since August, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.
Myanmar is largely Buddhist, and the government has cracked down on Muslims after militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 police and army posts, killing a dozen security officials.
The military responded with what it called “clearance operations.”
Earlier this month, a House committee passed a nonbinding resolution condemning “murderous ethnic cleansing and atrocities” and calling on Trump to impose sanctions on those responsible for abuses.