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Tillerson on Rohingya Crisis: 'It's Clearly Ethnic Cleansing'

26 November 2017

In a statement issued after the signing, Myanmar State Counsellor's Office said, "The arrangement was based on the joint statement signed by the foreign ministers of the Government of the Union of Myanmar and the People's Republic of Bangladesh in 1992, and contained the general guiding principles and policy arrangements to systematically verify and receive the displaced persons from Rakhine State". More than 620,000 Rohingya have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that Washington said this week clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing".

After months of reticence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday officially referred to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as "ethnic cleansing". Refugees have described horrifying acts of state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya, from the execution of civilians to gang rape and the mass destruction of entire villages.

"On the contrary, it can aggravate the situation, throw more fuel", he said, citing concern over how the Buddhist community in Rakhine would react to such a designation.

According to the sources, Myanmar has agreed to focus only on the Rohingya population sheltered in Bangladesh since October 2016.

Earlier, Tillerson took a more hesitant approach towards his description of the events in the Southeast Asian country, where an estimated 615,000 people have been forced out of their homes, fleeing for shelter into neighboring Bangladesh.

Moreover, the absence of the United States as a dogged advocate and provider for women and girls in a humanitarian crisis like that of the Rohingya means that the specific abuses women and girls face, like gender-based violence, do not get the same global attention they do when the U.S. exercises its moral authority as leader of the worldwide community, Ms. Daniels says. United States officials also worry that the mistreatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority may fuel radicalism. UNFPA said at the time that it does not provide abortion services, but the State Department said that UNFPA provides family-planning services in China, a country that does resort to coercive abortions.

Rohingya refugees
Image More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myannmar since August

Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh were wary of the accord. And it has set up "safe places" for women and girls in the teeming camps and distributed more than 6,000 "dignity kits" for women that include soap, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, and a flashlight.

Impoverished and overcrowded, Bangladesh won worldwide praise for allowing the refugees into the country, but has imposed restrictions on their movements and said it does not want them to stay.

The scale of the repatriation ahead, and the difficulty that many Rohingya refugees will face in meeting criteria for return that will require them to prove their claim to residency in Rakhine State, mean the process will likely be lengthy.

Annan says during the papal visit the Holy Father will be "giving a voice to the voiceless", but he'll also be reasoning with the leaders in the Myanmar, as well as other groups there.

"Nothing can be done overnight, but we believe that we will be able to make steady progress", she said.

"The US voice has been missing under this administration, and humanitarian experts on the ground are very much aware - and the people affected by these crises are very much aware - of a vacuum left by the loss of this voice", he says.

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Tillerson on Rohingya Crisis: 'It's Clearly Ethnic Cleansing'