ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Trump administration is now labeling the violence in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he's considering targeted sanctions against those who are responsible for attacks on Rohingya Muslims. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Tillerson says he's looked at all the facts and has come to the conclusion that what's happening in Rakhine state is ethnic cleansing. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton, who visited Myanmar with Tillerson earlier this month, put it this way.
SUSAN THORNTON: We've seen enough of the human tragedy of the displaced persons flowing into Bangladesh that we felt that we had to make a determination like this to start to establish some facts behind what actually happened to cause this crisis and what was behind this mass exodus of people.
KELEMEN: The State Department says it will look for ways to hold perpetrators to account, blaming the country's military, security forces and local vigilantes for causing, quote, "tremendous suffering." Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been forced from their homes. And Thornton says helping them is the immediate priority.
THORNTON: Also, though, to make sure that we stop violence on the ground inside of Burma in Rakhine state and that we continue to work on the issue of repatriation so these people can come back from these camps, return to their homes and live safely and peacefully.
KELEMEN: The ethnic cleansing finding should not come as a surprise to the government of Myanmar, she says. It's something Tillerson has been considering for a while. But Cameron Hudson, who runs the Genocide Prevention Program at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, says calling this ethnic cleansing doesn't really change much.
CAMERON HUDSON: It can be, I think, cold comfort for the populations who are being victimized by these crimes. But it doesn't have a practical effect. We would like to see it have a practical effect. But right now, under the Genocide Convention and other relevant conventions, there isn't a kind of trigger mechanism that would require a specified set of responses.
KELEMEN: He put out a joint report with the group Fortify Rights that says there is mounting evidence of a genocide. It calls on the U.N. Security Council to refer this to the International Criminal Court and impose an arms embargo.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.