Trump needs to say and do some­thing about as­sault on the Ro­hingya

The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

The big­gest and most ruth­less cam­paign of eth­nic cleans­ing the world has seen in years con­tin­ues un­abated in Myan­mar. Since Au­gust 25, more than 600,000 mem­bers of the Ro­hingya com­mu­nity have been driven across the bor­der to Bangladesh by the mil­i­tary in Myan­mar, which has sys­tem­at­i­cally torched their homes and killed those who re­sisted. The United Na­tions says it ex­pects most of the 500,000 re­main­ing Ro­hingya in the Rakhine state to cross the bor­der in the com­ing weeks; the mil­i­tary has pushed many of them into camps, to which aid groups and jour­nal­ists are de­nied ac­cess.

This atroc­ity is be­ing per­pe­trated against a de­spised mi­nor­ity: The Ro­hingya are Mus­lims who are re­garded by Myan­mar’s Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity as for­eign in­ter­lop­ers, even though they have lived in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions. Vir­tu­ally no one in Myan­mar, also known as Burma, has come to the vic­tims’ de­fence – not even No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Aung San Suu Kyi, who con­trols the civil­ian gov­ern­ment, if not the gen­er­als. A se­nior UN of­fi­cial, Yanghee Lee, pointed out last week that the coun­try’s revered leader might be the only one who could counter the pop­u­lar “ha­tred and hos­til­ity” against the Ro­hingya if she were to “reach out to the peo­ple and say, ‘Hey, let’s show some hu­man­ity.’” But Aung San Suu Kyi has re­mained silent.

Af­ter weeks of hes­i­ta­tion, the United States has fi­nally be­gun to act against this stag­ger­ing crime. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said on Oc­to­ber 18 that “the world can’t just stand idly by and be wit­ness to the atroc­i­ties”, adding that the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship would be held ac­count­able. A few days later, the State De­part­ment fol­lowed up by pulling the waiver al­low­ing cur­rent and for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in Myan­mar to travel to the United States, and said mil­i­tary units in­volved would be deemed in­el­i­gi­ble for US aid. It called on the gov­ern­ment to “fa­cil­i­tate the safe and vol­un­tary re­turn of those who have fled” and “ad­dress the root causes of sys­tem­atic dis­crim­i­na­tion against the Ro­hingya”.

That, how­ever, is not enough. So far State has not for­mally adopted the term “eth­nic cleans­ing” to de­scribe the forced ex­o­dus. Tiller­son called Myan­mar’s army chief on Thurs­day, but a state­ment is­sued af­ter­ward re­ferred only to “re­ported atroc­i­ties.” In fact, as Se­na­tor Ben­jamin Cardin, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, has said, what is oc­cur­ring is “geno­cide” – and the US re­sponse should be pro­por­tion­ate.

Myan­mar was some­thing of a pet project for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which lav­ished at­ten­tion on the regime and lifted long-stand­ing sanc­tions af­ter it held a demo­cratic elec­tion. It’s now clear that those who ques­tioned whether Pres­i­dent Barack Obama acted pre­ma­turely in re­mov­ing the re­main­ing sanc­tions be­fore leav­ing of­fice were cor­rect. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who seems to take a vis­ceral plea­sure in re­vers­ing Obama’s lega­cies, would be right to do so in this case. Se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in Myan­mar should be tar­geted with as­set freezes, and all busi­ness with the mil­i­tary and its af­fil­i­ates should be sus­pended.

Trump has yet to speak out about the as­sault on the Ro­hingya, though it is the most se­ri­ous hu­man rights cri­sis to oc­cur so far in his pres­i­dency. His visit to Asia, which kicks off this week and will fea­ture at­ten­dance at a sum­mit of South­east Asian na­tions that in­cludes Myan­mar, pro­vides him an op­por­tu­nity to show he will not ig­nore crimes against hu­man­ity.

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