Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE on Wednesday declared the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar "ethnic cleansing," while warning the U.S. government could impose new penalties on Myanmar.
In a statement, Tillerson vowed to hold those responsible for the violence to account, and warned that the U.S. could pursue that accountability through targeted sanctions.
"These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes in Burma to seek refuge in Bangladesh," he said.
"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."
Tillerson said that no provocation could justify actions by the Burmese military, security forces and local vigilantes toward the Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine State.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine State in recent months amid the violence. Lawmakers and human rights advocates have called for Tillerson to act on the recommendation of the State Department and declare the situation ethnic cleansing.
Other countries and the United Nations secretary general have already described the violence as ethnic cleansing. The designation by Tillerson, however, puts new pressure on the Trump administration and Congress to impose new sanctions on the country, which has been hailed by the U.S. in recent years for its democratic transition.
Myanmar has moved toward civilian government in recent years after decades of military rule, though the military retains significant power.