U.S. officials have declined to refer to violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing before they complete a review into the issue.
Though multiple senators called the violence ethnic cleansing during a hearing on the conflict Tuesday, representatives from the State Department and USAID said their agencies could not yet make that declaration.
“This is ethnic cleansing," ranking member Senator Ben Cardin said, echoing statements by his Senate colleagues and also by the United Nations, who qualified the conflict as ethnic cleansing last month.
"Ethnic cleansing is defined by the United Nations Commission of experts as rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from area," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Cardin, as well as representatives of the State Department, noted the Trump administration is currently evaluating whether the United States will officially call the violence in Myanmar ethnic cleansing. The Associated Press is reporting that determination could come this week.
The State Department has separately called on the Myanmar government to address the matter, while promising U.S. support for the country's transition to democracy.
"The Government of Burma [Myanmar], including its armed forces, must take immediate action to ensure peace and security; implement commitments to ensure humanitarian access to communities in desperate need; facilitate the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled or been displaced in Rakhine State; and address the root causes of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya by implementing the Rakhine Advisory Commission's recommendations, which includes providing a credible path to citizenship. We are ready to support these efforts," a statement released by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
The United Nations said last week that 589,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 25, fleeing violence amid reports of entire villages being burned. Access to the troubled northern Rakhine state has been severely limited to both aid agencies and journalists.