More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since August amid reports of a "wave of rape, murder, and arson, entire villages torched by security forces and Buddhist vigilantes," NPR reports. Refugees say men, women, and children have been killed, and UN investigators describe rape, torture, and execution, according to the Wall Street Journal. In one horrifying account, a refugee says soldiers threw her baby into a fire, then gang-raped the woman. Back in September, a UN official described the situation as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing," and on Wednesday the US officially declared it as such. “No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued," Rex Tillerson says. "Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable," the BBC quotes the secretary of state as adding.
In making the declaration—which State Department staffers having been advocating for months—Tillerson called for an independent investigation leading to potential sanctions against the Myanmar government. While Myanmar, which doesn't recognize Rohingya Muslims as citizens, has been persecuting the minority for decades, violence spiked after Rohingya militants attacked government security forces in August. The military has been retaliating against the Rohingya community in the months since. The director of the genocide prevention program at the Holocaust Memorial Museum says the situation could qualify as outright genocide. The Myanmar army claims Rohingya "terrorists" are the ones burning villages and sending their fellow Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh.