Can Anyone Stop the Tragedy in Myanmar — Before It’s Too Late?

The U.S. pulled military assistance to Myanmar in the wake of abuses toward the Rohingya people, but does anyone have enough leverage to end the ethnic cleansing?

This week on the E.R., we discuss the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
This week on the E.R., we discuss the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
This week on the E.R., we discuss the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Since August, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee their villages for the relative safety of Bangladesh. Some reports include claims of men and children slaughtered, women gang-raped and villages burned throughout the Rohingya’s home of Rakhine State, in the country’s northwest.

In late October, FP reported that Washington would pull U.S. military assistance to some units in Myanmar and rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend U.S.-sponsored events — though the terms “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are yet to be uttered by anybody on Capitol Hill.

But are harsh words or sanctions enough to stop this humanitarian crisis? To understand how the plight of the Rohingya came to be, and where solutions may be found, FP talks to a former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar and a leader of the Campaign for Burma.

Since August, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee their villages for the relative safety of Bangladesh. Some reports include claims of men and children slaughtered, women gang-raped and villages burned throughout the Rohingya’s home of Rakhine State, in the country’s northwest.

In late October, FP reported that Washington would pull U.S. military assistance to some units in Myanmar and rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend U.S.-sponsored events — though the terms “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are yet to be uttered by anybody on Capitol Hill.

But are harsh words or sanctions enough to stop this humanitarian crisis? To understand how the plight of the Rohingya came to be, and where solutions may be found, FP talks to a former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar and a leader of the Campaign for Burma.

Derek Mitchell served as the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar from 2012 to 2016 after serving as the State Department’s first special representative and policy coordinator for Burma. He is currently a senior advisor to the Asia Program and the United States Institute for Peace and is a senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group.

Simon Billenness serves as the executive director for the International Campaign for the Rohingya, an organization working to “build an alliance to establish peace, security and stability for the Rohingya people wherever they reside.” As part of the Free Burma movement, he organized shareholder activism and developed laws with state representatives in Massachusetts to put pressure on corporations to withdraw their financial interests in the country. He then went on to defend these laws in front of the World Trade Organization and U.S. Supreme Court. Follow him on Twitter: @simonbillenness

Martin de Bourmont is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. He previously worked as a reporter for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and as a reporting intern for the New York Times in Paris. Follow him on Twitter: @MBourmont

Ben Pauker is FP’s executive editor for the web. Follow him on Twitter: @benpauker

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