Tillerson did not use the term during his brief visit to Myanmar's capital, Naypyidaw, on Nov. 15, deciding only after visiting and analyzing the situation to describe the situation that way.
What does declaring the violence ethnic cleansing do in effect?
In reality, the new descriptor does not immediately accomplish much. Ethnic cleansing is a term that is not legally defined by U.S. or international law. A declaration does not trigger any sort of obligations or consequences.
State officials said they expect the determination to "increase pressure" on the civilian government and military in Myanmar to reach an agreement on repatriating the 600,000 or so Rohingya who have fled as refugees into neighboring Bangladesh.
Who is perpetrating the ethnic cleansing?
Though ethnic cleansing has been declared, the perpetrator has not been defined as the Myanmar military. State Department officials say there are a number of "potential sources" of conflict, including both military forces and vigilante groups.
What will happen to the victims of the violence?
The State Department is focusing on returning the Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh as refugees back to their homes. Even still, officials acknowledge that repatriating even a few hundred Rohingya per day would mean the process could last for years — a huge logistical challenge at this point. State will focus on voluntary repatriation, meaning they realize many Rohingya might not want to return to their former homes.
Last week, Secretary Tillerson announced an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected, bringing the total amount spent to aid the victims since August of last year to $87 million.
Why aren't broader sanctions being imposed?
Broader sanctions remain a challenge, as State officials are wary of hindering the fragile civilian government in Myanmar, which has shared power with the military as laid out in the Burmese Constitution about 18 months ago. Transition of power to the fledgling civilian government is a delicate process and could benefit all the persecuted civilian groups in Myanmar... if it can be accomplished.