For decades, the Burmese government has denied the right of the Rohingya to Burmese citizenship. The government has systematically subjected the Rohingya Muslim minority to abuse and persecution, driving tens of thousands abroad. Many, many, many reports and condemnations have been issued over the years, yet the Burmese junta had little reason to listen. As a pariah state, there was not much more the international community could do to effect change (without more Chinese pressure, that is.)
In 2015, it seemed like change had finally come to Burma following the election of pro-democracy proponent Aung San Suu Kyi. With the change in government, the Obama Administration lifted some of the sanctions on Burma in 2016. Yet in celebrating the beginning of democracy in Burma, the international community glossed over important questions about Burmese identity and nationality. For decades, to be Burmese in the eyes of the government and many Burmese nationals meant belonging to one of the official Burmese ethnic groups listed in the 1982 citizenship law. The Rohingya are not on that list.
Perhaps predictably, the move towards democracy has not led to greater representation or rights for Burma's many minorities, but no group has suffered severe persecution like the Rohingya. Recently, things have come to a head in the worst wave of anti-Rohingya violence perhaps ever seen in Burma. The government stands accused of torching hundreds of villages. You can see some of the photos here.
Suddenly, the world seems to be waking up to the risk of another mass extermination of an entire group of people. In particular, Muslim nations are finally taking more notice. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are beginning to push back. The Trump administration today released a statement condemning the violence, but make no mistake, they have also tacitly signaled to the Burmese government that they plan to do nothing about it.
Even setting aside the gutting of the State Department and the problematic (to say the least) tenure of Rexxon, the real problem is the administration's isolationist stance. The Obama administration built up a considerable amount of leverage by lifting some sanctions on the country, dangling before it not only the possibility of trade, but also economic assistance. As most diplomats know, it's our giant economy, not our nuclear weapons, that give America our international clout and keep us safe. No one can hurt us because we are literally too big to fail. But we are pretty much the only country in this position (along, perhaps, with China) and, as a result, no other country wants to risk our economic wrath through our powerful ability to enact economic sanctions. But the Trump administration doesn't believe in sanctions or in criticizing dictatorial or genocidal regimes. So Burma is free to do whatever it likes without fear of punishment.
Meanwhile, this latest crisis means UNHCR needs yet more money. And where is this money supposed to come from? I'm seriously asking and somebody from the Trump administration needs to answer.