Canada should take the lead against ‘crimes against humanity’ in Burma
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Canada should take the lead against ‘crimes against humanity’ in Burma

“PRESENCE, perseverance, and patience” are what’s needed to solve the Rohingya refugee crisis says Canada’s special envoy Bob Rae in a new report released Tuesday. Canada should take a leadership role in responding to the crisis by ramping up humanitarian aid and development efforts, and showing a willingness to welcome refugees from the region, the report states.

The report, entitled Tell them we’re human, also claims there is evidence “to support the charge that crimes against humanity have been committed” in Burma (Myanmar).


Bangladeshi farmer Jorina Katun gestures among the Rohingya Muslims camped out on her land near the Kutapalong refugee camp in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh February 9, 2018. Picture taken February 9, 2018. Source: Reuters/Andrew RC Marshall

“These allegations include abuses by members of the Myanmar military, militia and other groups, and ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army), among others. The crime of genocide has also been alleged, and the evidence for this crime has to be assessed carefully as well,” the report said.

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Rae calls on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to more than triple the amount of money spent on aid to the region to US$120 million a year over the next four years; to accept thousands of the Rohingya Muslim minority refugees who have fled the country without specifying a particular number; and to maintain targeted economic sanctions against individuals responsible “for the abuses of human rights in Myanmar.”

Wider, more general sanctions against the country haven’t worked in the past, Rae said. Suggestions to further isolate the country by withdrawing trade would only make Canada “almost entirely irrelevant to any debate or discussion on how to move forward.”

Instead, he urged Canada to take a clear stand and press for justice and accountability for those responsible within the government. Thus avoiding using the “poor population as a pawn in our profound differences” Canada has with those in power.

Missing from the 39-page report is how to address Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is an honorary Canadian citizen. She has been widely criticised for remaining silent and refusing to speak out against the atrocities being committed at the hands of the military.

SEE ALSO: Burma grants United Nations visit, but no mention of access to Rakhine

“Those who are responsible for breaches of international law, including crimes against humanity, should be brought to justice. This applies to all those involved, including state actors and non-state actors, armies, and individuals,” the report said, without mentioning individual names.

He reiterated that Suu Kyi is not in charge of her country’s powerful military and said targeting her does not address the main crisis.

Rae made 17 recommendations in total. On top of championing Canada’s increased involvement and funding, the report says Burmese officials must help the Rohingya return home, but under only close scrutiny to ensure their safety from the military and mobs.


Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over Rakhine and Rohingya situation, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. To Rohingya refugees, this is just ‘drama’. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

He said Canada should raise the crisis at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London later this month, as well next month at the G7 summit in Canada.

Trudeau issued a statement Tuesday thanking Rae for his insights, professionalism, and recommendations, and said the government will outline further measures it intends to take in coming weeks.

“This report brings much-needed awareness to the grave humanitarian crisis and gross violations of human rights faced by hundreds of thousands of people, including Rohingya communities, other religious and ethnic minorities, and women and girls,” he said.

Trudeau said Canada will continue to work closely with the international community and the United Nations on a path forward.

“We share a global responsibility to respond to this crisis and meet the needs of those displaced and most vulnerable,” he said.

Rights group Amnesty International welcomed Rae’s report, saying it offered a “clear roadmap for global leadership in making a real difference”

Rae concluded that Canada needs to listen to the voices of the Rohingya themselves, while stepping up humanitarian and development efforts in both Bangladesh and Burma. Failing to do so will have dire consequences, he said.

“The lesson of history is that genocide is not an event like a bolt of lightning; it is a process, one that starts with hate speech and the politics of exclusion, then moves to discrimination, then policies of removal, and then finally to a sustained drive to physical extermination.”

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