Waterloo Region Record

How Canada can help stop Rohingya mass murder

Canada’s challenge is to demonstrat­e it has the political will to prove Myanmar wrong

- PHELIM KINE Phelim Kine is the director of research and investigat­ions at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and leads PHR’s research and advocacy on Myanmar.

Sunday marked the two-year anniversar­y of the start of a widespread and systematic campaign of mass killings, torture, mutilation­s and sexual violence by Myanmar security forces targeting the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority in northern Rakhine province.

That violence resulted in the torching of hundreds of Rohingya villages, killed at least 10,000 Rohingya civilians and prompted approximat­ely 740,000 others to flee for their lives to Cox’s Bazar in neighbouri­ng Bangladesh. The trauma of the violence lives on in profound psychologi­cal trauma, wounds from sadistic mutilation­s and painful long-term disabiliti­es.

Canada led internatio­nal efforts for accountabi­lity for those outrages. In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a Special Envoy to Myanmar. Following the September 2018 release of a damning UN report that implicated the Myanmar military in crimes against humanity and acts of “genocidal intent,” Canada’s Parliament became the world’s first to vote unanimousl­y that the Rohingya were the victims of a genocide.

Canada’s Senate echoed that a month later and also withdrew honorary citizenshi­p to Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for being “complicit” in the anti-Rohingya violence.

But for two years, Myanmar’s government has denied those atrocities and stonewalle­d the internatio­nal community. Myanmar has forbidden internatio­nal organizati­ons and observers, including UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, from accessing Rakhine state.

Efforts to initiate an Internatio­nal Criminal Court (ICC) investigat­ion have been stymied by Myanmar not being a signatory to the Rome Statute. Efforts to trigger an ICC probe via a resolution of the UN Security Council have been blocked by the opposition of Russia and China.

Although the UN has successful­ly created an independen­t investigat­ive mechanism to probe Myanmar’s abuses against the Rohingya and the ICC is seeking to overcome legal roadblocks to a Myanmar probe, their necessaril­y slow and opaque operations in processing evidence and moving toward prosecutio­ns has inadverten­tly helped bolster the Myanmar government’s denial narrative.

Meanwhile, Myanmar authoritie­s have spent the past two years erasing the sites of mass slaughter of Rohingya in Rakhine. Satellite images have revealed that the locations of former Rohingya villages in Rakhine have been “flattened and scraped by bulldozers.”

The same Myanmar security forces implicated in the atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine have continued to perpetrate what Amnesty Internatio­nal has documented an ongoing pattern of violence including “unlawful attacks killing and injuring civilians.” Ignoring that peril, on Aug. 15 the government­s of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to resume “voluntary” repatriati­ons of Rohingya back to Rakhine.

Canada has a unique opportunit­y to ensure that Myanmar doesn’t get away with mass murder. On the eve of the second anniversar­y of that slaughter, Canada can deliver on its stated commitment to accountabi­lity by filing a complaint against Myanmar to the Internatio­nal Court of Justice (ICJ) for Myanmar’s violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

By doing so, Canada can both spur the ICJ to investigat­e allegation­s of genocide and pursue reparation­s for Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya as well as help inspire other foreign government­s to file their own ICJ complaints against Myanmar.

The Canadian government can and should also impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against Myanmar government and military officials — and their family members — implicated in the 2017 violence.

Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, said in February 2019 that Canada’s commitment to accountabi­lity for the Rohingya was unwavering, “Whether it takes a year, two years, five years, 10 years, justice will be done.”

Myanmar is counting on Canada to fail in backing that rhetoric with concrete steps toward justice. Canada’s challenge is to demonstrat­e that it has the political will to prove Myanmar wrong.

 ?? ADAM DEAN NYT ?? Ever since more than 730,000 Rohingya started fleeing to Bangladesh to escape ethnic cleansing, government­s from both countries vowed their return to Myanmar was imminent.
ADAM DEAN NYT Ever since more than 730,000 Rohingya started fleeing to Bangladesh to escape ethnic cleansing, government­s from both countries vowed their return to Myanmar was imminent.

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