Since August 2017 terrible things have been happening in plain sight in Myanmar. Yet in the face of these terrible things, Canada and the rest of the world have watched, and failed to prevent innocent men, women and children from being the victims of genocide.
What happened in Myanmar created more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees, resulted in the destruction of more than 360 Rohingya communities, led to more than 80,000 Rohingya women being gang-raped, caused more than 36,000 Rohingya children to become orphans and resulted in the murder of more than 43,000 people.
This is a crisis born of a genocide agenda implemented by the Myanmar government since the 1980s that finally gained the world’s attention in September of last year. Yet despite the depravity, the horror and size of the crimes committed, the international community has done little to penalize or bring to justice the Myanmar officials who perpetrated these acts.
Canada’s relationship with Myanmar puts it in a position to act persuasively since it made de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi an honorary Canadian. Canada should leverage that relationship to pressure her to halt the still ongoing genocide. However, almost a year since atrocities were reported, Canada has refused to label the situation a genocide despite international studies by prestigious bodies such as Yale Law School and Queen Mary University of London.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently visited Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh accompanied by the president of the World Bank Jim Kim. During their visit they described hearing “unimaginable” stories of atrocities, and a situation that was “a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.” This is hardly news to the UN since the UN high commissioner for human rights said last fall that the Rohingya had endured “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in December he added that he could not rule out “elements of genocide” in Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya.
The world’s response to Rohingya persecution appears no different than the experiences of Rwanda, Darfur and the Balkans where the world was aware of terrible things to come or occurring but did not act to prevent or stop them. Even in the Second World War nations of the west were aware of the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany but did nothing to save Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.
The post Second World War international order was supposed to prevent genocide from occurring again. That is why the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 9, 1948. It was ratified by Canada in 1952, a decision which obligates Canada to take action – or at least speak out – when there is a genocide in the making.
But despite Myanmar's 40-year history of implementing a genocide agenda against the Rohingya, despite the mountains of evidence including the existence of the refugees and their testimonies, Canada and the international community have sat on their hands and paid lip service to their legal obligations.
The next time the prime minister talks about Canada's commitment to defending human rights, the next time he stands up for some sort of memorial service for those killed during the Holocaust or any other historical atrocity, he needs to be called out publicly and the Canadian government needs to be shamed for its hypocrisy and evident failure of its international legal obligations.
This hypocrisy was apparent last October when the prime minister spoke about standing against hate and xenophobia at the dedication of the Canadian Holocaust Memorial. It was evident again when government MPs made statements for Victims of Genocide Day, for Holocaust Remembrance Day and Holocaust Memorial Day. It seems remembrance events and asking forgiveness for failing to act in response to historic atrocities is easier than preventing atrocities being committed in plain sight.
It is now necessary for those who see Canada as an international defender of human rights to be more aggressive in pressuring the government to act since the Canadian government has not done what activists have been calling for – namely call the Rohingya Genocide a genocide, aggressively sanction military and civilian leaders of Myanmar (including Aung San Suu Kyi) and be a world leader to address the root cause of the crisis which is Myanmar's genocide agenda.
While Canada has done more than some nations, it has done far less than it can and should, and it has abandoned its legal and moral obligations under the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by taking a go slow approach while innocent Rohingya still stuck in Myanmar or in squalid refugee camps wait with little hope.
Terrible things have happened to the Rohingya in Myanmar and those terrible things are called genocide. Canada has a legal responsibility to do everything it can to help a people that the UN has labeled the “most persecuted minority in the world”. Because if we don’t then we will be repeating history and will be judged harshly. ”
— Fareed Khan is director of Advocacy and Media Relations for the Rohingya Human Rights Network