POLITICS
04/03/2018 10:48 EDT | Updated 04/05/2018 14:57 EDT

Bob Rae: Canada Must Welcome Rohingya Refugees Fleeing Persecution In Myanmar

The special envoy on the crisis is also calling for increased spending.

Canada's special envoy to the Rohingya crisis Bob Rae speaks during press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 23, 2017.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Canada's special envoy to the Rohingya crisis Bob Rae speaks during press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 23, 2017.

OTTAWA — Bob Rae says Canada needs to consider granting refugee and resettlement status to Myanmar's persecuted ethnic Rohingya, 700,000 of whom have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a brutal campaign by Myanmar's military.

Rae, who was appointed Canada's special envoy to the seven-month-old crisis, makes that recommendation and others in his final report released today.

He says Canada needs to step up its spending on the mass migration crisis and should play a leading role in the investigation by the International Criminal Court of possible war crimes.

Rae's report silent on Aung San Suu Kyi

He also suggests the federal government could target some of Myanmar's military leaders under its new Magnitsky Act that seeks to isolate human rights abusers.

But Rae stops short of recommending further sanctions because, saying those would only hurt the 50 million people of an already impoverished country.

The 39-page report is noticeably silent on another major issue: how to address Nobel laureate and honorary Canadian citizen Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto political leader who has been widely criticized for not speaking out against the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya.

The Liberal government has expressed the view that Suu Kyi is not in charge of her country's powerful military, which once held her under house arrest, and that targeting her does not address the main crisis.

Rae made two trips to Myanmar in recent months and describes seeing what he essentially characterizes as a slow march towards genocide.

Earlier:

The Canadian government and others have referred to the crisis as ethnic cleansing, because branding the crisis genocide would carry an international legal obligation to intervene, potentially with force.

Rae recommends Canada take a lead role with like-minded countries in a UN genocide investigation.

He also invokes the UN's Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which Canada helped create more than a decade ago, a doctrine that has been widely criticized for its failure to stop carnage elsewhere — notably Syria.

"The notion that these are all issues of absolute sovereignty, to be settled exclusively between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, misses the point that the UN General Assembly has recognized: the duty to protect the security of individuals is the initially the duty of states, but failing that, becomes a wider regional and, ultimately, international obligation," Rae writes.

"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 legal discrimination, then the policies of removal and then finally to a sustained drive to physical extermination."

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In the meantime, Rae says Canada needs to do more help refugees, including those in the region and those who might be able to find sanctuary elsewhere, and it needs to commit to a longer-term humanitarian strategy for the region, as it has in Syria and Iraq.

"Canada should signal a willingness to welcome refugees from the Rohingya community in both Bangladesh and Myanmar and should encourage a discussion among like-minded countries to do the same," he says, adding that this would in no way diminish the responsibility of Myanmar's government for the violent expulsion of the population.

Canada needs to deepen its commitment to human rights on the ground, by protecting women and girls, Rae says.

He proposes adding more of Myanmar's military leaders to new international sanctions laws — Canada's is named after Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky — that freeze assets and block travel of accused rights abusers.

Sanctions would hurt Myanmar's population, he says

Maj.-Gen. Maung Maung Soe, the head of Myanmar's western army command is on such lists and Rae makes clear others could be added — "anyone deemed to share responsibility for the abuses of human rights and the crimes against humanity in Myanmar."

But further sanctions would only hurt Myanmar's population, he says.

"To cut off development assistance to or collaboration with the entire Myanmar public sector or to stop engaging with the government of Myanmar would have the effect of making Canada almost entirely irrelevant to any debate or discussion on how to move forward."