POLITICS
09/05/2018 19:43 EDT | Updated 09/06/2018 08:43 EDT

Canada Must Remain 'Engaged' With Myanmar's Leader, Trudeau's Office Says

But one advocate says she has "blood on her hands."

Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar and an honorary Canadian citizen, shares a laugh with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 7, 2017.
The Canadian Press
Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar and an honorary Canadian citizen, shares a laugh with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 7, 2017.

Canada has to remain "engaged" with Myanmar's leader, the prime minister's office says, even as her government and military face accusations of genocide.

UN investigators released a damning report late last month alleging the Myanmar military carried out mass killings and rapes of Rohingya Muslims with "genocidal intent." The officials blamed the country's state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to use her "moral authority" to protect the civilians.

Since the crisis was ignited in 2017, Canada has faced calls to revoke the honorary citizenship it gave Suu Kyi a decade prior, most recently from former Liberal cabinet minister Irwin Cotler.

"In my view, as a result of this [UN] report, she does not belong in that pantheon of heroes," Cotler, a prominent human rights lawyer, told The Globe and Mail last week.

Asked if the Liberal government is considering the move in light of a chorus of international condemnation of Suu Kyi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada must "leverage efficient diplomatic engagement" with Myanmar in order to advocate for vulnerable civilians.

"Only by remaining engaged can Canada actively contribute to ensuring the safety of vulnerable communities in Rakhine and advocating for the favourable conditions for repatriation and reconciliation," Trudeau's press secretary Matt Pascuzzo said in an email.

But Washim Ahmed, a lawyer and spokesperson for the Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative, says allowing Suu Kyi to retain her honorary citizenship while her government faces these allegations is unacceptable.

'She has blood on her hands'


"The honorary citizenship doesn't give any rights or entitlement, but having that honour makes her a Canadian, and we can't have a Canadian engaging in a war crime," Ahmed told HuffPost Canada.

"She has blood on her hands. This is why [CRDI] says her citizenship should be revoked or she should be brought before justice under Canadian law."

In 2007, when former prime minister Stephen Harper moved a motion to give Suu Kyi honorary citizenship, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was still hailed as a champion of democracy who had been facing years of house arrest by the country's military.

But a decade later, Suu Kyi is facing heavy criticism for her government's response to the Rohingya crisis. The UN estimates that more than 700,000 members of the ethnic minority have fled a violent crackdown in Rakhine State that erupted in response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

Hundreds of thousands retreated to Bangladesh to refugees camps in the city of Cox's Bazar, where they lack proper nutrition, shelter or treatment.

Suu Kyi has denied accusations of permitting ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims. Her response to the crisis has led to calls for a Nobel Peace Prize committee to revoke the award she won in 1991.

Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters
A Rohingya refugee child wears a toy sunglass in the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on Aug. 24, 2018.

Ahmed said the UN report on Myanmar is a "step forward" for Rohingya Muslims, but noted that although many countries — Canada included — have supported its findings, they still don't refer to the crisis as a "genocide."

"Because they have to do something, they're not recognizing it, and this is a shame, and this is why we want the international community, most importantly our appeal to Canada, is to have the courage and ... use the word 'genocide.'"

The federal government has said it supports the findings in the UN report, including its recommendations that six military generals be prosecuted to "determine their responsibility for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine state."

Feds condemn jailing of journalists


Suu Kyi has in recent days been under fire for failing to speak up on behalf of two Reuters journalists who were sentenced to seven years in prison.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were accused of breaching the government's Official Secrets Act for a report on violence in Rakhine State that used information from "confidential" documents. The two journalists pleaded not guilty and said the documents were planted on them by police officers.

The federal government said it was "profoundly disappointed" by the move in a statement. Trudeau also commented on the sentencing on Tuesday while speaking in Surrey, B.C.

"I want everyone to reflect on the fact that it is absolutely essential, in any democracy, to have a strong, empowered, independent media to challenge leadership, to ask difficult questions, to represent citizens and inform citizens about what's actually going on," he said.