People are resilient, we say. But now, in the middle of a growing refugee crisis that has left nearly a million people without a home and living with the trauma of horrific violence, that feels trite.
The Rohingya people have no choice but to be strong. The other option is death, despair and destruction. Every one of the hundreds of thousands of people living in camps in Bangladesh has seen more than enough of that – so they make the life they can.
The challenge is not for them — it is for Canadians. How to find inspiration and reason and energy to reach half way around the world and help.
People there see a role for Canada. The recent report from Canada’s Special Envoy on the Rohingya Crisis makes strong calls for more humanitarian assistance, more support to education and child protection, and humanitarian access into Myanmar (where there are still hundreds of thousands of Rohingya). It gives colleagues, friends and family there hope — hope that a major country is calling for serious action on this issue.
This is the time to act. Before children miss out on years of education. Before poverty gives way to criminal activity. Before a region is destabilized and the plastic roofs bowing under the weight of water, the sandy soil turning to mud, the drainage ditches overflowing.
We can build on those things that have been getting better. The number of malnourished children is declining. Successful vaccination campaigns have meant serious disease outbreaks were avoided. The camps hum with activity as people carry bamboo through the lanes and across newly built bridges over reinforced drainage canals. Maybe all this is resilience, and that isn’t trite at all.
Debate now centres on whether the unspeakable acts that happened in Myanmar can be considered genocide. For Rohingya children, the question is an abstraction. We’ve heard them tell us they were forced to watch men and boys being separated and killed; children and babies slaughtered; mothers and sisters raped; houses and villages burned to the ground.
They describe hiding in the forest, crossing rivers, trekking for days without food and water, carrying siblings not much smaller than themselves.
That debate must continue, but right now Rohingya children need action, not words. An end to the violence. Humanitarian assistance and protection. And when feasible, a voluntary, safe and dignified return to their homes.
Several hundred Rohingya now call Canada home, but the oceans between do little to distance them from the suffering of family and friends. They only add to the sense of responsibility to speak up, to act and to hope their new home will embrace their old.
These are the survivors of an atrocity – everyone carrying the burden of a trauma. Everyone with a remarkable will to live. Even though it is hard to imagine a future, they, we, still look ahead – but coming towards us we see the monsoon.
Prime minister’s special envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, released a report Tuesday urging Canada to “signal a willingness” to welcome Rohingya refugees and implement sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the southeast Asian country.
The federal government says it is studying Rae’s findings and intends to do more in the “coming days and weeks” Rae’s 17 recommendations include Canada increasing its funding, and consider playing a prominent role in initiating an investigation into potential war crimes, but stops short of wading into whether or not Canada should revoke Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship.
“I’m calling the situation as I see it,” Rae said, speaking to reporters in Ottawa about his new report. “It’s a very, very troubling tragic situation. It’s going to require a change of heart inside Myanmar to really make repatriation possible. It’s going to require a willingness to accept international presence, assistance… That’s going to take a lot of effort to make that happen. The situations in the camps are terrible.”
Responding to the report, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau issued a statement saying they welcome Rae’s work, and that it “reaffirms” the urgency of the crisis. The ministers said they will soon be outlining further measures the federal government will take.
“We can and must do more,” the ministers said. “That is why we will continue to engage at home and abroad over the coming days and weeks to register our deep concern about the crisis and to seek a path forward with the international community.”
Since August 2017, roughly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority Rakhine state for refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh amid widespread violence that the United Nations has labelled “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Rae, a former Toronto MP and Ontario premier, as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya’s plight.
Although initially barred from entering Rakhine state — the epicentre of the Rohingya humanitarian crisis — Rae travelled to the region in February where he was able “to see the extent of the destruction of the Rohingya villages.” He also visited refugee camps in Bangladesh. “Words cannot convey the extent of the humanitarian crisis people currently face in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” Rae wrote in Tuesday’s report.
“In addition to accounts of shooting and military violence, I also heard directly from women of sexual violence and abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military and of the death of children and the elderly on the way to the camps,” Rae told reporters he briefed members of Cabinet and Trudeau on his findings last week.
The Prime Minister welcomes the final report. “Today, I welcome the final report from the Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae. I appreciate Mr. Rae’s thorough work as Special Envoy and thank him for his invaluable insights, his professionalism, and his thoughtful recommendations,” Prime Minister said. “Canada is determined to help respond to this crisis. In the coming weeks, we will assess the recommendations in this report and outline further measures we intend to take.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the final report from the Special Envoy to Myanmar, the Honourable Bob Rae: https://t.co/v3N4xwhbXs
In his list of recommendations, Rae states that “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.” Such resettlements, the report adds, should not be seen as a solution to the ongoing refugee crisis, nor should they diminish the Myanmar government’s duties to take responsibility for the violent exodus and aid hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in returning home.
Although Myanmar’s government has publicly expressed a willingness to resettle those who have fled the country, years of systematic violence at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist mobs means that such plans have been met with widespread scepticism by Rohingya refugees. Moreover, many Rohingya villages, Rae notes, have likely already been razed.
The report recommends that Canada and its allies implement “targeted economic sanctions” against individuals, organizations and companies that have broken international humanitarian laws “or other laws related to conflict, including breaches of the Rome Statute and the UN Convention on Genocide.”
“Canada should be actively working with like-minded countries to identify the individuals or parties that should be subject to such sanctions,” the report adds. “Canada should also continue its arms embargo and should seek a wider ban on the shipment of arms to Myanmar.”
Canada’s Myanmar arms embargo were first implemented in 2007. Speaking on CTV Power Play Tuesday evening, Rae also argued against broader economic sanctions. “Big-time economic sanctions only hurt the most vulnerable,” he said. “And … if you don’t have China, India, Thailand, neighbouring countries onside, you got nothing.”
Crimes against humanity
According to the report, there are “strong signals that crimes against humanity were committed in the forcible and violent displacement of more than 671,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar.” The alleged perpetrators, Rae’s report adds, include Myanmar’s military.
“Those who are responsible for breaches of international law, including crimes against humanity, should be brought to justice,” the report states. “This applies to all those involved, including state actors and non-state actors, armies, and individuals.” Evidence must be collected, Rae adds, though difficulties in prosecuting such crimes exist insofar as Myanmar is not a signatory to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.
“But steps should be taken to encourage the International Criminal Court to consider an investigation on the issue of forcible deportation,” Rae writes. “The Government of Canada should be actively involved in funding these efforts and in continuing to apply targeted sanctions against those where credible evidence supports such measures.”
Rae recommends that Canada “take a leadership role in responding to the current crisis by stepping up humanitarian and development efforts in Bangladesh and Myanmar.” In addition to humanitarian assistance and supporting infrastructure development, education should also be a priority, Rae states. In the report, he estimates the annual cost of such a commitment to be $150 million for the next four years.
“A good chunk of it is going to go to the camp in Bangladesh,” Rae added while speaking on Power Play. Some of it, he said, should also help “people living in Myanmar in very tough and precarious situations.” “And some of it goes to us because we need to up our game in terms of our diplomatic representation,” he added. “I recommend that we should get a defence attaché there in Yangon able to engage with the government on the military side because it’s a two-headed government and right now we’re dealing only with the civilian side.”
To date, Canada has already earmarked more than $45 million in humanitarian aid to the troubled region. The need for humanitarian assistance is particularly urgent now, Rae’s report notes, as those who reside in Bangladesh’s sprawling and crowded refugee camps, are “at risk of death or serious illness as a result of flooding, landslides, and water-borne diseases expected to be brought by the upcoming monsoon season” that begins in May.
In his report, Rae states that Ottawa’s response to the crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh should be considered a “litmus test” for Canada’s foreign policy. He also suggests that the crisis is discussed during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April as well as during the 2018 G7 summit that Canada will be hosting in May.
“Canada should urge like-minded countries to establish an International Working Group to ensure that, to the extent possible, policies, programs, and persuasion are exercised in a coordinated fashion,” he says in the report. “If we do things together, we can have more impact than if we do them alone,” Rae added on Power Play.
Rae said that Canada can lead by example — and that could start by earmarking more money for the Rohingya crisis. “That way you can go to… all the European countries, and go back to Indonesia, you can go to the wealthy Gulf States, who frankly haven’t done a lot in terms of money, and say, ‘This is what we’re doing and this is how we think you can help,’” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s military
Rae notes that Myanmar’s civilian leader, honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, wields no control over the country’s vast military, which only recently loosened its hold on Myanmar after nearly 50 years of dictatorship. Myanmar’s military has often been cited as a main aggressor in the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.
“(Former UN Secretary-Genera) Kofi Annan referred to there being ‘two governments’ in Myanmar—one military; one civilian,” Rae writes. “Canada needs to continue to engage with the Government of Myanmar, in both its civilian and military wings, and continue to do so in a way that expresses candidly its views about what has happened, and is still happening, and to insist that all activities of the Government of Myanmar, including military activities, must be carried out in conformity with international law.”
Speaking on Power Play, Rae declined to weigh in on the contentious issue of Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship, nor would he opine on whether or not the country’s civilian leader shares responsibility for the humanitarian crisis. “Until you have the evidence, you really don’t want to go around making political statements saying, ‘Well, we think she’s responsible,’ because we actually don’t have the evidence for that yet,” he said.
The Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI), thanks the Twenty-Ninth Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for imposing sanctions on Major-General Maung Maung Soe under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act in response to the genocidal violence committed by actors and entities associated with the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
“As Canadian Rohingya, we are proud of Canada’s stance,” said Farid Ullah, the program coordinator of CRDI.” “The Government’s decision to impose sanctions against Major-General Maung Maung Soe is a significant and positive step. We encourage the international community to follow Canada’s lead.”
He also pointed out that Major-General Maung Maung Soe is one of many figures in the apparatus of the security regime that controls Myanmar. He is not the only culprit behind the ongoing Rohingya genocide. There are two other persons of influence that Canada should, in good faith, consider for additional targeted sanctions.
“The first person of immediate importance is Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the current Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces (the Tatmadaw),” Ullah added. “With overall command responsibility, he is verifiably the main perpetrator. It has been established beyond doubt that the Tatmadaw and its affiliated paramilitary formations routinely carry out crimes against humanity under the orders and supervision of Min Aung Hlaing as a matter of Myanmar state policy. The regime’s atrocities include infants being burned alive, civilians being buried alive, mass rapes and instances of beheadings among countless other acts of state terror.”
“The second person of importance is Her Excellency Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar. The de facto head of government, her premiership is marred by an explicit withdrawal from her responsibilities vis-à-vis principles of fundamental justice and the rule of law. Her regime has consistently blocked aid to reach the persecuted Rohingya minority, she has actively encouraged local and international audiences to not refer to the Rohingya by name. She is accelerating the military regime’s policy of denying citizenship for Rohingya persons, upholding the discriminatory Myanmar Citizenship Law of 1982 which stripped the Rohingya of their Myanmar nationality, Ullah further stated.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is an honorary Canadian citizen and a recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Yet her government makes no effort to stop the genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.
Canada’s response to the plight of Syrian and Kurdish Yazidi refugees was commendable. The situation faced by the Rohingya is similar if not worse.
“We are sincerely hoping to see Canada continue its efforts and rally the international community to do the right thing. It is unacceptable for nation-states to engage in genocidal practices with impunity in 2018, Ullah said.”
“We strongly urged the Government of Canada to continue increasing pressure and sanctions against the Myanmar regime. Canada will find allies in this endeavour through multilateral forums of cooperation such as the United Nations. It gives us, and our beleaguered loved ones fleeing violence, some hope in this dark chapter,” Ullah pointed out.
Saifullah Muhammad is a Rohingya and student of journalism at Conestoga College. He can be reached at email@example.com
Since the beginning of the state-sponsored violence against the innocent, and helpless Rohingya people in June 2012, at least 20 major casualties have been reported, while the unknown number of tragedy cases remains behind the silence.
It is true that most of the Rohingya villages are located in adjacent and in between Rakhine villages and model villages ( NaTaLa). According to some recorded documentation, on June 13, 2012, at least 35 Rohingya innocent people including children, women and elderly persons were brutally killed by the extremist Rakhine hooligans in collaboration with the Government forces. Meanwhile, 120 households were burnt to ashes in Zeekun Dan village (Kudichaung) and Karu Kun Tan village (Sera-prang).
On 19th June 2012, Anauk Pyin village was attacked and about 50 houses were burnt down. The villagers wanted to avoid the clash but 2 innocent Rohingyas were slaughtered before the eyes of the other villagers. As a result, a tense situation broke out and unavoidably, Rohingyas had to confront extremist Rakhine in order to defend their safer lives.
Later on, the Rohingya approached the authority for help but they consistently refused to protect them. On 20th June 2012, Military came to the village and carried out arbitrary arrests including women and children and bitterly tortured them. Mosques were destroyed, Holy Qurans were burnt down and women were harassed in the open sky.Among the Rohingya villagers, 185 were arrested, while 14 educated people forced out of the village issuing arbitrary warrants. Rohingyas were sent to Sittwe central prison without trial and reportedly in the half-dead situation. They have repeatedly tortured again in the jail where 4 of them had to face untimely deaths. In the same way, the village headman was severally beaten and tortured while his stomach was blown on the spot.
Since the beginning of the state-sponsored violence against the innocent, defenceless and helpless Rohingya populations in June 2012, at least 12 major casualties have been reported, while the unknown number of tragedy cases remains behind the silence. Nineteen villages were totally uprooted and 5 villages have still remained unevacuated.
On the other hand, the arrogant Rakhine and Burmese military authority looted all the belongings of Rohingya and did not even leave a match to put fire or a needle to sew torn cloths. Consequently, the Rohingya villagers met with severe hardship for their survival in all circumstances, even to cook food. Finally, the entire Rohingya villagers used an oven to cook foods in unavoidable circumstances. It is believed that other 24 Rohingya villages in Rathedaung would have been burnt down one after another had the villagers failed to properly defend the Rakhine extremists’ attacks.
Currently, innocent children, teenage girls, women, elderly persons and every individual Rohingyas are passing lives with fears and tears as the military personnel or other authority raid villages and simply arrest innocent people and loot their properties. Meanwhile, the aforesaid forces treat the Rohingya as animals with the open rape of teenage females in front of their beloved family members and harass the others. Thus the teenage girls need to pretend like old women putting lime on their hair as usual.
On Sept. 27, 2012, a village Pin Chaw (Fraingchong) was also attacked by Rakhine from different parts of Arakan State. All the villagers fled to a Rohingya village called Chilkhali to escape mass killings leaving behind all their properties. They dared not confront the government forces and the Rakhine terrorists seeing the situation of Anuk Pin village, Then the extremist Rakhines burnt down all the houses and uprooted everything including plants and animals were also not left.
It is unbelievable to everyone that the existence of Rohingya villages in the surrounding of Rathidaung was brutally demolished.
On 25th October 2012, the village Yung Pin Gyi (Muzair) was attacked by Rakhine with the help of Military in the second round of violence occurred in whole Arakan State. Hundreds of them were killed, tortured raped and jailed but the other remaining villagers did not leave the village. It is very pity to say that their village is situated inside most of the Rakhine villages.
“We want peace and harmony and have never tried to clash with Rakhines. We always respect the law and orders of the Government but why we have been attacked and made isolated, we do not know.” – A Rohingya elder
Currently, the Rohingya dare not come out from the village. Their livelihoods and survival have become extremely hard as they can’t go for fishing, firewood collection, farming and etc. The Rohingyas in the villages of Anauk-Pyin and Muzair have been besieged and economically crippled by the majority Rakhine extremists. As a result, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) has been extending minimum food rations to the starving people on monthly basis. Enroute to the Rohingya villages, the WFP often faces unexpected troubles and challenges in the hands of both arrogant Rakhines and the military forces. In one state, the arrogant Rakhines blocked the canal road as a whole by building unnecessary fence and bridge.
Based on the situation, the UN’s WFP is compelled to approach to the Rakhine community with a request to remove bridge blocking in order to have access. However, the Rakhines gave a cruel response to the agency that they would not do it because it cost them money. When WFP and some Rohingya elders in other regions said that they would compensate the Rakhines a triple amount, they have ignored the request.
Therefore, the WFP officials extended the same request to the Township Administrative Officials and the Border Guard Police Commander of the region to have access but they also simply ignored.
“Now, the vulnerable and besieged Rohingyas in the villages are going to face extreme poverty with constantan starvation as they have no livelihoods, no opportunity for self-employment and are rendered literally jobless,” said a village elder. “When the inquiry commission was sent, there was no one to talk to them in Anauk Pyin village as all the educated people have been either put on the wanted list or arbitrarily jailed. Leaving behind the fear of getting killed, someone from us talked to the inquiry commission and explained what was actually happened against us. Then the commission consoled us and came to know the reality observing the circumstances of the village.”
Similarly in Muzair, on 1st November 2012, the inquiry commission came together with a Military commander in chief Hla Myint and Ko Ko Naing. And on the following day (i.e. 2nd November 2012) commander in Chief Than Thet reached there by helicopter and interviewed some of the Rohingyas. They also explained the truth and the commission also reported the reality as it happened for the first time in the history.
Some Rohingya elders of Rathedaung from outside tried their best for the release of the innocent people jailed for 10 years and 15 years respectively without any guilty. After so many difficulties, 120 Rohingyas from Anauk Pyin village and 12 from Sera-prang were released and jail-terms were shortened for the remaining people with the cooperation of some lawyers.
The Common Rohingya residents of Rathedaung say “we want peace and harmony and have never tried to clash with Rakhines. We always respect the law and orders of the Government but why we have been attacked and made isolated, we do not know.”
In achieving “peace and harmonious atmosphere,” the Rohingya people of Rathedaung from exile are also trying to help those who are still languishing in the dire situation in the country as they are deprived of their basic needs, even to have grassroots development through all possible means of education. They are facing unexpected challenges in their daily lives as they don’t have little educated and wealthy people who could be able to assist them in the fields of socio-cultural activities, health and sanitation to motivate them by lobbying with the Government.
Saifullah Muhammad is a student of journalism in Canada and a Rohingya activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org