Rohingya refugee children are seen through a rain-covered window Sept. 2017 at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters

Editorial: A call to action

  • April 11, 2018

In his report on the crisis in Myanmar, Canada’s special envoy to the region fell short of labelling Rohingya persecution a genocide. But that detail should not stop Canada from acting as if it is one.

No matter what you call it, the international community has a moral obligation to ratchet up the pressure on the Myanmar government to respect the dignity of all its minorities and to bring to justice those responsible for the many atrocities inflicted on the Rohingya people.

So we commend Bob Rae’s call for Canada to lead an international push to stop the persecution, care for the victims, investigate criminal wrongdoing and prosecute offenders. Rae, appointed last year to investigate the crisis, laid out a $600-million, four-year plan that urged not only identifying and punishing those guilty of crimes against humanity, but also taking measures to relieve suffering through humanitarian aid and helping refugees either return to Myanmar, come to Canada or find safe havens in other countries.

“What we do, or don’t do, in response to the Rohingya crisis will be a litmus test for Canada’s foreign policy,” said the report.

Rae visited Myanmar twice. He found conditions at the refugee camps deplorable. Refugees walk for days to flee soldiers and arrive at camps “malnourished and traumatized,” he said. He heard accounts of shootings and other violence, of women being sexually abused and of children and the elderly dying en route to the camps. More than 670,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee and entire villages have been razed by the military.

“Words cannot convey the extent of the humanitarian crisis. It is a truly devastating situation.”

Pope Francis heard similar horror stories when he visited the region last November. He met several refugees in Bangladesh and, after listening to their accounts, he wept.

“I was crying, but tried to hide it,” he said. “They were crying, too.”

Regarding allegations of genocide, Rae was cautious. The claims must be taken seriously and carefully investigated, he said, but whether the situation meets the legal definition of genocide should not change the international response. Indeed, a response now may avert a genocide.

“The lesson of history is that genocide is not an event like a bolt of lightning,” Rae wrote. “It is a process,” he explained, that starts slow and builds towards “a sustained drive to physical extermination.”

“The people of Myanmar and the entire world community need to be mobilized to ensure that the Rohingya do not join the tragic list of those people who have died because they were singled out for their identity,” said Rae.

To help prevent that from happening, Rae’s call for Canada to mobilize should be taken seriously before an already heart-rending tragedy becomes even worse.

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