One of the gravest human rights issues in the world today - the genocide of the Rohingya - succeeded in capturing some media and political attention in Canada last year. Let us take a moment to recapitulate and reflect on what this meant for the Rohingya, and what lies ahead for us to do moving forward.
Canada has spearheaded the Rohingya issue through some key actions that are not yet done by most other G7 nations. Prime Minister Trudeau appointed a special envoy to Myanmar to investigate the situation, produce a comprehensive report, and provide policy advice to the government (1). Following the release of the report, Global Affairs Canada issued the Canada's Strategy to Respond to the Rohingya Crisis (2). There, it pledged $300M in aid for the Rohingya, and stated new policy measures to address root causes of the crisis in Myanmar. Canada also raised the Rohingya issue at the G7 summit that was hosted in Charlevoix (3). Minister Freeland visited the refugee camps, and sent additional aid to help the camps with recovery from monsoon disasters (4). Canada extended its targeted sanctions to 7 other military officials, following the footsteps of a similar initiative taken by the EU (5). Canadian legal not-for-profit then supported submissions to the ICC in search for jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar's generals through the crime of forced deportation of the Rohingya to Bangladesh (6). Thereafter, following the release of the UN's International Fact Finding Mission report, the Canadian Parliament unanimously declared what is happening in Myanmar as "genocide" (7), and subsequently revoked the honorary Canadian citizenship of Aung San Suu Kyi (8). Finally, our government expressed its concerns on the repatriation of the Rohingya back to Myanmar, realizing that it was not yet safe for the refugees to return while atrocities continue (9).
While the above initiatives are highly commendable and demonstrate Canada's leadership on the issue, our work is still far from over. The genocide in Myanmar is "ongoing" in the very words of the chair of the UN fact finding mission to Myanmar (10). There is effort that is required to stop an ongoing genocide from continuing.
We have a long way to go to ensure that the surviving villages in Myanmar with nearly 600,000 souls in them are not going to be burned to the ground by the Tatmadaw and extremist Buddhist groups (11).
We have a long way to go before the 127,000 people who are currently held in concentration camps of Rakhine are set free (12), and before the countless number of Rohingya that are incarcerated without charge and are routinely tortured, are finally set free (13).
We have a long way to go before we get to a stage where the Kachin, Karen, Shan, Mon and other ethnic groups in Myanmar are not being bombed, burned, raped, and slaughtered in parallel genocides (14).
We have a long way to go before aid organizations are allowed to do the simple act of giving food and medication to the starving Rohingya in villages in Rakhine (15).
We have a long way to go before we get to a stage where journalists, like Reuters' Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Leone, are not arrested and sentenced to prison for revealing mass graves, a long way to go before independent media is allowed into Rakhine (16).
We have a long way to go before we get to a stage where the one million refugees struggling in the camps of Bangladesh are not constantly under threat to get repatriated to Myanmar because of they are seen as a menace to the Bangladeshi society as aid consumers, and as sources of sex trafficking, and drug trafficking (17).
We have a long way to go before the Rohingya are able to return to their original homeland with full protection and bona fide assurances from the international community that they can live in peace and safety.
But before that, we have a long way to go to ensure that the Rohingya are reinstated their full citizenship which was stripped from them not very long ago, that they can live normal lives, that they are able to move freely and not stopped at checkpoints to go from village to village, or to simply go see a doctor. That they are able to raise families, and be able to send their children to schools (18).
And even before that, we have a tremendous way to go to ensure that the Rohingya are treated as human beings, and not referred to as "dogs", "kalars", to "just feed them to the pigs" or "pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster" (19).
The list can go on and on for the grave human rights violations that are happening in Myanmar during a time of genocide. And an equivalent list of actions that Canada and the international community can do to deter the violations can also go on and on.
However, one action that Canada can take at the moment is a natural subsequent to the declaration of genocide that the Parliament made last Fall. Since Canada has officially recognized that what is happening in Myanmar is "genocide", then the logical next step is for Canada to look into the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide - a treaty that Canada signed in 1948 in the shadow of the genocide committed during the Holocaust (20). The Canadian government and the international community needs to take actions to fulfill their international legal responsibilities in order to prevent additional genocidal crimes from being committed by the government of Myanmar. If Canada doesn't follow through on its recognition of the Rohingya genocide by invoking the UN Genocide Convention, then the treaty that we signed is just a piece of paper with little meaning.
As we laud Canadian efforts on the Rohingya cause so far, we look forward to much more, with realization of the tremendous amount of work that still lies ahead of us; and with the goal that our efforts will bring peace and a better future for the Rohingya and the world of human rights.
Raïss Tin Maung is a Director of Rohingya Human Rights Network.