Emergency Debate on the Situation in Myanmar

The Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

On Tuesday, Mr. Garnett Genuis, Member for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, brought the situation in Myanmar to an emergency debate in the House. In a break from the usual partisanship, Members from across party lines unanimously decried the genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya people and urged Canada to reassert itself as a world leader in peacekeeping and humanitarian work.

Elizabeth made several interventions in the House, largely related to concrete actions the Government could take in response to this crisis. For more information and links to aid and advocacy groups, click here.

Statement on the Rohingya Crisis

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise tonight to join what has been primarily, and I think most appropriately, a non-partisan discussion with vast areas of agreement. In that context, I want to start by thanking the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan for making it possible for us to have an emergency debate tonight, and the Speaker for accepting the request for an emergency debate.

There have been so many very fine speeches this evening, and I hesitate to mention some of them for missing others, but the members for Kitchener South—Hespeler and Don Valley West, the Minister of International Development herself, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, and a number of other parliamentary secretaries, including the parliamentary secretary for Global Affairs, have contributed to our knowledge, to our deep sense of outrage, and to the awareness of the possibilities that exist for Canada to do more, accepting, as I do, that our government has responded, as the Minister of International Development has outlined. However, I do believe that we need to do more.

In digging through the background of this issue, it was a bit of a shock to realize how clearly this attempt at ethnic cleansing/genocide—and I think genocide is an appropriate term—has been in the works for some time. I came across the extremely prescient view of professor Penny Green, a professor at the International State Crime Initiative of Queen Mary University of London. She set out five stages of genocide as it relates to the Rohingya in Myanmar. One is stigmatization, meaning their being denied citizenship and not being acknowledged as one of Myanmar’s official ethnic groups, but being labelled Bengalis. This has been referenced before, but I found it extremely prescient. Two is harassment, including job discrimination, religious persecution, and attacks by the state security forces. Three is isolation, including being herded into camps in 2012 and villages being cut-off. Fourth is systematic weakening, with identity cards being removed so that they cannot vote, and their being barred from travelling, leading to loss of livelihood. Fifth is mass annihilation. Professor Green writes that it has not yet occurred, albeit no one has been prosecuted yet for the killing spree against Rohingyas in 2012.

In 2012, there was a mass killing and evidence exists that it was orchestrated. It was made to appear as though random mobs had killed 200 Muslims in Sittwe. However, the reality of the reports from witnesses is that the perpetrators were brought in by trucks and assisted by the military to begin what became a campaign of fear. This ethnic cleansing of 2012 was a stage in what is described as a process of genocide. As this escalated without response, without consequences for those who murdered innocent people, it set the stage for what we have seen since August 25, a mass annihilation and process that has shocked the world. The refugee crisis, with more than 400,000 displaced people fleeing to Bangladesh in barely a month, is one that has exceeded even the recent experiences of exoduses from Rwanda or even Syria.

The United Nations International Organization for Migration has proclaimed this refugee movement as “unprecedented in terms of volume and speed”. Many speeches tonight have already cited the various conclusions that the words “ethnic cleansing” apply or certainly potentially. I believe that it is an attempted genocide, especially when we examine the systematic efforts that led to the effort to try to remove Muslims from Myanmar.

This is shocking at many levels, particularly because of the role of one of my heroes, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whom we looked at as an icon of democracy during her house arrest in Myanmar for all those years.

I was very moved and appreciated the decision of the previous government to grant her honorary Canadian citizenship. No one would have doubted that the Nobel Prize committee was correct in giving her a Nobel Prize. Now, as we heard most recently in the speech from the hon. member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, constituents in her riding are saying that her Nobel Prize and Canadian citizenship should be taken away.

It certainly is astonishing for anyone who appreciates the religion of Buddhism, one that is committed to non-violence. Look at any number of Buddhist communities, which have exemplified non-violence in such an extent as they do in Tibet, or places where we know that within Buddhist communities rare tigers are safe because of a practice, belief, and faith in non-violence. This adds to the level of shock and disbelief.

As many Canadians must now be wondering, the sense that democracy was arriving and Myanmar was emerging, that we could support that government, and claims that someone like Aung San Suu Kyi would be equally guilty of promoting ethnic cleansing were just hard to digest.

How do we find a solution? It is clear that Aung San Suu Kyi has been willing to promote ethnic cleansing in that country. Some ideas come to mind. Some have been mentioned before. I will go through three ideas in closing.

One that has been mentioned is the importance of looking at the advice from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an organization that holds a Nobel Peace prize, one that will never be questioned. That campaign for the Ottawa campaign to have an international treaty on land mines has saved lives already, and it can do more.

It is true, as an hon. member on the Conservative side mentioned earlier tonight, that Myanmar is not a party to the international treaty to ban land mines. However, Bangladesh is. In April 2017, it achieved an agreement with the border military of Myanmar to allow the clearing of land mines. Since the beginning of this campaign of terror, a number of organizations, including information collected by the research arm of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the land mine monitor, had direct eyewitness accounts of the Myanmar military arriving and unloading trucks full of land mines, placing anti-personnel devices on the very paths the Rohingya Muslims would use to flee to Bangladesh. Those were eyewitness accounts of August 28. Amnesty International has also interviewed many witnesses who have seen the military adding new land mines.

If Canada could offer help to Bangladesh, such as military assistance and our expertise in removing land mines and financial support to remove land mines, it would be one thing we could do on top of everything else we have done.

Second, many members here have already said that we need to do everything possible to clear the way for NGOs, civil society organizations, to get in on the ground and provide assistance, food, and medicine on the Bangladeshi side of the border, a very poor country that now has over 400,000 desperate refugees. We can certainly do more to provide assistance there, but we can also demand of the government of Myanmar that NGOs and relief agencies be allowed in to Myanmar to provide relief.

If I missed anyone saying this earlier today I apologize. The last is that it strikes me as possible that we could use Aug San Suu Kyi’s global reputation and status as an honorary Canadian citizen and pressure her far more directly to rescue her completely burnished halo, to stand up for human rights, to stand up for the rights of Muslims within Myanmar, and find any way we can through diplomacy in this horrific situation. If such a threat of hope exists, it is worth trying.

In any case, I thank my colleagues for an extremely important emergency debate. I thank the government for what it has done so far, and I beg it to do more.

 Removing Landmines on the Myanmar-Bangladesh Border

Mr. Speaker, the situation we are debating tonight is unbelievably heart-wrenching, and I am searching for things that we can tangibly, concretely recommend that the Government of Canada do, admitting and acknowledging that there is already much that is being done.


One area that I want to focus on, and I ask the hon. member if he agrees, is that the army in Myanmar has been using landmines in contravention of the Ottawa Treaty. Bangladesh is a party to the Ottawa Treaty and some years ago had an agreement with Myanmar to allow the removal of all landmines in the borderlands between Bangladesh and Myanmar. In the last few weeks and months, the Myanmar military has been adding more landmines with the deliberate purpose of killing people as they flee.

Given Ottawa’s leadership in developing the landmines treaty, and given that there is an existing agreement between the states of Myanmar and Bangladesh to remove landmines, would it not be a very useful thing for Canada to provide the funds and technical assistance for Bangladesh to remove the landmines in those borderlands?

How can Canada Play a Constructive Role in Bangladesh?

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon member for his speech and for touching on again what motivates people, particularly those of us who are in comfortable lives in a relatively extraordinarily safe country to feel compelled to do something and he reminded us of that tragic photo of Alan Kurdi whose family had been trying to reach Canada on the beach, unable to reach safe haven in Greece.


Tonight we have heard unbearable stories of sadistic cruelty and violence toward Rohingya people. I am wondering if it is enough to move us to act. We are having an emergency debate in the House, but I would hope that we can in an non-partisan fashion as this debate continues over the next two hours, increasingly focus on those things on which we all agree and which we can urge our government to do so that it is not a transitory sense of disgust, horror, and loss of confidence in what we thought was potentially a new age for Myanmar. Here we find ourselves disillusioned with its leadership and looking at Bangladesh suffering under the burden of people racing to safety in Bangladesh. Surely there is more Canada can do and I ask my hon. colleague, what specific recommendations he thinks we can all agree on where Canada can play a constructive role?

Scott Reid – Member for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston

Madam Speaker, in the very short run, we need to try to ensure that the people who are refugees in Bangladesh are properly housed, have proper sanitation, and have the necessities of life. This is the world’s most crowded country. It is one of the world’s poorest countries. Infrastructure, especially in its eastern region, in terms of getting supplies to individuals, is very problematic. We have some capacity to do help there. We have used our resources before in the case of natural disasters and it might be appropriate to do so here. That is one thing.

Second, and at an entirely different level, this qualifies as a genocide. However, it is not a genocide on paper until the United Nations says it is a genocide at which time a series of legal mechanisms kick into place that could put an enormous amount of pressure on the Myanmar government. Therefore, we should do what we can to call it what it clearly is. We would not be leaders in doing this. I mentioned a number of heads of state who have already called it a genocide. We would merely be joining in, but our voice means something. We have a certainty of moral weight and we ought to use it to that effect.

Repairing the International Principle of Responsibility

Madam Speaker, I am going to have to try to keep a very long explanation very short.

The hope for ending genocide within a country, to stop a government from ethnic cleansing, from killing an entire population within its borders, is in the emerging principle of responsibility to protect at a global level. Unfortunately, Canada, I think inadvertently, but clumsily, assisted in damaging that concept, maybe irrevocably, with allies in the mission in Libya, where the UN Security Council, which means Russia and China, agreed that western forces would go into Libya to protect the Libyan people from Moammar Gadhafi. When we shifted from responsibility to protect to regime change, we damaged the principle so strongly that we were unable to help the people in Syria when they needed our help the most in 2011. We allowed Libya to become a failed state. We allowed Moammar Gadhafi to be killed in the street, and we damaged the process and the hope of an international principle of responsibility to protect.

It is in rebuilding it that the world community, including Security Council members, will ever again authorize a military mission within a sovereign country to protect its own people.