OTTAWA: No Myanmar politician, including Nobel laureate and honorary Canadian citizen Aung San Suu Kyi, is above a potential investigation by the International Criminal Court of possible war crimes, says Canada’s special envoy to the crisis.
Bob Rae, who was appointed Canada’s special envoy to the seven-month-old Rohingya crisis, offered that warning as he released his final report Tuesday on the troubles engulfing Myanmar and Bangladesh.
He said Canada needs to step up its spending on the mass migration crisis and should play a leading role in the investigation by the International Criminal Court of possible war crimes.
Canada should also consider granting refugee and resettlement status to Myanmar’s persecuted ethnic Rohingya, 700,000 of whom have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a brutal campaign by Myanmar’s military, he said.
The Trudeau government said it would assess the recommendations and respond later.
The 39-page report was noticeably silent on another major issue: how to address Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto political leader who has been widely criticized for not speaking out against the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya.
Rae told a news conference on Parliament Hill that he wishes she would act.
“Whoever is found responsible, whether in the civilian government or the military government, for what has happened should be held responsible. I don’t exclude anybody from that,” he said.
Rae reiterated the past view of the Liberal government _ that Suu Kyi is not in charge of her country’s powerful military, which once held her under house arrest and that targeting her does not address the main crisis.
“I wish that she had spoken out. I wish she would speak out,” Rae said, adding that his report urges Myanmar’s government, which includes her, to take responsibility for what has happened and allow an independent investigation.
The veteran politician made two trips to Myanmar in recent months and described what he essentially characterized as a slow march towards genocide.
The Canadian government and others have referred to the crisis as ethnic cleansing, because branding it a genocide would carry an international legal obligation to intervene, potentially with force.
Rae recommends Canada take a lead role with like-minded countries in a UN genocide investigation.
He also invokes the UN’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which Canada helped create more than a decade ago, a doctrine that has been widely criticized for its failure to stop carnage elsewhere _ notably Syria.
The duty to protect citizens lies initially with states themselves “but failing that, becomes a wider regional and, ultimately, international obligation,” Rae writes.
“The lesson of history is that genocide is not an event like a bolt of lightning. It is a process, one that starts with hate speech and the politics of exclusion, then moves to legal discrimination, then the policies of removal and then finally to a sustained drive to physical extermination.”
Fareed Khan, spokesman for the Rohingya Human Rights Network, said in a statement that the report is far from perfect but he praised Rae for raising the possibility of a genocide in progress. He called the report “a solid foundation on which Canada can base its long-term approach to addressing the crisis, including bringing to justice Myanmar leaders who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Rae said at the news conference he wasn’t interested in an academic debate about whether genocide is occurring, but said the current crises “has very disturbing echoes of what has happened elsewhere in history, and we need to listen to those echoes.”
In the meantime, Rae says Canada needs to do more help refugees, including those in the region and those who might be able to find sanctuary elsewhere, and it needs to commit to a longer-term humanitarian strategy for the region, as it has in Syria and Iraq. Canada also needs to deepen its commitment to human rights on the ground, by protecting women and girls.
Aid agencies and rights groups welcomed the report because it showed the government specific areas where Canada can lead.
David Morley, president of UNICEF Canada said hundreds of thousands of children are at risk and they must be educated because “educating children in times of crises is key to helping them contribute to peace.”
Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said Canada was well-positioned to aid in the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts and “to establish mechanisms to ensure justice and accountability for perpetrators of crimes against humanity.”
The report also suggests the federal government could target more of Myanmar’s military leaders under its new Magnitsky Act that seeks to isolate human rights abusers by freezing assets and blocking travel.
But Rae stopped short of recommending further sanctions, saying those would only hurt the 50 million people of an already impoverished country, and make Canada irrelevant to any solutions.