Never again. We heard it following Nazi Germany. We heard it following Rwanda. Now, we hear it again, genocide, in Myanmar.
Since August 2017, the international community has sat idly as over 900,000 Rohingya Muslim’s fled the targeted campaign of violence in Myanmar. The conflict was highly visible, garnered significant attention, and was preventable. Again.
This crisis did not emerge over night. For decades, the United Nations has been following and reporting on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. In recent years, the Canadian government began to pay attention — holding public hearings and press conferences, developing comprehensive reports and calling for action. Yet, no action was taken. And, subsequently, when the violence and human suffering began to reach new heights in August 2017, no action was taken. News of extreme violence, rape and murder has consistently crossed our screens for over a year.
We knew and we did not act. Again.
Canadians have been calling the government to act. A simple Google search will expose the numerous articles, blog and opinion pieces demanding the government to address the issue. Most recently, over 100 legal experts, human rights advocates and civil-society organizations joined forces to urge Prime Minister Trudeau to declare the crisis in Myanmar a genocide. In an official letter, the signatories formally demanded that the government “live up to Canada’s international legal obligations under the UN Genocide Convention”.
Finally, in September 2018, Canadians witnessed a rare act of Parliamentary solidarity as members of Parliament unanimously voted to pass a motion to officially recognize the treatment of Rohingya Muslim’s in Myanmar as a genocide. Why has this recognition taken so long? What level of violence is the international community willing to accept? We ask, again.
Both Canada and Myanmar are signatories to the UN Convention on Genocide. The Convention states that all Parties must recognize that genocide is a crime in international law, and take appropriate measures to prevent and to punish for genocide. Moreover, Canada also has the responsibility, under Responsibility to Protect, to protect all citizens in the international community from “genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethic cleansing” when the state fails to do so. In both cases, Canada, and the international community have failed to uphold their responsibilities to their constituents. Again.
To be fair, Canada has not remained entirely silent. Our leaders have responded with strong words and have committed $300 million dollars in humanitarian aid over the course of three years to the refugees fleeing their homes. Minister Freeland has traveled to Myanmar, has condemned the acts of violence and labelled the crisis ethnic cleansing, all while avoiding the term ‘genocide’. Until Thursday, the Trudeau government evaded the word in order to evade the responsibility of taking concrete actions to stop the genocide and hold perpetrators accountable.
It took over a full year of what the United Nations has labelled “textbook ethnic cleansing,” for the Canadian government to label the atrocities occurring against the Rohingya Muslim’s as a genocide. Though naming the crisis a genocide is an important step forward in the process, the long, arduous process of stopping a genocide, returning people to their homes and holding perpetrators accountable is a long one. Shamefully, this long process could have begun much earlier.
Though the process that which a government follows to naming a crisis a genocide remains unclear, what is clear is that the process is dangerously time consuming.
Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland, without delay, need to take concrete actions in Myanmar. Canada can impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders, whether it be travel bans or restrictions on financial enterprises, or action in the International Criminal Court, we cannot stand idle. Again.
Why does the international community, time and time again, fail those who need it most?
Courtney Hynes is an MA candidate Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Queen’s University, where she Majored in Political Studies and Minored in Global Development. She specializes in issues relating to international relations, national security, terrorism and counterterrorism. Her research interests also includes critical infrastructure, cybersecurity and international organizations.
Featured image from Wikipedia