Canada's response to Rohingya crisis gets middling grade

An Ottawa human rights organization has given Canada a "C" grade for its efforts in 2018 addressing the Rohingya crisis.

Human rights organization in Ottawa says country needs to do more in 2019

A Rohingya refugee boy carries water in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on March 22, 2018. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters )

An Ottawa human rights organization has given Canada a "C" grade for its efforts in 2018 addressing the Rohingya crisis.

The Rohingya Human Rights Network worked alongside the University of Ottawa's Human Rights Education Centre and the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies at Concordia University to produce the year-end "report card".

"We think that the government can do obviously much better — and needs to do much better — if lives are to be saved," said Fareed Khan, director of advocacy and media relations.

According to the United Nations, since late August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled "widespread and systematic ethnic violence" in Myanmar for Bangladesh.

Khan says Canada needs to work more closely with international partners to bring all parties responsible for the violence to justice — not just military leaders. 

"There's been no action taken against civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who were involved and complicit in the atrocities committed," said Khan.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said he agrees with the general assessment of the report card, pointing to Canada's performance as "reflective of a lack of concerted, meaningful action from the international community as a whole."

"The refugee situation right now is very worrying," he said.

"There are signals all the time that the Bangladesh government is intending to move toward sending [the Rohingya] back to Myanmar as soon as possible. And the international community has simply not done enough."

Prosecuting Myanmar leaders for genocide

Khan said Canadian officials should invoke the UN genocide convention to hold Myanmar's civilian and military leaders to account.

"This is a treaty specifically created to address the exact thing that Myanmar is doing to the Rohingya. It is no different than what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany," Khan said.

He said the treaty doesn't require cooperation with other countries. 

"All it requires is one country to begin the process," he said.

Rohingya refugee women carry baskets of dried out mud to prepare for the monsoon season in Bangladesh. A new report card says Canada needs to do more in 2019 to help Rohingya Muslims facing persecution in Myanmar. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters )

More action in 2019

Khan said while his report is critical of Canada, it does acknowledge the positive work the country has done to address the crisis.

He said the House of Commons' decision to officially recognize the Rohingya genocide — the "first parliament in the world to do so" — and to revoke Suu Kyi's honorary Canadian citizenship both send a clear message.

Even so, Khan said more needs to be done by Canada in the new year.

"We have to move forward and use the international institutions that are at our disposal and that we have access to."

Neve said Amnesty International would also like to see Canada play a greater leadership role around Rohingya refugees in 2019.

"This is not a crisis that has been solved by any means," he said.

With files from Kathleen Harris