Parliament Hill rally demands attacks on Rohingya Muslims be declared genocide

At a rally Saturday afternoon on Parliament Hill, human rights activists called on the Canadian government to declare the attacks launched by Myanmar's leaders against its Muslim minority population an act of genocide.

700,000 people have fled Myanmar following coordinated attacks

Dozens of people gathered Aug. 25, 2018, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to mark one year since Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim population began fleeing the country en masse. (Radio-Canada)

On a brilliant summer day, the horrifying accounts of Rohingyan refugees fleeing massacres in Myanmar rang out across the lawn on Parliament Hill.

The voices of mothers who had children torn from their arms, of men beaten while their villages burned, blared from loudspeakers set up Saturday on the hill — inviting everyone who walked beneath the Peace Tower to stop and reflect.

The Ottawa demonstration was part of a countrywide day of remembrance, organized by human rights activists lobbying the Canadian government to declare Myanmar's actions against its Muslim minority population an act of genocide.

'It meets all the criteria'

It has been one year since stories emerged of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyans fleeing Myanmar, following coordinated attacks by the army and local militias.

The United Nations has called those attacks a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

"It's a genocide because it meets all the criteria of genocide," said Fareed Khan of the Rohingya Human Rights Network.

Khan said the Canadian government needs to invoke the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide against Myanmar to seek justice for the victims — and to begin the process of solving the root problems.

"[Invoking the convention] means actions can be taken through the UN and other forums to bring to justice the actual perpetrators of genocide, and to start dealing with the on-the-ground problems that are the source of the crisis in Myanmar and in Bangladesh," said Khan.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the violence have ended up in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.

No other country has invoked the convention, but Khan said Canada should lead the way. 

"We can't do anything about other countries, but we can ask our own government to take action on that front," he said. "Especially if we're going around the world declaring our commitment to human rights."

About 50 people gathered on Parliament Hill on Aug. 25, 2018, calling on the Canadian government to invoke the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide against Myanmar. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

$45M pledge 

Canada has already condemned the violence and has pledged more than $45 million to help the 700,000 Rohingyans who are living in the Bangladesh refugee camps  — but that's not enough for Raiss Tinmaung. 

Tinmaung is Rohingyan-Canadian. His parents were born in Myanmar and immigrated to Canada decades ago, but he still has relatives in the southeast Asian country.

If we fail Rohingya, we fail other ethnicities. We fail humanity.- Raiss Tinmaung

Tinmaung said he's particularly concerned about his cousin's family, who are living in fear in Maungdaw Township in western Myanmar.

"The last conversation we had, he said he wasn't allowed to go out after 6 p.m. It only applies to Muslims. His kids aren't allowed to study and they're not allowed to go to school." Tinmaung said.

"The tension and notion of fear is all over the place." 

Raiss Tinmaung is a Rohingyan-Canadian who lives in Ottawa. He travelled to a refugee camp in Bangladesh in January 2018 to interview Rohingyan refugees who had fled massacres in Myanmar. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

This past winter, Tinmaung travelled to Bangladesh and spent one month interviewing Rohingyan refugees for the Shoah Foundation out of the University of Southern California.

The Ottawa resident said he spoke to more than 100 Rohingyans who told him stories of being terrorized, of mutilations and of rapes.

He's concerned that if Canada doesn't take stronger action, the violence in Myanmar will continue.

"If we fail Rohingya, we fail other ethnicities," Tinmaung said. "We fail humanity."