Hundreds decry violence against Rohingya Muslims at Ottawa protest

Hundreds of people showed their solidarity with Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar at a noisy protest outside the country's Ottawa embassy Sunday afternoon.

Aung San Suu Kyi called a 'criminal' as protesters warn of impending genocide

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Myanmar Embassy in Ottawa on Sept. 10, 2017, demanding an end to escalating violence against the country's Rohingya minority. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Hundreds of people showed their solidarity with Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar at a noisy protest outside the country's Ottawa embassy Sunday afternoon. 

Protesters lined Island Park Drive for hours, directing their ire at the goverment building across the street with slogans that both warned of potential genocide and heavily criticized Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader.

"We are on the brink of witnessing another Rwanda or Srebenica," said Raees Ahmed, a Rohingya Muslim with family members stuck in the country.

"It is in our responsibility — not only as Rohingya descendents or Rohingya relatives — but as a world community to prevent another [genocide] from happening."

Began fleeing last month

The rally comes as roughly 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have already fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in an attempt to escape a violent crackdown by the Myanmar military upon the ethnic minority.

The exodus from the country's Rakhine state began Aug. 25, after the Myanmar military launched what it called "clearance operations" to root out any hiding Rohingya insurgents.

The government of Myanmar — also known as Burma — said nearly 400 people have been killed in the fighting, which it blames on those insurgents. The Rohingya say that Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs have engaged in a campaign of widespread violence, burning homes, spraying bullets indiscriminately and stabbing civilians.

On Sunday, Amnesty International also reported two people fleeing violence in Rakhine had been injured by land mines. Myanmar has one of the few militaries that use anti-personnel mines, which were banned under an international treaty in 1997.

This Aug. 30, 2017 photo shows Rohingya refugees reaching for food aid at Kutupalong refugee camp near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. (AFP/Getty Images)

Many Rohingya have been in Myanmar for generations, but they are now considered illegals and were effectively stripped of the right to citizenship in 1982. 

Deprived of basic rights

Ahmed, who recently moved to Ottawa, told CBC News he had uncles, aunts and cousins living under constant threat of violence and being deprived of basic human rights.

One uncle in Rakhine state had died of complications from diabetes three months ago, Ahmed said, because security forces wouldn't let him travel to see a doctor.

"We have to address this violence. We have to stop this violence, whether through international pressure or through military intervention," Ahmed said.

"Otherwise, the massacre and butchering will continue to happen." 

Many travelled long distances to attend Sunday's protest, including Zain Phyo, one of about a dozen Rohingya Muslims who arrived from Kitchener, Ont. — one of the centres of Canada's small Rohingya diaspora.

Phyo, who immigrated to Canada from Myanmar two years ago, said he was concerned for the safety of his aunt back home.

'She doesn't know [if] tomorrow she will stay alive or not.' - Zain Phyo, speaking about his aunt in Myanmar

"She lost her houses and properties. [They were] burned down by the military and other Buddhist groups. She is now fleeing away with her family," he said.

"She doesn't know [if] tomorrow she will stay alive or not. We are very worried."

Amina Sadek came from Montreal, and said that even though she wasn't of Rohingya ancestry, it was important to speak out for her fellow Muslims.

"We are a minority here in Canada, too. So I think if something happened to us in Canada, I would like for other Muslims [to be there for us]," she said.

A protester holds a sign criticizing current Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her inaction, as thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee the country, outside the Myanmar Embassy in Ottawa. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

One of the loudest chants Sunday afternoon called Suu Kyi — who became a global symbol for democracy after spending years under house arrest in Myanmar — a "criminal."

Fareed Khan, who helped organize the Ottawa rally, said it was time for the Canadian government to strip Suu Kyi of the honourary citizenship it bestowed upon her in 2007.

"We have the ability to take that back. And yet the Prime Minister has not acted in a forceful and decisive manner," said Khan, who has also crafted an online petition calling for the same thing.

"Aung San Suu Kyi does not belong in the same company as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Malala Yousafzai."

Suu Kyi, who became the country's civilian leader after her party won elections in 2015, has challenged suggestions the Rohingya are being mistreated. She recently posted a message on Facebook claiming the Myanmar government was "defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible."

Police officers stood guard outside the Myanmar Embassy across the street during the protest. As of 2 p.m., no one had emerged from the building.

A police officer stands outside the Myanmar Embassy on Island Park Drive in Ottawa. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)