The Current

Aung San Suu Kyi 'bears some real responsibility' for Rohingya crisis, says Bob Rae

A new UN report accuses top military generals in Myanmar of genocide but Canada's Special Envoy to Myanmar says the country's head of government is also accountable.

UN fact-finder says Myanmar military leaders should be tried for persecution of Rohingya Muslims

A report from the United Nations has called for Myanmar's military leadership to be held accountable for 'genocidal' crime toward the Rohingya minority. It also criticizes the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to intervene to stop attacks. (Kham/Reuters)

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United Nations investigators stated Monday that military leadership of Myanmar should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, and crimes against humanity in other areas.

Bob Rae, Canada's special envoy to Myanmar, says the country's head of government Aung San Suu Kyi should also be held accountable.

"The civilian government failed to protect the Rohingya population," Rae told The Current's guest host Connie Walker. 

"She leads that government, so yeah I think she bears some real responsibility for what's happened."

The damning UN report is based on a fact-finding mission set up in March 2017 to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Myanmar. Members of the panel assembled hundreds of accounts by expatriate Rohingya, satellite footage and other information to assemble the report.

In April, Rae issued a report on the Rohingya crisis and said the prosecution of crimes against humanity needed to be pursued. He urged Canada to play a leading role.

Rae stressed that Myanmar's leadership needs to tackle "underlying causes of hatred and the underlying causes of discrimination" in the country to reach a peaceful solution.

Discrimination against religious minorities is politically popular in the country, he told Walker.

"It takes a lot of courage and gumption to say, 'I know you don't agree with me, but these people are part of us and we can't simply expel them or treat them badly," Rae said.

The UN report stated, 'the government's portrayal of the violence as 'intercommunal' between the Rohingya and Rakhine has prevailed but is inaccurate.' (Yousuf Tushar)

According to former UN war crimes prosecutor Payam Akhavan, Suu Kyi's responsibility for the humanitarian crisis falls under two distinctions: moral and legal.

This past June, Akhavan travelled to a Rohingya refugee camp on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border to gather evidence for a potential International Criminal Court case. 

 "There is no question that as someone who has been entrusted with a Nobel Prize, she must act with moral courage even if it's politically inconvenient," he told Walker.

Angela Cassie of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg stands in front of a dimmed photo of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the gallery of honourary Canadians. (Suzanne Dufresne/CBC)

However, the legal responsibility is more complex, Akhavan said.

"I think the focus has to be on the military chain of command in the Tatmadaw, beginning with the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing," he said.

"The mere prospect that there could be arrest warrants in the future has definitely concerned the Myanmar leadership."

The UN fact-finding panel has said Min Aung Hlaing should step down following its call for his prosecution. 

More details from the mission is expected to be released on Sept. 18.

The UN estimates that more than 700,000 people have fled Myanmar. (Yousuf Tashar)

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

Written by Lisa Ayuso, with files from CBC News. Produced by The Current's Julie Crysler, Allie Jaynes and Liz Hoath.