The Current

What is Canada's role now that a genocide case against Myanmar has been launched?

Now that Myanmar has been formally accused in an international court of acts of genocide, there are a number of ways that Canada can help the case and the displaced Rohingya population, according to Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar.

Concrete action likely won't be decided until after cabinet is sworn in on Nov. 20, says Bob Rae

Bob Rae, Canada's special envoy to Myanmar, has submitted reports of the plight of Rohingya Muslims, describing rape, violence and oppression. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
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Now that Myanmar has been formally accused in an international court of acts of genocide, there are a number of ways that Canada can help the case and the displaced Rohingya population, according to Canada's special envoy to Myanmar. 

Bob Rae says he's been asked by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to canvass Canada's options for assisting the case, including with financial aid, legal advice, and through a possible intervention. 

"Part of our problem is we have a caretaker government," he told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

"As soon as the cabinet is formed on November 20th, we'll then be in a position to say to them, 'OK, how are we going to do this?'" 

A team of American, Canadian and British lawyers filed the case at the International Court of Justice at The Hague on Monday, on behalf of the small African nation of The Gambia.

It formally accuses Myanmar of something the country has long been blamed for: the systematic displacement, killing and widespread sexual assault of Rohingya Muslims. 

Rae also addressed why Canada, which had been urged last year by senators and humanitarian groups to take the case on itself, had not done so. 

Part of it, he said, was a desire to respect the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — of which Gambia is a member state — and that group's desire to "take a leadership role." 

Since violence began in Rakhine state in 2017, investigations have concluded that Myanmar security forces were behind the atrocities that destroyed Rohingya villages, displaced more than 700,000 civilians, and killed countless others. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

"I think it was very important for us to show that we were not looking for headlines. We're looking for results," he said. "The Gambia has been very keen to move forward."

Beyond arranging for legal help, Rae said there are other steps Canada could take to provide assistance on the ground.  

"There is a huge humanitarian issue quite apart from the accountability challenge," he said. 

In a report last year, Rae had asked the Canadian government to invest more money into its response, which he said they did — though not as much as he had pushed for. 

Since then, conditions remain "very, very difficult" for the Rohingya, and their lives are still at risk, said Rae. 

Until a political solution can be found, "we have to make sure people have education, they have access to livable conditions, and that there's a good relationship between the government of Bangladesh and all other governments in trying to assist in this humanitarian situation."


Written by Kate McGillivray. Produced by Idella Sturino and Max Paris.