Political Corner: Canada’s stance on the Rohingya genocide is all talk

Ending aggression against minority populations requires stronger action by the so-called defenders of human rights

The Rohingya have faced violent persecution in Myanmar since 2017. Photo: A.M. Ahad/AP

By: Kelly Grounds, Peak Associate

In late August 2017, a genocide began against the Rohingya Muslim minority living in Myanmar. The catalyst for the genocide was an alleged terror attack carried out by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that resulted in 12 deaths. In response, the Myanmar army began a concentrated attack against all Rohingya Muslims living in the country. This lasted until approximately mid-2018 when various groups began to push for investigations into alleged human rights abuses

In November 2019, Gambia brought a legal case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that cast blame on the Myanmar military and their civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi for the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. The case was focused on their involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity.

In December 2019, hearings took place in the International Court of Justice, which concluded with the UN General Assembly issuing an emergency order. This order ensured that there would be legal protection placed on the remaining Rohingyas in Myanmar.

But why was a legal case only filed in the International Court of Justice in November 2019, despite the world having known about the atrocities for two years?

The Canadian House of Commons unanimously voted to recognize the violence in Myanmar as a genocide in September 2018. This followed the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship. So why not take it a step further and take legal action? In the same year, humanitarian groups even pressured Canada to bring the case to the International Court of Justice themselves. Canada does have a legacy of protecting human rights, yes? 

If one looks at the ICJ’s list of past cases, Canada has only brought forward three. Of those three, only one, brought in 1999, focused on human rights. Although Canada still resettles the highest number of refugees every year, this might not be enough anymore to justify the country’s beloved mantle as protectors of human rights. 

Canada can’t continue to think of itself as the champion of human rights while at the same time offering a flaccid response to political humanitarian crises. Countries like Canada that have the power and the legacy to protect persecuted minorities must take stronger, more affirmative actions to protect human rights, or groups like the Rohingya will continue to face persecution.