human rights

TakeAction: Building the Responsibility to Protect

Whither Canadian diplomacy in support of the Rohingya

In what has become one of the worst ongoing atrocities of our times, approximately 700,000 members of the Rohingya  minority have been forced since last August to flee northern Rakhine State in Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are struggling to survive.

According to a March 2018 report by Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, the ethnic cleansing campaign by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya Muslims continues.

The World Federalists have supported the progressive development of the Responsibility to Protect normative framework and the implementation of R2P principles. According to this doctrine,

1) The State has the primary responsibility for the protection of populations within its territory from atrocity crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

2) The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.

3) The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. And if a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

The application of R2P has sometimes generated controversy and criticism, for example in Libya when a civilian protection mandate was interpreted by western governments as a mandate for regime change, or through the failure by the Security Council to protect civilians in conflict (e.g. Syria, South Sudan). However, misapplication or failed application of the R2P norms should not diminish the utility and necessity of the R2P doctrine itself.

Meaningful action by the UN Security Council will be difficult due to the opposition of China and Russia, permanent members whose veto powers can block Security Council decisions. Nevertheless, the R2P framework is an essential lens for assessing what needs to be done in response to the Rohingya crisis.

Canada has been an outspoken critic of the Myanmar government’s treatment of the Rohingya. In April, Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Hon. Bob Rae, released his report on the situation entitled, “Tell Them We’re Human.” The Rae report made a number of recommendations for Canadian action, notably calling on Canada to step up its response to the Rohingya crisis by investing more than half a billion – $150-million annually over the next four years – on humanitarian and development efforts in Myanmar and Bangladesh. (A Global Affairs press release at the time of the Rae report indicates that Canada’s humanitarian assistance since the beginning of 2017 stands at $45.9 million.)

In May, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland travelled to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. She indicated that Canada would be a leader in the international response to the crisis, but declined to support the kind of humanitarian response called for in the Rae report.

The Rae report did not invoke a strong R2P perspective in its assessment of what should be done on behalf of the Rohingya. Consequently it neglected to discuss the failure of the state of Myanmar to protect the Rohingya, when a finding of “state responsibility” would trigger international legal obligations under international humanitarian law and the UN Charter. And it failed to support imposing a robust program of sanctions on Myanmar.
What you can do

Write to Minister Freeland to ask what, exactly Canada’will do in response to the Rohingya crisis. A sample letter is provided.

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