Joint statement on violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar

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Displaced Rohingya fleeing violence: Taung Paw Camp in Rakhine State – Myanmar Credit: Foreign & Commonwealth Office,

The below-named Canadian civil society organizations and individuals, who all have a strong interest and/or long experience of working in the Asia-Pacific region, are gravely concerned regarding the latest wave of military violence against Rohingya civilians in northwestern Myanmar.

The Myanmar military is inflicting collective, disproportionate and illegal punishment on Rohingya civilians following attacks against several police and military installations on August 25, 2017 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. These attacks were used as an excuse for the army to systematically attack and burn Rohingya villages, raping and murdering civilians in the process.

This latest violence follows attacks in October 2016, when the military attacked dozens of villages, killing an untold number and displacing more than 80,000 people. Now hundreds of thousands more have been displaced. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that since August 25, 2017, about 410,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in their native Myanmar for refugee camps in Bangladesh.

 A number of fellow Nobel peace laureates have called on Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the violence and the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has called on her to “step in.” While we appreciate the State Counsellor’s September 18, 2017 condemnation of human rights violations, this condemnation is compromised by her denial of ongoing military and police operations, and the government’s insistence that there is not a mass campaign directed at civilians.

Unfortunately the Myanmar government has made no public effort to end the violence – to the contrary, the words and actions of the government have severely aggravated the situation. Moreover, the government has systematically blocked humanitarian aid from reaching the Rohingyas, which may constitute a crime under international law. It has consistently denied all reports of military abuses, and is currently blocking a UN-mandated fact finding team from accessing the region.

We are pleased with the Canadian government’s recent announcement of $2.5 million in aid, and encourage Global Affairs to find opportunities to allocate more aid towards needs identified by front-line organizations as the most urgent. We applaud Prime Minister Trudeau’s letter to Aung San Suu Kyi that underscored her moral obligation to help stop the crisis, and Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland’s announcement of planned advocacy at the United Nations General Assembly. To this latter end, we urgently call on the Canadian government to:

  • Use all diplomatic channels, particularly through its Embassy in Yangon, to press and support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the government of Myanmar to ensure the cessation of the ongoing hostilities, to protect the human rights of Rohingya people, and denounce the exactions perpetrated by the Myanmar military;
  • Demand that the government of Myanmar provide unimpeded access to the Fact-Finding Mission established in March 2017 by resolution of the UN Human Rights Council;
  • Push for humanitarian access and ensure relief assistance in Rakhine State;
  • Press Myanmar officials to desist their inflammatory rhetoric which is endangering humanitarian workers and empowering the military to continue its campaign against civilians
  • Encourage the use of all possible legal channels – national and international - to bring to justice those responsible for atrocities and human rights abuses;
  • Implement immediate travel bans on all Burma Army leaders attempting to visit Canada;
  • Propose the introduction of a United Nations arms embargo against the Myanmar Military, as a measure to reduce  the ongoing violence in Rakhine State and also in Kachin and Shan States; and
  • Encourage and support the Myanmar government to demonstrate its commitment to finding meaningful and lasting solutions to the issues in Rakhine State, including, among others, by applying the recommendations of the Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

We and our organizations will continue to monitor the situation, and urge the Canadian government to continue deepening its action on this worsening humanitarian crisis.

The following institutions have endorsed this statement:

Associates to Develop Democratic Burma / Euro-Burma Office

Burmese Muslim Association

Canada Tibet Committee

Canadian Collective against Islamophobia

Canadian Federation of University Women

Canadian Union of Public Employees

Development and Peace

Initiatives of Change Canada

Innerspeak Digital Media

Inter Pares

International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines – Canada

International Development and Relief Foundation

KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Mae Sot Education Project

MATCH International Women's Fund

MY STORY photo project

National Union of Public and General Employees

Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines

Partners Relief & Development Canada

Peace Brigades International Canada

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund

Project Umbrella Burma

The Public Service Alliance of Canada Social Justice Fund

Rohingya Association of Canada

Steelworkers Humanity Fund

South Asia Partnership Canada

Unifor Social Justice Fund

USC Canada

World University Service Canada


The following individuals, all of whom have years of experience in working in Myanmar or of acting in solidarity with struggles for human rights and democracy in Myanmar, have endorsed this statement:

Milagros Arguelles

Brenda Belak

Dominique Caouette, Études contemporaines et transdisciplinaires de l’Asie du Sud-Est, Université de Montréal

Naima Chowdhury, Women's Leadership and Gender Specialist, COADY International Institute, Saint Francis Xavier University

Paul Copeland, C.M.

Rod Germaine, founder of the former Just Aid Foundation

Fareed Khan, sponsor of petition to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi's honorary Canadian citizenship

Susan Hartley, Rotary Global Peace Scholar

Murray Thomson, Co-Founder, Canadian Friends of Burma

Nisha Toomey, former board member, Canadian Friends of Burma

Paul Turcot, South House Exchange

Jody Williams, Nobel peace laureate (1997) and chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative

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Comments (3)

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  • Ba Win
    The suffering of the Rohingya will be not only prolonged but the prevalence of genuine democracy in Burma will be blocked if the world doesn’t understand the complexities of the situation. Kanbawza Win
  • Mn shah
    Strive to reduce inhuman action against rohingya minority
  • Abid Bahar
    "Complexities of the situation" in Rakhine state! What complexity? Abid Bahar Kanbawza Win a well known defender of the regime in Burma says, "...democracy in Burma will be blocked if the world doesn’t understand the complexities of the situation." "Complexities of the situation"? What complexity? Research on the history of the Rohingya in Burma shows Rohingya Muslim settlements in the country dates back to centuries. Their presence in Burma was even noted by a Scottish doctor Francis Bucanon in 1799. However the military led Burma now claims the Rohingya as the British time Bengali illegal migrants from Bangladesh. For the sake of argument, lets say Rohingya are British time migrants from Bengal. But lets see, if Rakhines of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh are British time 17th century settlers and now Bangladeshi full citizens, if Marma (Burma) or Burmese in Bandorbon are also Bangladeshi citizens, when the Chakmas in Rangamati entered Bangladesh from Burma during the 14th century are Bangladeshi citizens, when Tamils, Nepalese and Chinese in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore settled in those countries during the British period are citizens of those countries, why Rohingya who have been living in Burma even before Burma occupied Arakan in 1784 who even held important positions in Aung San (Suu Kyi's father) and U Nu's government as Ministers and MPs, if not for racism why in 1982 the entire Rohingya people have to be declared by the Military dictator Ne Win as the non citizens of Burma? After much expectations from Suu Kyi by the international community why the so-called democracy icon had not change Ne Win's xenophobic stand against the Rohingya rather she instructed the foreign embassies in Burma not to use the name Rohingya? Why for the first time starting from Suu Kyi, Rohingyas have been banned from even participating in elections and now they are being exterminated enmesh through rape of women, killing of young and children and burning the houses by the army with collaboration from the local Rakhine vigelantees. What is our problem (the international community's) to understand the language of the pro genocide Burmese intellectuals and political leaders suggesting us to understand the "complexities of the situation"? Isn't this language of denial of Rohingya citizenship a sign of Burma still living in the past when minorities were see as subject people. With this mindset, isn't Burma also falling behind the modern standard of what is called citizenship? True, in the words of Maung Zarni, a Burmese scholar, Suu Kyi in alliance with the xenophobic Burmese military is in effect campaigning against the Rohingya for a pure "racecrocy." (Abid Bahar PhD is the author of Burma's Missing Dots- The Emerging Face of Genocide, 2010)