1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 144

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Motion to Urge the Government to Call Upon the Government of Myanmar to End Violence and Gross Violations of Human Rights Against Rohingya Muslims—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion, as modified, of the Honourable Senator Ataullahjan, seconded by the Honourable Senator Tkachuk:

That the Senate urge the Government of Canada to call upon the Government of Myanmar:

1.to bring an immediate end to the violence and gross violations of human rights against Rohingya Muslims;

2.to fulfill its pledge to uphold the spirit and letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and

3.to respond to the urgent calls of the international community and allow independent monitors entry into the country forthwith, in particular Rakhine State; and

That a message be sent to the House of Commons requesting that house to unite with the Senate for the above purpose.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Inquiry No. 240, which urges our government to call upon the Government of Myanmar to bring an end to the violence against the Rohingya people, uphold its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and allow international monitors to assist our peace process.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to meet with Canadians from across the country who protested on Parliament Hill to advocate on behalf of Myanmar’s Rohingya people who are currently suffering from horrifying ethnic cleansing. Each speaker at this protest had the same message: Providing funds and expressing concern about the Rohingya will not end the violence against the Rohingya people, nor will following the rest of the world as they create their own initiative. Canada will only truly help end the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar once it adopts a leadership role and takes decisive action. The clear message was that we must act now.

While this inquiry urges our government to call upon Myanmar to stop the ethnic cleansing, I take their words to heart and argue that we must do more. Canada has a duty to be a leader and protect the Rohingya people. Doing so would continue Canada’s legacy as a leader against crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

During the era of peacekeeping, people worldwide knew that Canadians wearing the United Nation’s blue helmets were there to help. Our military worked proudly to set the foundations for peace in Cyprus, the former Yugoslavia, Sudan and many other countries that faced similar crises. Canadians also worked tirelessly through diplomatic channels to prevent gross human rights abuses and atrocities without the use of military force.

Our work through multilateral diplomacy and the UN General Assembly has been instrumental in curbing gross human rights abuses in Nigeria and Latin America.

More recently, Canada was an architect of the doctrine that the international community adopts when states are unable or unwilling to stop genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or ethnic cleansing: the Responsibility to Protect, commonly known as R2P. This doctrine, which was unanimously agreed to at the 2005 United Nations World Summit sets out three pillars that countries must follow regarding atrocities and the protection of civilians against war crimes.

The first pillar states: “Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Given that the Rohingya crisis emerged after Myanmar’s government clearly failed to protect its people against ethnic cleansing, this first pillar provides Canada with the responsibility to act.

The second pillar states: “The wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility.” While Canada had the opportunity to follow through on the second pillar, the fact that Myanmar’s own military has become the main threat to the Rohingya people means that Canada cannot use the second pillar.

However, situations like these invoke the final pillar which states, “If a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter.”

Given that Myanmar is not only failing to protect its people but actively participating in ethnic cleansing, this final pillar provides Canada with the responsibility to act. Those final words of the third pillar, in accordance with the UN charter, provide Canada with a variety of tools that it can use against Myanmar to ensure that the Rohingya people are properly protected.

On the non-military side, Canada has an array of tools at its disposal, including mediation, advocacy at the United Nations General Assembly and sanctions. Each of these tools has a proven history of giving incentives for countries to stop committing atrocities against its own people and could potentially lead to an end to the crisis in Myanmar without the use of force.

Canada can also be a far more direct hand in humanitarian efforts than the mere $6.6 million it has contributed since the start of this crisis. Rather than simply sending money, Canada could help by providing vital supplies that are in short supply for Rohingya, if not in Myanmar, then to the border with Bangladesh where the refugees have fled. The Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team could also help provide refugees with food, water, shelter and medicine.

Together these measures would show Myanmar it would become increasingly isolated if its military continues to hunt its own citizens.

Canada could take the lead and act as an example for the rest of the world to follow by showing that atrocities against civilians are unacceptable.

With that said, the possibility of intervention does exist as a last resort. The third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine also includes the use of Chapters 6 and 7 of the United Nations charter. Chapter 6 includes forms of intervention that are centred around the peaceful resolution of conflict, such as negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements. However, these methods require the consent of the state in question to work.

On the other hand, Chapter 7 exists as an absolute last resort and describes the use of force to restore peace and security. If the country in question will not or cannot stop violence after every other option has been exhausted, the international community can take appropriate action to end it.

If Myanmar refuses to protect its own people, then Canada must become a leader once more and lead initiatives to have the international community intervene and end this ethnic cleansing.

The reason I’m pushing so hard for Canada to adopt R2P with Myanmar today is that the responsibility to protect is truly a Canadian principle. R2P was established by Canada, was made by Canadians and is an important reflection of Canadian values on the world stage.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty that led to the creation of R2P was founded by Canada and had Michael Ignatieff as one of its members along with Lloyd Axworthy as the chair of its advisory board. When the commission created its final report and brought it before the 2005 UN World Summit, Allan Rock led the Canadian delegation that was instrumental in the final unanimous adoption of the doctrine. This was in 2005.

Throughout every step of its creation, R2P was able to happen because of the tireless efforts of very dedicated Canadians. Today I call upon all of you to continue that legacy and urge our government to push for the adoption of Responsibility to Protect in Myanmar so that the ethnic cleansing there may finally end.


With that said, Canada must also recognize that it cannot go on this path alone. While it can play a great part in pressuring Myanmar to finally put an end to the violence, it will be at its most effective when the rest of the world joins it.

As I mentioned, Canada was instrumental in having the UN unanimously adopt the Responsibility to Protect principle in 2005. Today, Canada must act as a leader again and remind the world of the commitment it made 12 years ago and push its adoption of R2P.

Honourable senators, I come to you today to say that Canada must act, because in the Sudan — and we all remember the terrible situation in Darfur — I was sent by our government. We were the first country to go to Darfur. I went to Darfur with our men and women in uniform. I can tell you that the men and women in uniform were only 10, but given the kind of work I saw them do and the way they were helping young women, children, older women, I have an absolute belief in our Armed Forces. I saw them at work. I saw them work tirelessly. I believe that they can help.

Today, we have 600 troops waiting for the Prime Minister to decide what is going to happen. As vice-chair of Defence, I asked the Chief of the Defence Staff if these troops are ready, and would they be able to go out. He said they were always ready at the command of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister said that Canada was back. The Prime Minister said that he would employ troops to stop the hurting around the world. I ask you to join me to say to the Prime Minister that the time to act is now.

I ask you to support Senator Ataullahjan’s motion. I thank her for bringing this motion. I truly believe that if Canada is going to continue with the humanity we have shown in the past, we cannot close our eyes today.

Hon. Salma Ataullahjan: Would Senator Jaffer would take a question?

Senator Jaffer, like you, I was at a rally in Toronto over the weekend. The one question that everyone asked me was why some governments are referring to this as “looks like ethnic cleansing.” Some were calling it ethnic cleansing, but nobody was calling it genocide. Why is that?

Senator Jaffer: I cannot speak for what the Minister of Foreign Affairs says, but I can say to you that when I was involved in the Darfur struggle, there was a lot of talk about Canada calling it genocide, Canada calling it ethnic cleansing. What I learned from both Prime Minister Chrétien and Prime Minister Martin is it doesn’t matter what we call it. What we have to do is stop the killing.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has said it may be ethnic cleansing. I would say to her, “Look at the pictures every night. There are people dying. This is the time to act. I don’t care what label you put on it. I want you to act now.”

Hon. Jim Munson: Would the senator take another question?

Senator Jaffer, in our Human Rights Committee yesterday we had, once again, compelling and heartbreaking testimony from witnesses, but we also heard from Global Affairs Canada. They did outline that Canada has given $9 million in humanitarian assistance, and the Prime Minister has sent letters off to the respective parties and so on, demanding action.

Canada has a lot of credibility in the world of humanitarian assistance. Do you think this government has done enough?

Senator Jaffer: I absolutely do not think that the government has done enough. In light of what the Prime Minister had said he would do when he took power, he has not done enough. And in light of the fact that we have a personal relationship with the head of that country — to be fair, the Leader of the Government in the Senate gave even more details of what the government was doing.

I believe the time has come and that we have to tell our government that we live in a multicultural country. There are many people from all over the world that are affected by these issues. Those people are also affected here. I believe the time has come, as I have said so many times today, that either our government says Canada is back and takes action, or stop saying that.

(On motion of Senator Omidvar, debate adjourned.)