Bob Rae is special envoy to Myanmar, senior counsel at OKT LLP, and teaches public policy and law at the University of Toronto. He was previously the premier of Ontario and a federal member of Parliament.
Two years ago this August, the world was shocked by brutal, tragic images coming out of Myanmar. Under the guise of a military effort in the northern Rakhine province, the evidence piled up to expose a deep humanitarian crisis: systematic violence, rape, burning of villages and the killing of some 10,000 Rohingya people who make up the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar. More than 700,000 people were forced to abandon their homes and villages, joining an earlier exodus of refugees to Bangladesh – and those refugees are still there, in a crowded muddy camp in a town on Bangladesh’s southeast coast known as Cox’s Bazar.
Today, the news cameras and Canadians’ eyes have largely turned away. But the refugees themselves do not have this luxury – and the crisis continues to this day.
Canada has done a great deal. I know firsthand, having been sent as a special envoy to Myanmar in October, 2017, and having presented my report to Canadians in April, 2018. We are among the first countries to have called this targeted violence against the Rohingya a genocide, which has sparked some progress in dealing with who should be accountable for it at the United Nations, the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court. We have fostered ties with the small Rohingya community inside our own country. Our country’s established views on gender, sexual violence and the needs of women are widely appreciated and shared both in the international community and among the Rohingya themselves. Canada has played a leadership role.
But despite all that has been done, living conditions in Cox’s Bazar remain exceptionally difficult. Refugees are dealing with the continuing threats of harsh weather as the monsoon season hits hard. There is no reason to believe the conditions in Myanmar have improved; indeed, there is evidence that they have deteriorated. Outbreaks of violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine region between the nationalist Arakan Army and the Myanmar army known as the Tatmadaw have resulted in hundreds of deaths, injuries and a lockdown in Rakhine. The Rohingya continue to be denied any access to political dialogue about the future of Rakhine and Myanmar, if even such dialogue is occurring.