China, Russia under pressure from Myanmar Rohingya genocide ruling: Bob Rae

OTTAWA — China and Russia face pressure to prevent genocide in Myanmar after Thursday's decision by an international court called on the South Asian country to stop the killing, says Canada's special envoy to the crisis.

The unanimous decision by the International Court of Justice is a strong signal to Russia and China, which have blocked the United Nations Security Council from referring the violence to the International Criminal Court, said Bob Rae, who the Liberal government tapped to take part in diplomatic efforts to address the deadly crisis.

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Rae and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne both urged Myanmar to fully comply with the ruling from The Hague-based court, which demanded it protect its minority Muslim Rohingya population from genocide.

Champagne said Canada will work with its allies to keep the pressure on Myanmar.

The 17 judges on the panel called on Myanmar to do everything in its power to stop what it said was a genocide against the Rohingya. The court flatly rejected Myanmar's plea — put forth by the country's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi — that the case be thrown out. Suu Kyi, a one-time icon of peace who has since been stripped of her honorary Canadian citizenship, denied there was a genocide.

What's more significant, Rae said, was the Chinese and Russian judges on the court were among those expressing unanimity with their fellow jurists.

China and Russia are both permanent members of the powerful UN Security Council, which gives them a veto over its resolutions. China is also a backer of Myanmar.

"The Security Council is going to have to give its head a shake a bit and understand the evidence that was gathered very assiduously ... is not something that the Security Council can ignore," Rae said in an interview.

The crisis was sparked by the August 2017 campaign by Myanmar's military in northern Rakhine State that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, amid accusations it committed mass murder and rape while torching thousands of homes.

The government appointed Rae, a former interim Liberal leader and lawyer, as its special envoy in October 2017. The appointment was renewed last week. Rae has travelled to the region and written a report urging more action by the government.

"You just can't turn your eyes away; Once you've seen it, you can't pretend it didn't happen. We've just got to keep pursuing it," Rae said.

Rae said he spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before last week's cabinet retreat. He said he reiterated Canada's commitment to seeking justice for the Rohingya. Rae's job includes co-ordinating Canada's efforts with international allies and meeting with Myanmar's Canadian diaspora, including Rohingya here.

After speaking with Trudeau, Rae said Canada remains committed to a co-ordinated effort that also includes humanitarian funding, helping provide schools for refugee children and assisting women and children dealing with ongoing violence.

The genocide case was filed by Gambia in The Hague on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation, a group of 57 Muslim countries.

"We have supported The Gambia in its case," Champagne said in a statement. "We will continue to work with our partners, including the Netherlands, to determine the most effective means to support The Gambia's efforts. We are considering all options."

Oxfam applauded the ruling but said the Rohingya and other ethnic groups in Myanmar continue to face violence and abuse.

"As a matter of urgency, the Myanmar government should grant Rohingya people full citizenship, freedom of movement and basic human rights. It should also give investigators, humanitarian agencies and the media full access to central and northern Rakhine," Oxfam's head of humanitarian campaigns, Fionna Smyth, said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch called the ruling a "landmark step" but said more work needed to be done to force Myanmar to comply.

"Concerned governments and UN bodies should now weigh in to ensure that the order is enforced as the genocide case moves forward," said Param-Preet Singh, an international justice director with the New York-based watchdog organization.

Thursday's ruling was a provisional order that was also intended to preserve evidence for future court action against Myanmar.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2020.

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