Hon. Jane Cordy:
Honourable senators, I will begin by thanking Senator McPhedran for bringing forward this motion and thanks to all who have previously spoken on this motion. Today I’m pleased to speak to Motion 476 as amended.
Honourable senators, you have heard other senators speak about the Rohingya who have had to escape violent attacks by the Myanmar government. Because of the seriousness of the human rights violations against the Rohingya, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights has held a number of meetings to monitor what I, and perhaps all of us, would agree is a humanitarian crisis.
As you know, the Honourable Bob Rae was appointed as a special envoy of the Prime Minister to Myanmar. Our committee was privileged to hear Mr. Rae talk about the work that he and others are doing and to speak about his findings.
Honourable senators, Mr. Rae’s testimony before our committee was some of the most powerful and emotional testimony I have heard in a Senate committee. Mr. Rae expressed the fear that lives would be lost. He also stated that the basic human rights of the Rohingya have not been respected. He told the committee:
The basic human rights of the Rohingya have not been respected, their political rights have not been respected, and they are now the largest stateless population in the world.
In the world in which we live, to be stateless is to be without a place and without rights, without an ability to move, without the freedom of mobility, without freedom of speech, and without an ability to speak your mind and to know where you will be tomorrow. That is the tragedy we are facing.
When asked by Senator Hartling at the committee about some of the emotional impacts he witnessed in the Rohingya camp, Mr. Rae had many stories to share, but I will relay one that stood out for me:
I’ve told the story many times, where a man I talked to was very articulate, very controlled, very much in charge of his emotions. We had a very good conversation about what had happened to him and the discrimination that he’d faced and the struggles that he had had to get to university, the struggles that he’d had to do things. As I was saying goodbye to him, I said, “I’m reporting to the Prime Minister. What would you like me to tell him?” He grabbed me and he started to cry. He held me for a long time and he said, “Tell him we’re human.”
Honourable senators, the Human Rights Committee completed an interim report on the Rohingya refugee crisis. The report is entitled An Ocean of Misery. This title may give you a sense of some of the testimony that we heard. That title came from Kutupalong, which is the largest refugee camp in the world. This camp was described to our committee as “an ocean of misery.” As our report states, “Sanitation, food, shelter, access to education and medical services are limited . . . .”
Honourable senators, sexual violence, human trafficking, drug use and radicalization are rampant in the camp. This is a crisis situation.
I would like to thank Senator McPhedran for bringing her motion, which brings attention of the Rohingya crisis to the Senate and to Canadians.
Honourable senators, sometimes when human rights violations are taking place in a faraway land, it is easy to change the channel on our television or to not watch documentaries on our iPads. I believe that, as parliamentarians, we should be vigilant in monitoring the Rohingya crisis. I believe, in fact, that we have a responsibility to monitor the Rohingya crisis. I also believe that Senator McPhedran’s motion recognizes that as well.
Honourable senators, as I previously stated, the Rohingya situation is a crisis. The Rohingya have had to escape from their own country because of serious human rights violations against them. The Rohingya people, the largest stateless population in the world, need the support of countries like Canada. Their voices should be heard, and they should be respected as the international community works at resolving this crisis.
Honourable senators, I would like to ask that we remember the words that Bob Rae relayed to our committee, the words the man and the refugee camp asked Mr. Rae to convey to our Prime Minister: “Tell them we’re human.” Thank you.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.