Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Ataullahjan for bringing the Senate’s attention to the Rohingya crisis in both the Senate Chamber and at the Senate Human Rights Committee.
Senator Ataullahjan and I have worked together for the last couple of years at the Human Rights Committee, she as the deputy chair and an incredible champion for the human rights of everyone in this country and elsewhere in the world. I admired her initiative when she said to me one day about the Syrian refugees, “We must do a study.” We did, and we made an impact in the debate in recommending to the Government of Canada to keep paying attention.
Sometimes the headlines just go away, and people forget what’s happening in Syria today and what’s happening with the refugees. The same thing holds true with the Rohingya.
Senator Ataullahjan’s dedication to seek action to stop this tragedy, as well as to shine a light on the challenges facing all refugees, is unwavering.
This motion calls upon our government to call upon the Myanmar government to bring an end to the violence and human rights violations against the Rohingya immediately, to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and allow independent monitors into the country, especially the Rakhine State.
Canada has an obligation to do more. Canada has moved money and has sent others to that region. Canada is in a great position. We have a wonderful and credible reputation in the world of human rights, and we feel that, at least at the Human Rights Committee.
I join Senator Ataullahjan in urging the government to take that extra step. I want to add my name to this call to action alongside Senators Jaffer, Omidvar and McPhedran, who have already delivered passionate remarks on this motion.
Colleagues, as you know, the Senate Human Rights Committee held public meetings about this crisis. The heartbreaking testimony we heard described human rights offences which were shocking and monstrous. It’s awful what happened in that country and is still happening but not part of the headlines today. Violations of the worst possible kind are happening to the Rohingya people, including torture, rape, attacks on young children, and villages being burned to nothing. Many have died fleeing their homes towards Bangladesh, trying to escape the actions of their country’s own army. Bangladesh communities along the border are now overwhelmed by the number of people seeking asylum. As we have heard, more than half a million Rohingya refugees have fled to the neighbouring country. Local communities and humanitarian aid groups cannot keep up with the continuing influx of refugees, and their resources are being stretched very thin.
I was encouraged by Aung San Suu Kyi’s announcement late last week to set up a civilian-led agency, with foreign assistance, to deliver aid and help the resettlement of Rohingya in the Rakhine State. Allowing the international community to provide aid in the region and listing repatriation to those who have fled as priorities are key to helping the Rohingya.
This gives some hope, but we haven’t heard enough from her, and we have to have more than just hope. We have to have a new reality check. What has happened has happened and cannot be ignored.
In these short remarks, I agree with my colleagues that the international community needs access to the Rakhine State to assess the extent of what has taken place. The international community should be allowed in to provide aid and to help find a solution for peace.
Honourable senators, there is still so much Canada can do to help the Rohingya. This is why we must pass the motion by Senator Ataullahjan.
I have been thinking today that as a former reporter of 35 years, I covered a lot of crises and disasters in the world. We get motivated at the time as a country. When I was in the refugee camps of Cambodia, I thought at that particular time, when I saw children with intellectual and physical disabilities, babies who were basically thrown away in garbage cans on the streets of Phnom Penh, who would care for these children? So at that time I attempted to do a story or two about that to sensitize Canadians to that issue. That helped the NGOs that were working in that area to garner more money from the Canadian community. We focus on these things for a little while, and then the headlines are gone and the story disappears.
I always thought that if there was an opportunity to do more about this, I would. Well, I never thought that I would end up in the Senate of Canada. That wasn’t part of the game plan. A reporter forever, always asking questions, always curious, always trying to find out more, and now I have that opportunity to speak out. As Chair of the Human Rights Committee and working with Senator Ataullahjan and others, including Senator Omidvar, this is an incredible journey each and every day for all of us to remind ourselves that we just had Thanksgiving and how comfortable and cozy it was for most of us. Maybe not all of us, but we live in a wonderful country, and we have so much in terms of generosity here.
We heard in a statement by Senator Norman Doyle, senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, about how much food is being wasted in this country. We throw it out; we don’t even take a look at it. Can you imagine having a Marshall Plan to move supplies to whomever in the world to share the great resources we have in this country?
We don’t see it today. We see a small story coming from that part of the world, but it is still happening. The Rohingya may not be in the headlines today, but the suffering remains. Imagine over 500,000 people who don’t have a home — a half million people who don’t have a home. Just imagine. Thank you, honourable senators.