Bob Rae says Canada should take leadership role in Rohingya crisis


Canada should take a leadership role in responding to the Rohingya crisis by ramping up humanitarian aid and development efforts and showing a willingness to welcome refugees from the region, Bob Rae, Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar, says in his final report.


The lawyer and former interim Liberal leader makes 16 recommendations on how Canada and international allies should respond to help the Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled their homes in the Buddhist state of Myanmar. He said Canada should develop a multi-year funding plan beginning this year for a response that focuses on humanitarian assistance, education, and supporting infrastructure.

He estimates annual costs, including additional staff at headquarters and abroad, to be about $150 million for the next four years.

Rae warns that the job of protecting lives will require presence, perseverance and patience.

“There are no guarantees of success, and many lives are still in the balance,” he concludes. “But one thing is certain: if we fail to try, the results will be far worse than if we make the necessary effort.”

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled western Myanmar’s Rakhine state to neighbouring Bangladesh and are now living in camps.

As well as showing a willingness to welcome Rohingya refugees from both Bangladesh and Myanmar, Canada should encourage a discussion among “like-minded countries” to do the same, Rae said in his report.

Accept responsibility for violence

“This in no way lessens the obligations of the government of Myanmar to accept responsibility for the departure in such violent circumstances of the Rohingya population from their homes,” his report says.

Among the other recommendations in the report:

  • Canada should continue to pursue a policy of active engagement with the Government of Myanmar and should continue to provide development assistance focused on the needs of all communities in that country.
  • Canada should increase development assistance to Rakhine State and all of Myanmar, focusing on the needs of women and girls, reconciliation, security and human rights.
  • Canada should work with allies to initiate an investigation into crimes against humanity and genocide.
  • Canada should establish a Rohingya Working Group within the government, chaired by a senior deputy minister, to ensure a “whole-of-government” response.
  • Canada should urge allies to establish an international working group to pursue joint efforts.

The world community has so far failed to move Myanmar’s military government, or its civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to act.

During a news conference in Ottawa today, Rae said the debate over her role is ongoing, and said those who are responsible must be held to account after an investigation. While he did not name her specifically in the report, he said he wished she had spoken out, and would speak out.

Rae was appointed as special envoy to Myanmar by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Oct. 23 and has travelled to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, and the UN in New York, holding discussions with officials, leaders, and non-governmental organizations.

PM looks at path forward

Trudeau issued a news release thanking Rae for his insights, professionalism, and recommendations, and said the government will outline further measures it intends to take in coming weeks.

“This report brings much needed awareness to the grave humanitarian crisis and gross violations of human rights faced by hundreds of thousands of people including Rohingya communities, other religious and ethnic minorities, and women and girls,” he said.

Trudeau said Canada will continue to work closely with the international community and the United Nations on a path forward. 

“We share a global responsibility to respond to this crisis and meet the needs of those displaced and most vulnerable,” he said.

In his interim report released in December, Rae said the witness accounts he heard were “chilling and graphic.” He outlined humanitarian and human rights work that is being done to resolve the situation, and concluded that “Canada must remain involved in this legitimate and important international work.”