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Accounts of violence against Rohingya Muslims must be documented: Bob Rae

Bob Rae, special envoy to Myanmar, holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Oct. 23, 2017.  (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"Chilling and graphic" eyewitness accounts of violence against hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees must be documented so those responsible can be brought to justice, says Bob Rae, Canadian special envoy to Myanmar.

Mr. Rae's interim report on the Rohingya crisis calls on Canada to maintain its support for international non-governmental organizations that are making "compelling" legal arguments about the treatment of the Rohingya. Mr. Rae released the report on Thursday, just over a month after his first trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, where he witnessed first-hand the humanitarian crisis that has displaced more than 655,000 Rohingya refugees since August.

"Eyewitness accounts that I have heard have been both chilling and graphic. The gathering of evidence about particular events has to be thorough and systematic and relate to specific events, in particular places, at particular times," Mr. Rae wrote.

"This work needs to look at events over the last several years, and efforts must be made to link them to those responsible for such violence and abuses of human rights and security."

Canada and the United Nations have said "ethnic cleansing" is taking place against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar's remote Rakhine State. Although Mr. Rae's report did not use the term "ethnic cleansing," he described the violence faced by Rohingya refugees.

"In addition to accounts of shooting and military violence, I also heard directly from women of sexual violence and abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military, and the death of children and the elderly on the way to the camps," the report read.

Mr. Rae said there are well-founded concerns in Rohingya refugee camps about the potential for "catastrophe" due to heavy rain and wind, and the potential for the outbreak of disease. Bangladesh is in one of its cyclone seasons, which run from September through December and March through July. Mr. Rae said the international community, including Canada, must step up to prevent "serious loss of life."

The violence in Rakhine began on Aug. 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in the state. Myanmar's military responded by killing hundreds of people, triggering an exodus of Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh. Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country's military have come under international pressure to end the violence, but Ms. Suu Kyi does not have any control over the military under the 2008 constitution.

Although Mr. Rae was unable to access remote Rakhine during his visit to Myanmar, he had an hour-long meeting with Ms. Suu Kyi's officials in Yangon. He did not meet with any of Myanmar's military officials. He plans to return to Myanmar in January, in hopes of visiting Rakhine, and will issue a final report with recommendations after his return.

Canada has pledged more than $37.5-million in humanitarian assistance for Bangladesh and Myanmar this year, contributing to the UN's appeal for $434-million (U.S.) before February. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Mr. Rae as special envoy in October.

(c) 2017 The Globe and Mail

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