Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate at this late hour today.
First, I want to thank the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands for his contributions and his intervention. He kind of laid out some of what Canada was doing that it should not be doing with respect to grants still being given to the Myanmar government despite its actions or inactions it was taking.
I also want to thank the member of Parliament for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. Over the past two years, he has raised consistently in the House the issue of the human rights violations against the Rohingya people in the western parts of Myanmar. Of any member in the House, by far he has the most credibility on the human rights violations, having spoken up repeatedly to draw the attention of the government to this case.
It is sad to say that it has taken two years for us to have an emergency debate caused by the current situation with the military activity in the province where most of the Rohingya are.
Like I have done before, and I always do it, I have a Yiddish proverb. This proverb describes exactly what the government is doing, and actually describes what a lot of western governments are doing. It is not just the Canadian government not doing enough; it is the entire western world that is standing by. The proverb goes, “Hoping and waiting makes fools out of clever people.” We have a lot of clever people in the government. We have a lot of clever people in the House and across a lot of the western democracies. Again, we are hoping and waiting for a solution to simply happen, just like we were hoping and waiting for a good outcome to what was happening in Rwanda before the western governments reacted and took action.
Again, we are also hoping and waiting in other parts of the world. I drew the attention of the House just this week to the human rights violations against the Sindh people in Pakistan. I have been championing the cause of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq, Iran, Syria, and in Turkey. There are minority groups all across the world, indigenous peoples to the lands they are in who do not have a voice in government, who do not even have a voice in the administration of the lands on which they live. They do not even have autonomous governance of the areas in which they live. They are imposed upon by a larger ethnic group, by a larger conglomeration of people who determine for them, typically through a non-democratic process, what the laws, customs, and culture of the land shall be.
In Myanmar we see the unfortunate effects of military action being taken against a lot of very innocent people who did not ask for this to be dealt upon them. They did not have a choice. They have simply lived there for generations upon generations in a land they simply call home.
Now, again, we stand and we watch. The important thing the government should be doing is taking concrete steps. I know the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands mentioned some of them. It could be a simple thing, like cutting aid money that goes directly to the Myanmar government, not directly to the people. It could be putting more pressure on NGOs that are assisting the Myanmar government in one way or other. We could be adding certain individuals in the government to our sanctions list.
Just saw last week the government, finally, after years upon years, put 40 members of the Venezuela regime on Canada's sanctions list, including the president of the Republic of Venezuela.
Things can be done, especially when public pressure is placed upon the government. It is unfortunate that it may take another two years before the government chooses to react and do something. In the case of Venezuela, it might have had something to do with the electronic petition I tabled with over 4,500 signatures on it, and then the motion of my colleague for Thornhill, which comes up for a vote tomorrow. It deals specifically with the Venezuelan crisis.
However, on the Rohingya crisis, we cannot wait another two years to see concrete actions, a signal from the government that is more than a really tersely worded press release that most western governments have become really adept at, with very carefully worded language. It is like we have become central banks when it comes to human rights and monetary policy. There is very carefully worded language so as not to offend anybody, but which does not really indicate anything more than we are unhappy with someone. Just like the central banks put out very confusing press releases about the future of monetary policy, we do the same thing on human rights.
What to do? Hoping and waiting is what we do. Again, in this situation, the Prime Minister has reached out to Aung San Suu Kyi and expressed his concern, but so much more could be done and so many more actions could be taken. This is not new. It is not as if this Parliament and the government, and the broader Canadian society, have not heard about this. I have a graphic from a data team, to which I am will to refer. It shows all the ethnic cleansing that has happened over the past 20 years. The last time people in the provinces affected where the Rohingya are, 600,000 people were forced to flee from their homes. Today it is 422,000.
Rwanda was 2.3 million people. Iraq was 1.4 million people. Kosovo was 900,000. Syria was 5.5 million people. They were all for different situations, typically involving a dictatorship, and all had accompanying massive human rights violations: rape, murder, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.
I also want to draw attention to the political context of the conflict. Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar has raged sporadically for nearly a century, so it is nothing new to the international community. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League For Democracy is not avowedly a Buddhist or ethnic Burmese party, but it still effectively exists as one. The junta has declined, the military government has declined, and Aung San Suu Kyi has risen in power. They still depend heavily on the support of Buddhist monks, as William McGowan wrote in 2012 and since then.
Various leading members of the NLD have made disparaging statements about the Rohingya. I draw attention to one of their spokespersons, who said in 2012, “The Rohingya are not our citizens.” As the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands said, in fact they have had their citizenship cancelled, in many cases. They are not even citizens of their country. They have been robbed of the right to basically govern themselves and decide who will lead them and make decisions on behalf of the community.
The province in question is on the western side, which is probably one of the reasons this conflict has grabbed so much attention. They are being streamed straight into Bangladesh and into international waters, where they are fleeing this conflict.
One thing Canada could be demanding is access for international monitors. I do not mean just United Nations monitors. I mean that any willing third party should have free and fair access to the region with the certainty that they can go in there freely, without the government imposing any minders on them.
I mentioned that this Parliament has dealt with this before. In fact, there is a June 2013 parliamentary report written by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, chaired by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, of the foreign affairs and international development committee, chaired by the member for Niagara West. The headline is “Conflicting Realities: Reform Repression and Human Rights in Burma”. It is a 99-page report, and it details every single issue. It is not edifying or uplifting reading in any way, because it details the human rights violations; the violations of the rule of law; how freedom of expression, assembly, and association have been restricted; and forced labour. It describes the conditions political prisoners were living through. It goes on to describe the armed conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Kachin State and Rakhine State, where a large number of Rohingya live today. This is nothing new for our Parliament to be dealing with.
The sanctions imposed on the regime at the time were partially based on good future behaviour, so Aung San Suu Kyi was released and then allowed to lead her political party in a fairly free, not entirely free, election to power. A lot of the international community was hoping that the human rights situation would improve and that free and open access to Myanmar would improve for international investment to improve the lives of the people there. They have done some of that, but the repression has very much continued. Although we have a kind of figurehead leader that many western democracies were looking for and campaigned for, we do not have, in reality, on the ground, a situation that would avoid the kind of ethnic cleansing we are seeing.
The June 7 meeting the Prime Minister had with Aung San Suu Kyi was an opportunity to raise the issue of the treatment of the Rohingya. I have heard some members and others say that in fact he has done so. However, more than words and press releases, we need action. I have described some that could be done. I know that the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan and the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands have done the same. We can do things. We have done it in the case of Venezuela, and we can do it again.
I am looking forward to the questions and comments from other members and am looking for an opportunity perhaps to give the government some ideas on what it could actually do to better the situation.