By Maria Simeonova, STAND Canada Policy Director
As two of STAND’s primary regions of focus, STAND is alarmed by recent and continuous developments concerning Myanmar and South Sudan. Over the course of the last few months, the humanitarian situation in both countries has deteriorated. Separate United Nations Special Panel Commissions within Myanmar and South Sudan uncovered disquieting news regarding the treatment of minority groups. Although vehemently denied by Myanmar and South Sudanese government officials, a policy of systematic repression based on ethnic and religious foundations persists. UN findings strongly conclude that ethnic cleansing in both regions has already erupted.
Compulsory cultural unification, restricted access to food, shelter, clothing, and drinking water in addition to incessant resistance from the local communities are just a few of the problems encountered on a daily basis by the Rohingya community in Myanmar. Internally displaced persons camps are filled with Rohingya, driven by their disenfranchised status. The conditions faced are utterly unpredictable and appalling. As a stateless entity, they are often perceived as a security threat. Moreover, due to their deplorable living circumstances, they are easily targeted by criminal networks and used as scapegoats.
Events occurring in the world’s newest country are just as disturbing. The UN mission in South Sudan has managed to pinpoint human rights violations and establish a death toll despite an imposition of restricted access by the government in power. The chairman of the UN commission noted that the environment was ripe for ethnic cleansing and believes that it may already be in progress in several areas within South Sudan. Massacres, starvation, gang rape and burning of villages are the primary methods alleged to be used against those deemed as an enemy either to the soldiers or the rebels loyal to the former vice president Machar. If caught in the middle of battling factions, there is minimal chance of survival. Approximately 100,000 refugees have fled the country within the last year to Ethiopia or Congo, but those countries do not have sufficient food nor shelter resources to support those seeking sanctuary.
Attending to what are framed as security concerns should not be prioritized over the expense of humanitarian needs, and especially not at the expense of human lives. In Myanmar many international organizations hoped the gravity of the migration issue would cease under the democratically elected civilian government of defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her silence so far regarding the Rohingya’s plight has been deafening. In South Sudan, despite President Salva Kiir’s recent government assurances, the conflict that began as a civil war in 2013 has grown exponentially more turbulent and the cease-fires have consistently been breached. The common trend in both Myanmar and South Sudan is the mounting death toll of innocent civilians. Both countries’ cultural hostility between ethnic-religious minorities continues to persist and world leaders deliberately perpetuate the inclination of willful ignorance through inaction.
Regarding the challenges facing Myanmar and South Sudan, STAND Canada proposes the following policy recommendations respectively:
- The Government of Canada should put pressure on the Government of Myanmar to allow humanitarian organizations access to populations in the IDP camps of Rakhine to slowly begin the process of resettling people in the state and bettering the conditions of the camps while they continue to function;
- The Canadian Government must work with other international voices to urge the Government of Myanmar to grant the Rohingya Muslims citizenship rights. This request for citizenship includes access to basic healthcare, education, voting rights, and freedom to move freely through the country.
- In addition, Canada must pressure the UN Human Rights Council and its member states to establish a Special Rapporteur in the region so as to continuously observe the situation on the ground.
- The Canadian government must pressure President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar to abide by all ceasefire agreements, to collaborate in order to rein in the violence being committed by various militia forces across the country, and to take necessary steps to hold accountable those who have violated international humanitarian law.
- The Canadian government should collaborate with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country African trade bloc, to help enforce ceasefire agreements and apprehend accused war criminals.
- In addition, Canada should demand greater accountability from its own companies operating in the region, especially those whose operations are seen as contributing to the aggravation of conflict, such as this past summer’s recent reports of a Canadian firm selling armoured cars into South Sudan.