Honourable senators, today I wish to call your attention to the severe human rights violations in Burma. Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been leading a systematic and wide-ranging persecution of its religious minorities. While 90 per cent of the country is Theravada Buddhist, 4 per cent of the population is Christian, another 4 per cent of the population is Muslim, and the last 2 per cent consists of other forms of Buddhism.
The discrimination reached a heightened state of violence in June of 2012, particularly toward the Rohingya Muslims along Burma’s western border. The United Nations has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Despite having a presence in Burma since the 7th century, the Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982 and have been treated as illegal immigrants. Rohingya Muslims have to seek permission to travel, to marry and to repair their homes and mosques. They cannot access government services or send their children to school.
Burmese authorities have destroyed over 1,400 buildings, including mosques, and conducted mass arrests. One of the most violent episodes occurred on October 23, when a coordinated attack against nine townships destroyed villages and killed 70 residents, including 28 children who were hacked to death. All the while, security forces stood aside or assisted in the day-long massacre.
More than 125,000 Rohingya have been forcibly displaced. The vast majority have gone to camps, where they struggle to survive. They rely on outside aid, but aid agencies are often denied travel authorization or intimidated by government officials.
In December, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator described the Rohingya camps as among the worst she has seen in the world. Just last week, Burmese authorities decided to reinforce a two-child policy on the Rohingya to quell the growing population.
Canada and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have been outspoken about the situation in Burma. Minister Baird has stated:
Canada stands ready to assist the Burmese government…to build on the democratic fundamentals and the freedoms and rights of their people, including freedom of religion.
Honourable senators, as citizens of the global community, we must protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief consistent with Canadian values. Let us give voice to the voiceless and speak out against what Human Rights Watch calls a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Burma.