NUPGE calls on Prime Minister to take further action on Rohingya crisis

The United Nations (UN) says that the Rohingya’s situation is the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. It has also been stated that what has happened to the Rohingya is a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Ottawa (13 Jan. 2020) ― On behalf of the 390,000 members of The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), President Larry Brown has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging the government to take stronger measures to protect the Rohingya from further prosecution and violence.

Trigger warning: please note that this story contains descriptions of graphic violence, rape, torture, and murder.


Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia that borders on India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, and China. For over 50 years, it has suffered under military dictatorship and civil war. This has resulted in systematic human rights abuses and mass displacement.

The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities in Myanmar. In 2017, they numbered around 1 million. The Rohingya Muslims represent the largest number of Muslims in Myanmar. But despite living in the region for generations, the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, has denied the Rohingya citizenship and view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In 2017, attacks by the Myanmar army drove over 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. They joined some 400,000 Rohingya who had fled earlier waves of violence and were already living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Methods deployed by the Myanmar army included systematic mass rape and mass murder, which left an estimated 10,000 people dead and nearly 400 villages destroyed.

Women have been systematically targeted by the Myanmar army and have been raped in public. In just one instance, over 100 women in the village of Tula Toli were tortured, gang raped, and then burned alive. There have been flagrant rapes of young girls, and many rape victims were tortured, had their breasts cut off, and were then murdered.

International recognition

In April 2018 Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, submitted his final report outlining 17 recommendations for Canada’s action in the crisis. Among the recommendations was a call for Canada to take a leadership role by stepping up humanitarian and development efforts in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In September 2018, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously voted to call the Rohingya killings a genocide. It also stripped Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, of her honorary Canadian citizenship due to her role in the genocide. Honorary citizenship had been bestowed on Suu Kyi in 2007 for being a courageous leader of her country’s opposition forces and for having spent nearly 2 decades under some form of house arrest.

The United Nations (UN) says that the Rohingya’s situation is the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. It has also been stated that what has happened to the Rohingya is a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Letter to the Prime Minister

In the letter Larry Brown, NUPGE President, states that NUPGE supports the filing of a genocide case with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Myanmar by The Gambia, on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. While filing a case would refocus attention on the atrocities suffered by the Rohingya, Brown also urges Canada to commit to immediately doing more to aid and support the Rohingya.

The situation is continuing to worsen as conditions in the refugee camps have deteriorated. Education, health care, violence, and inadequate nutrition are ongoing problems, and the Bangladeshi government is increasingly unwilling to continue hosting and protecting the refugees. Additionally, children born in the camps are not being registered at birth and are therefore vulnerable as they have no legal identity and no ability to apply for refugee status, which also restricts the movement of their parents. Echoing the 17 recommendations from Rae’s final report, Brown argues that Canada’s response to the crisis needs to be ongoing and enduring as the crisis unfolds.

The letter was also sent to other federal party leaders, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Karen MacArthur (Ambassador of Canada to Myanmar), His Excellency Kyaw Myo Htut (Ambassador of Myanmar to Canada), Hassan Yussuff (President of the Canadian Labour Congress), and to Razia Sultana (founder of the Rohingya Women Welfare Society).

Rohingya Women Welfare Society

In February 2018, NUPGE had the privilege of hosting Razia Sultana, founder of the Rohingya Women Welfare Society, at NUPGE’s Coming Full Circle — Connecting the Generations conference. Sultana is a lawyer, human rights advocate, researcher and educator specializing in sexual violence (specifically mass rape), trauma, state violence and the trafficking of Rohingya girls and women. Since 2014, she has bravely spoken out for the rights of her people, and worked with some of the 725,000 Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Sultana gave a powerful presentation on her struggle to alert the international community to the atrocities committed against the Rohingya and shared the stories of the women in the refugee camps.

NUPGE then invited Sultana to speak at the National Convention in Winnipeg last June. A resolution of solidarity with Rohingya women was passed unanimously by the delegates. In addition to providing financial aid, NUPGE has committed to continue lobbying the federal government and raising awareness about the crisis on behalf of the Rohingya.

Take action

NUPGE urges all members to read Brown’s letter to the Prime Minister, and to contact their local MP and voice their support for the federal government to take stronger measures to protect the Rohingya from further persecution and violence.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE