Myanmar military troops take part in a military exercise at Ayeyarwaddy delta region in Myanmar, February 3, 2018. (Lynn Bo Bo/Pool/REUTERS)

Ottawa imposes sanctions on Myanmar general over Rohingya abuses

The federal government has imposed sanctions on a high-ranking member of the Myanmar military under Canada’s newly adopted Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Friday.

Maj.-Gen. Maung Maung Soe is being targeted for sanctions due to his role in the brutal security crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Freeland said.

“This individual is, in the opinion of Canada’s Governor-in-Council, responsible for, or complicit in, gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in Myanmar who sought to exercise and defend their human rights and freedoms,” Global Affairs Canada officials said in a statement.

“These sanctions impose a dealings prohibition, which effectively freezes the individual’s assets in Canada and render him inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”

The crackdown by Myanmar’s military and security forces, as well as Buddhist vigilante groups, described the United Nations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” has forced more than 688,000 Rohingyas to flee Myanmar, also known as Burma, to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugees Mohamed Heron, 6, and his brother Mohamed Akter, 4, pose for a portrait to show burns on their bodies at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Boys’ uncle Mohamed Inus said burns resulted from Myanmar’s armed forces firing rockets at their village. Two of their siblings, one seven years old and the other a 10-month-old infant, died in the attack, according to the uncle. Their father was held by the military and has not been heard of since. (Jorge Silva/File/ REUTERS)

“Canada will not stand by silently as crimes against humanity are committed against the Rohingya,” Freeland said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities as they struggle to see their rights respected.”

Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders have an obligation to respect the human rights of all people and those responsible for these atrocities must be held to account, Freeland added.

The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known the Sergey Magnitsky Law, was named after a Russian tax accountant and whistleblower, who was jailed and later died in prison after he exposed a giant tax fraud scheme allegedly involving government officials.

In November, less than three weeks after Canada became the fourth country in the world to adopt its version of the Magnitsky Act, Ottawa unveiled a new sanction list targeting 52 individuals in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela suspected of corruption and gross human rights violations.

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

The latest sanctions against the Burmese general come just a day after Bob Rae, Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, issued a statement warning that conditions in Myanmar were not conducive for the return of Rohingya refugees.

“Everything I saw last week has reinforced the deep challenges facing the Rohingya population in Myanmar, the need for accountability for potential crimes against humanity, and the urgency of greater co-operation and action,” Rae said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the veteran Liberal politician and former Ontario premier last October to give him advice on the humanitarian crisis.

Ansar Ullah, a Rohingya refugee who fled with his family from Myanmar a day before, carries his two daughters in baskets after thousands of newly arrived refugees spent a night by the road between refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh October 10, 2017. Ansar Ullah, who said his village in Buthidaung region was attacked by Myanmar military, carried his two daughters in baskets for eight days as his family and other refugees made their way to Bangladesh. (Damir Sagolj/REUTERS)

Despite having lived in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya Muslim minority is perceived by many in the country’s Buddhist majority as an illegal fifth column, squatters from Bangladesh who should have no residency or citizenship rights in Burma.

Even the term Rohingya, which means of the Rakhine state, is extremely controversial in Myanmar, where many Buddhist use the term Bengali to refer to the persecuted Muslim minority.

The latest crackdown against the Rohingya began in late August of last year following attacks by Rohingya militants against 30 Burmese security forces posts.

Despite well-documented allegations of human rights abuses committed by its security forces, the Burmese government continues to deny any wrongdoing and is blaming the violence on the actions of Rohingya militants.

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