World must do more to support democracy in Myanmar: Bob Rae

·4 min read
Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae says the international community must do more to support the democratic movement in Myanmar.  (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae says the international community must do more to support the democratic movement in Myanmar. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Bob Rae says the international community must support the democratic movement in Myanmar as protesters there continue to risk their lives to protest against last month's military coup.

Canada's ambassador to the United Nations says it's the only way to honour the courage shown by those standing up for democracy.

"I do think that what we're seeing now is an unprecedented level of support for a widespread and deep democracy within Myanmar," Rae said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.

"We have not seen demonstrations of the kind we're seeing in Myanmar for four generations. And I think it's really important for us to stress that."

WATCH: Protesters clash with security forces in Myanmar

The death toll in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to rise as police and military officials crack down on the protests.

The UN says more than 50 people have died, and about 1,000 others — including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi — have been detained.

Persecution of Rohingya

Suu Kyi came under heavy criticism for her failure to stop the military from its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority — a failure that led Canada to strip her of honorary Canadian citizenship in 2018.

Rae, who served as Canada's special envoy to Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis until 2018, was asked if that past makes it more difficult to organize international support for her.

"The short answer to that is, of course it does, but it doesn't stop us from doing it," he said. "The fact remains that she was democratically elected leader of a political party that won an election and that has to be recognized."

Canada has imposed sanctions on military officials already. But Canada is not a member of the United Nations Security Council and the fear is that China or Russia would veto any measures the UN might take.

The UN's special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Bergener, called Friday for the Security Council to present a unified front in demanding an end to the coup and the release of those detained.

"It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results," she said.

Calls for 'collective action'

"There is an urgency for collective action," she added. "How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?"

Rae believes there's a consensus that more can be done to stop the violence now.

"I think we do have to look at what else can we do to isolate the military, to freeze their assets wherever we can find them, and to work with every conceivable partner that we can find to create the conditions for the transition to democracy," he said.

A member of a South Korean civic group holds a sign as she attends at a rally against Myanmar's military coup in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
A member of a South Korean civic group holds a sign as she attends at a rally against Myanmar's military coup in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.(Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

"It's going to be extremely difficult, but I think this issue is far from over. The outcome is not by any means settled."

But time is running short. The images emerging from the protests show unarmed people being shot by authorities and ambulance attendants being beaten when they try to assist the injured.

Tin Maung Htoo lives in London, Ontario. He's been posting some of those videos and photos on social media, including one of a 19-year-old woman, Kyal Sin, who was shot dead while wearing a t-shirt that said, "Everything will be OK."

"When I look at the video ... she is the only female ... at the forefront, blocking and confronting the police and the military on the street," he said in a separate interview for The House.

"She was also taking control. Telling other colleagues, 'Be careful, be careful. You cannot be tired. Keep fighting. Keep standing. Keep holding.' That was the message she was [saying] in Burmese."

Calls for Canada to do more

Tin is the coordinator of a new group called Burmese Canadian Action Network. His group wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau this week urging Canada to do more to help end the violence.

"Burma has been under totalitarian, authoritarian rule for half a century," he said. "So when these people think this is enough, enough is enough ... they want to move forward."

Tin said he believes people will continue to risk their lives for democracy — to show the world that the military can't be allowed to win.

That same message was delivered last week by Myanmar's then ambassador to the UN during a special meeting of the general assembly.

"Now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar's military," Kyaw Moe Tun said. The country's military rulers fired him the next day.

Rae said that speech — and the daily protests on the streets — demonstrate rare courage.

"And I think it's a reminder that courage is probably the most important of all the virtues, because it's the virtue that makes all the other things possible in life," he said. "Without courage, we have nothing."