Myanmar crisis: “I can’t sit back and do nothing”
By Laura Dunens
When Fareed Khan heard the news of widespread violence against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, he knew he had to do something.
Myanmar’s Rohingya community are often described as the world’s most persecuted minority. A Muslim population in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, Rohingya people have endured a history of abuse that spans decades and includes mass murder, rape and torture at the hands of the country’s own military.
In the past three weeks, violence has intensified and the world has watched as more than 400,000 Rohingya people — including pregnant women, children and the elderly — have fled their homes. Until this week, de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi remained silent, refusing to allow UN staff into Myanmar to investigate reports of mass abuses by the military. In a national address delivered on Tuesday — her first since the outbreak of violence — she still failed to acknowledge allegations of ethnic cleansing in her country or place blame on the military.
As global outrage grows, people across Canada and around the world are turning to Change.org to unite and take action.
Fareed, who lives in Quebec, was one of many Canadians moved to take action.
“I’ve been working on issues of social justice for many years,” said Fareed, a government relations and communications consultant. “I have immense sympathy for any group being persecuted. As a human being, I can’t sit back and do nothing if I have any means at my disposal to stand up for a persecuted minority.”
Fareed started a petition imploring the Canadian government to revoke Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship. Suu Kyi is one of only seven people to have ever been granted honorary Canadian citizenship, with others including the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.
“I know what I’m asking for in my petition is a symbolic gesture and more concrete action needs to be taken. But anyone who is complicit in genocide — either actively or through silence — they do not embody the values of Canada.”
Fareed’s petition has received major media coverage and he’s spoken at rallies alongside influential Canadian activists, all calling for immediate action to help the Rohingya.
“I knew I needed to harness the power of social media, and Change.org is a great way to do that,” explained Fareed. In just two weeks, his petition has attracted more than 32,000 signatures.
Sami Ullah, a supporter of Fareed’s petition, posted: “How can we accept a citizen of ours to turn a blind eye to these acts of state sponsored ethnic cleansing, especially an ‘honorary citizen’.”
As pressure continues to mount, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Suu Kyi to publicly condemn the violence and take immediate steps “to protect and defend all minorities” in a letter he sent this week.
“I am profoundly concerned by the policy and actions by Myanmar authorities apparently intended to remove the civilian population of Rohingya Muslims,” wrote Prime Minister Trudeau.
“As the de facto democratic leader of Myanmar and as a renowned advocate for human rights, you have a particular moral and political obligation to speak out against this appalling cruelty, and to do whatever is in your power to stop it.”
While Fareed would ultimately like to see more extensive action taken to stop the conflict and help the Rohingya community, he believes that revoking Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship is an important first step: “It will send a clear message to the international community that Canada is willing to take action to stop this persecution in Myanmar.”
Suu Kyi herself failed to denounce violence against the Rohingya in a 30-minute address in Myanmar earlier this week — she did not attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City with other global leaders. In her address Suu Kyi merely said, “We are a young and fragile country facing many problems, but we have to cope with them all,” she said. “We cannot just concentrate on the few.”
Fareed’s is just one example of an individual who will not standby while Aung Suu started in the wake of renewed violence in Myanmar. In Indonesia, another petition calls for Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked, while in the UK, there are demands for action in the International Criminal Court.
These efforts show the ability of people to come together across Canada and around the world to take action on critical global issues, to influence government and lead social impact. You too can get involved — sign some of the powerful petitions on Change.org, attend or organize a rally, take a couple of minutes to contact your member of parliament, or support one of the charities working with the Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar.
Laura Dunens is Change.org’s Campaigns and Membership Manager, Canada.