The federal government is being urged to sanction more officials in Myanmar after using its newly passed Magnitsky law to target a top military general Friday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Major-General Maung Maung Soe was sanctioned for his "significant role" in the violence and persecution that has forced nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee Myanmar over the past six months. The general is the 53rd person – and the first from Myanmar – to be targeted by Canada's Magnitsky law, which allows the government to impose asset freezes and travel bans on human-rights abusers around the world.
"Canada will not stand by silently as crimes against humanity are committed against the Rohingya," Ms. Freeland said in a statement. "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."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior government official said Canada relied on two reports in its decision to sanction Maung Maung Soe, the former chief of the army's Western Command in Rakhine. The first was an April 25, 2017, Reuters report that confirmed the general was in charge of a clearance operation that involved gross human-rights violations in northern Rakhine state, where the Rohingya live.
The Canadian official said the government also relied on an October, 2017, Amnesty International report, which included witness accounts from northern Rakhine. Witnesses consistently said the individuals inflicting violence against the Rohingya wore the Western Command patch on their uniforms, confirming the involvement of Maung Maung Soe's unit in attacks.
The general was transferred from his post as head of the Western Command in Rakhine last November; it's unclear to where he transferred.
Bill Browder, the U.S.-born financier and anti-Putin campaigner who has led the international effort to sanction human-rights abusers worldwide, said it is reassuring to see Canada sanction Maung Maung Soe, but urged the government to target more human-rights abusers in Myanmar.
In order for the Magntisky sanctions be effective, Mr. Browder said they must be used broadly and regularly. He said Canada should also considering sanctioning Iranian officials linked to the recent death of Canadian professor Kavous Seyed-Emami in a Tehran prison following his arrest on allegations of spying last month. The Canadian government has called on Iran to conduct an investigation into Mr. Seyed-Emami's death. His family was told Feb. 9 by Iranian authorities that he died by suicide – a claim the family rejects.
Mr. Browder has led the global sanctions campaign in memory of his former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who he hired to work for his Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management hedge fund in 2005. Mr. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 and died in prison in 2009. Investigations by Russia's human-rights council eventually concluded he was beaten to death by prison staff.
Nur Hasim, president of the Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organization, said Ottawa should specifically sanction Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and General Min Aung Hlaing, the army commander-in-chief.
"Those are the two particular persons who are responsible for this genocide of the Rohingya people," said Mr. Hasim.
Bryon Wilfert, a former Liberal MP who now serves as Myanmar's honorary consul to Canada, said the government has the right to sanction whoever they want. However, he said he was disappointed in Ms. Freeland's statement Monday, which called on civilian leaders to respect human rights.
"It's just that they referred to it as if somehow the civilian government hasn't either done enough or that the civilian government has control of the military, which of course they don't," said Mr. Wilfert. Ms. Suu Kyi does not have any control over Myanmar's military under the 2008 constitution.