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Rohingya refugees gather to buy essentials at a market area in Kutupalong camp a day after cyclone Mocha made landfall, in Ukhia, on May 15.MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Saad Hammadi is a global governance fellow at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs and a human-rights advocate.

As we reach the six-year mark since atrocities committed by the Myanmar military pushed much of the country’s Rohingya population to flee, it is clear that despite the commitment by Canada and other countries to support human rights, justice, accountability and conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation, Rohingya refugees have not had any relief.

The all-powerful permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are divided on most matters of international peace and security. This has hindered effective intervention to address grave human-rights violations around the world. Rohingya and other refugees are victims of this broken system.

The targeted sanctions and arms embargo by Canada and its allies against Myanmar and its generals have made no substantive difference in creating safe conditions for the Rohingya to return home. Myanmar enjoys the support of China and Russia, and thus it is essentially business as usual.

Six years on, the government of Bangladesh – host to nearly one million Rohingya refugees – argues that repatriation is the only solution to the challenges presented by the sprawling refugee camps in the country. In co-ordination with the Myanmar military government, it plans to pilot repatriation efforts soon, even if the situation in Myanmar does not meet the conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return.

Recent cuts in international humanitarian aid, surging violence in the refugee camps and the absence of any substantive progress in global efforts to hold Myanmar accountable and create the conditions for the Rohingya to return have made matters worse with regard to protecting the human rights of refugees in Bangladesh.

Other states can’t criticize Bangladesh with any credibility. Instead, their own breaches of international human rights and refugee law reveal a glaring double standard.

In July, the British government passed the Illegal Migration Act, which effectively denies asylum to those arriving in the country through irregular channels, legitimizes their detention and sets up their removal from the country by either sending them back to their home country or a “safe third country.”

This disgraceful action by the United Kingdom contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention, which recognizes that “the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules” and that states shall not penalize refugees on account of their illegal entry or stay in the country.

Following Britain’s enactment of this new law, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said, “In addition to raising very serious legal concerns from the international perspective, this bill sets a worrying precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations that other countries, including in Europe, may be tempted to follow, with a potentially adverse effect on the international refugee and human rights protection system as a whole.”

Canada enjoys the reputation of being a caring society that affords protection to refugee claimants from around the world. Yet, in March, Canada signed a pact with the United States that extended the reach of the Safe Third Country Agreement to the entirety of the land border between the two countries. This agreement means that even if a refugee claimant feels that their rights are not protected, they cannot seek asylum in Canada if they first landed in the United States, and vice-versa.

These measures reduce the authority of Canada and other countries claiming to be proponents of human rights to hold governments accountable for their actions and to urge Bangladesh to stand firmly on the side of refugee rights. The notion that governments in the Global South – which host a whopping 76 per cent of the world’s refugees – are expected to protect the rights of refugees while the perpetrators of atrocities that cause forced displacement get away with their crimes, and the Global North increasingly shuts its doors to refugees, fractures the global system of human-rights protection. We need principled and consistent action to uphold human rights universally that is not hostage to geopolitical ambitions and the interests of powerful countries.

Rohingya and other refugees need justice and protection of their rights. That cannot depend on who they are or where they seek safety. That will only happen once the international community is on the same page.

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