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Politics Canada levies sanctions against seven Myanmar military leaders

In this file photo taken on Oct. 6, 2017, Rohingya Muslim refugees wait in line for food at Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district.

FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Canada is levying sanctions against seven senior Myanmar military officials over their involvement in the violence and persecution that has forced more than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee Myanmar.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the economic sanctions in a statement Monday, marking Canada’s latest response to what has been described as ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority group. The sanctions impose asset freezes on and prohibit Canadians from doing business with seven senior military officials involved in the violent crackdown on the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last August.

“Canada and the international community cannot be silent. This is ethnic cleansing. These are crimes against humanity,” Ms. Freeland said.

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The most recent violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state began in August, 2017, after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base. Myanmar’s military responded with a violent crackdown, triggering an exodus of Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Read also: Top levels of Myanmar military responsible for crimes against Rohingya, report finds

The individuals targeted Monday include officials with links to the army’s Western Command in Rakhine state. An October, 2017, Amnesty International report included numerous witness accounts saying the individuals inflicting violence against the Rohingya wore the Western Command patch on their uniforms.

Among those targeted is Lieutenant-General Aung Kyaw Zaw who, as commander of the Bureau of Special Operations No. 3 until the end of 2017, oversaw the Western Command. The Lieutenant-General is responsible for serious human-rights violations against the Rohingya, including unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic burning of houses and buildings, according to the European Union, which also issued its own sanctions on Monday.

The Myanmar army said Lt.-Gen. Aung Kyaw Zaw was “given permission to resign” in May after it found “some flaws” in his performance.

The sanctions also targeted Maung Maung Soe, who served as the chief of the Western Command until November, 2017. The Myanmar army said Monday the general was fired for underperformance when responding to the Rohingya militant attacks.

The seven targeted Myanmar military officials are listed under Canada’s Special Economic Measures Act, which allows the government to impose sanctions on individuals or entities that pose a threat to international peace and security.

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Sanctions experts encouraged the government to make better use of its new Magnitsky-style law, which allows Canada to impose asset freezes and travel bans on human-rights abusers around the world.

Maung Maung Soe is the only Myanmar official targeted under the Magnitsky law. The general was added to the list in February, making him the 53rd person to be targeted by the Magnitsky sanctions. Canada hasn’t added anyone else to the Magnitsky list, which is mostly comprised of human-rights violators in Russia, Venezuela and South Sudan, since February.

Bill Browder, the U.S.-born financier who has led the international campaign to establish Magnitsky-style laws around the world, said Monday the good intention of the Canadian law is there but the implementation of the sanctions is lacking.

Marcus Kolga, a sanctions and human-rights expert with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank, said the government should consider setting up an office within Global Affairs Canada that strictly oversees the sanctions regime, much like the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The Liberal government set aside $22.2-million over five years to “strengthen Canada’s sanctions system,” including money for policy development, coordination with international partners and providing guidance to Canadians on sanctions obligations. It’s not clear if that money will go toward developing the kind of dedicated office Mr. Kolga is calling for.

With files from Reuters

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