The federal government has imposed sanctions against a high-ranking member of the Myanmar military under Canada's new foreign human rights legislation, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday.
Maj.-Gen. Maung Maung Soe is being targeted for sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act due to his role in the brutal security crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State, Freeland said.
"What has been done to the Rohingya is ethnic cleansing," the minister told CBC. "This is a crime against humanity."
A statement from Freeland's department said Maung Maung Soe "is, in the opinion of Canada's governor-in-council, responsible for, or complicit in, gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in Myanmar who sought to exercise and defend their human rights and freedoms.
"These sanctions impose a dealings prohibition, which effectively freezes the individual's assets in Canada and renders him inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act."
The crackdown by Myanmar's military and security forces, along with Buddhist vigilante groups, has been described the United Nations as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing." It has forced more than 688,000 Rohingyas to flee Myanmar, also known as Burma, to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
"We believe it is extremely important that people understand that there will be personal accountability ... for ethnic cleansing," Freeland said.
"We believe that (Maung Maung Soe) was directly involved in gross violations of the rights of Rohingya."
'Eyes of the world' are on Myanmar's military
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, Freeland added.
"I think a strong message has been sent," she said. "I think it's important particularly for the military leadership in Myanmar to understand that the eyes of the world are on them, that they will be held accountable for their actions by the world, and this really must stop."
Maung Maung Soe was sanctioned by the United States late last year over his role in the Rohingya crisis.
The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known the Sergey Magnitsky Law, was named after a Russian tax accountant and whistleblower who was jailed and later died in prison after he exposed a massive tax fraud scheme allegedly involving government officials.
In November, less than three weeks after Canada became the fourth country in the world to adopt a version of the Magnitsky Act, Ottawa unveiled a new sanctions list targeting 52 individuals in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela suspected of corruption and gross human rights violations.
Rae pushes for accountability
The latest sanctions against Maung Maung Soe come just a day after Bob Rae, Canada's special envoy to Myanmar, issued a statement warning that conditions in Myanmar are not conducive to the return of Rohingya refugees.
"Everything I saw last week has reinforced the deep challenges facing the Rohingya population in Myanmar, the need for accountability for potential crimes against humanity, and the urgency of greater co-operation and action," Rae said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the veteran Liberal politician and former Ontario premier last October to give him advice on the humanitarian crisis.
Despite having lived in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya Muslim minority is perceived by many in the country's Buddhist majority as an illegal fifth column — as squatters from Bangladesh who should have no residency or citizenship rights in Myanmar.
Even the term 'Rohingya', which refers to their home in the Rakhine state, is extremely controversial in Myanmar, where many Buddhists use the term 'Bengali' to refer to the persecuted Muslim minority.
The latest crackdown against the Rohingya began in late August of last year following attacks by Rohingya militants against 30 Burmese security forces posts.
Despite well-documented allegations of human rights abuses committed by its security forces, the Myanmar government continues to deny any wrongdoing and is blaming the violence on the actions of Rohingya militants.