How Canada Created the R2P Doctrine, with Myanmar as its Next Potential Victim

Daniel Xie
Opposition supporters demand the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine in Myanmar. (Credit: Twitter)

On September 21, 2021, Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a government-in-exile formed by supporters of former state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi declared a “people’s defensive war” against the Tatmadaw (another name for the armed forces of Myanmar). Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was overthrown by the Tatmadaw in February 2021. On a video broadcast on Facebook, NUG acting president Duwa Lashi La declared a “public revolution” against military “terrorists”. This declaration of open war comes after months of sporadic armed resistance by various anti-government civilian militias and ethnic militias.

The situation in Myanmar stemming from the coup d’état on February 1, 2021 raised concerns that allies of the National Unity Government, backed by the West against the Tatmadaw, would call on the West to intervene militarily through the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect [R2P]”. R2P had previously been used to justify in 2011 the imperialist war in Libya under the pretext of “protecting human rights”. For their part, the supporters of the National League for Democracy have already held signs demanding the imposition of Responsibility to Protect in Myanmar. Dr. Sasa, the U.N. envoy for the NUG, has called for the Security Council to uphold R2P following the February coup.

These calls have been heard by the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCRP), an NGO advocating for R2P. This advocacy being supposedly to stop violent human rights abuses worldwide. Garth Evans, chair of the International Advisory Board for the GCRP, claimed in “Applying R2P to Myanmar”, that the Tatmadaw has completely violated the principles of Responsibility to Protect. These principles were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly sat its 60th anniversary World Summit in 2005.

Evans’ article notes that direct military intervention may not be feasible for Myanmar. This is because a military intervention will certainly face veto opposition from China and Russia in the Security Council. However, Evans states that there are multiple ways in which Responsibility to Protect could be applied to Myanmar. This could include:

  • Pushing for diplomatic isolation by convincing governments in the association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to isolate Myanmar

  • Working towards a coordinated list of embargoes on arms and technologies that could be acquired by the junta

  • The imposition of sanctions that targeting Myanmar’s economy

Methods of implementing R2P in Myanmar were further explored in the “Populations at Risk ” assessment  by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect Website, last updated in June of 2022. In that assessment, it’s claimed that since the Tatmadaw coup, neither the UNSC nor ASEAN have responded properly. The GCRP notes that the the UNSC has took no action despite adapting nine resolutions on the crisis. They further state that while ASEAN agreed to a “Five-Point Consensus” regarding political violence in Myanmar, it was not effectively implemented. Going forward, the GCRP advocates for the total diplomatic isolation of the Tatmadaw, the severing of all investment in the country by foreign companies, and the leadership of the Tatmadaw be brought to “international justice”.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the NUG: No Friends to the Rohingya

The mainstream narrative comparing the NUG and the Tatmadaw frames the National Unity Government and the supporters of ousted state counselor Aung Sang Suu Kyi, as pro-democracy freedom fighters against the Tatmadaw. Suu Kyi is facing a prison term for corruption charges and failure to abide by COVID rules. GCRP and others charge that ASEAN countries, according to their “Populations at Risk” assessment, should support the NUG if they are to work towards any humane solution towards the crisis in Myanmar. This sanitized image projected by the GCRP sidesteps the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NUG are no champions of “freedom” themselves.

As state counselor of Myanmar, Suu Kyi did nothing to prevent the killings of Rohingya Muslims when the persecution of the Rohingya was launched by the military in 2017. Her inaction towards the killings of Rohingya Muslims was condemned by the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry. The Commission criticized her for not using any moral authority or political power to stop the killings. In fact, Suu Kyi would condone increasingly repressive measures taken to silence anyone investigating atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya. When two Reuters journalists were imprisoned in 2018 under colonial-era law for investigating the Rohingya genocide, Suu Kyi defended their imprisonment on the basis that the journalists had supposedly violated the “Official Secrets Act”. Suu Kyi would defend the genocidal killings that has occurred under her watch at her 2019 testimony to the Hague regarding the Rohingya genocide. There, she claimed that the killings that occurred in Myanmar was an anti-terrorism campaign falsely labeled as a genocide.

Suu Kyi’s presiding over both increasing repression and the mass murder of Rohingya Muslims, along with her efforts to deny the genocidal intent of these killings was not an anomaly or a blemish. It was fully consistent with how her and her allies have always acted even before assuming power. In the years leading up to her ascent to power, she was whitewashed by the West as a democratic icon. Yet, Suu Kyi was already courting anti-Rohingya elements of Myanmar society in her bid to seize power and tolerating anti-Rohingya hate crimes.

As discussed in 2015 by journalist Brian Berletic under the penname of Tony Cartalucci, supporters of Suu Kyi have engaged in violent campaigns against the Rohingya that has led to severe violence leaving many dead. They have even sabotaged any attempt at a peaceful resolution to the humanitarian crisis by influencing the Myanmar government into taking harsher measures targeting the Rohingya. One example is successful protests by Suu Kyi-aligned anti-Rohingya extremists pushing the government to scrap identification cards given to Rohingya Muslims. This led to the revocation of any voting rights they had in Myanmar.

These extremists were led by Wirathu, a key ally of Suu Kyi with the power to weigh in on the decisions taken by the NLD. Wirathu is a Buddhist extremist who has led violent hate campaigns against the Rohingya for decades. These campaigns landed him in prison in 2003. As noted by Berletic, despite the hate crimes launched by Wirathu in the years before Suu Kyi’s ascension to power, he has received no condemnation from the west. The NLD’s links to anti-Rohingya sentiments in Myanmar weren’t just tied to Wiranthu alone, but other Buddhist extremists that also backed Suu Kyi during the 2007 Saffron Revolution. One of these groups was the Young Monks Union, whose members have tried to advocate for both the complete disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and the blocking of humanitarian aid for the Rohingya community.

Suu Kyi also completely allowed the US and its’ allies to dictate the socioeconomic policies of Myanmar; effectively serving as a client state of the west in the region. As discussed by Berletic in a video examining US meddling in Myanmar’s socio-political landscape, Australian economist and USAID advisor Sean Turnell both served as an economic advisor to Suu Kyi. As economic advisor, Turnell expressed support for greater influence of the IMF and the World Bank in Myanmar. For her part, Suu Kyi also demonstrated interest in allowing the IMF to exert greater influence on Myanmar. Before her ascension to power, she met in 2013 with then-IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, when the latter visited Myanmar.

During her time in power, she accepted $350 million in aid from the IMF, not long before the coup. Another advisor discussed by Berletic was Joseph Fisher. Fisher, Berletic notes, used to work at the British embassy in Myanmar. Fisher would serve as Suu Kyi’s communications advisor and liaison to the media. In addition to having foreigners as key advisors, Berletic also points out that the US has funded a vast network of pro-NLD NGOs and institutions in opposition to the military. This funding was carried out through the National Endowment for Democracy(NED), Open Society, and USAID, In a 2021 article on regime change efforts in Myanmar, Berletic observes that the NUG itself has links to the NED.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her allies are far from a democratic or humane alternative to the Tatmadaw. Western support for the NUG and the National League for Democracy is tied to the possibility of the west using Myanmar as a bulwark against China. This comes at a time of further escalating tensions between the US and China as a result of the US’ new cold war targeting China.

This weaponizing of Myanmar is to be carried out by overthrowing a regime open to working with China in the construction of the Belt and Road initiative, in favor of preserving a regime far more compliant with western interests. In his video, Berletic discusses how the US has for years used the pro Suu Kyi opposition to undermine efforts by China to build infrastructure through Myanmar. An example of such was US efforts in 2011 to fund opposition movements to oppose dam projects being built by China exposed via Wikileaks cables.

In an January 2022 article further discussing US’ meddling in Myanmar and the role India may play in it, Berletic states that with the NLD ousted, the US would seek to instigate a civil war by funding opposition groups and ethnic rebels. The end goal of these efforts is to either violently reinstall a more compliant regime in Myanmar, or throwing Myanmar into perpetual chaos. China would then be further isolated due to being deprived of its ability to move goods and energy from the Bay of Bengal, across Myanmar. This would also force China to pass through straits and seas patrolled by the US Navy. Berletic further speculates that already neighboring countries such as India may already be working towards isolating Myanmar by establishing links with opposition groups and ethnic rebels backed by the US.

Citing a Reuters article titled “In Myanmar’s Chin state, a grassroots rebellion grows”, Berletic points out that armed Chin ethnic rebels were photographed as operating in the state of Mizoram in Northeastern India. He speculates that western-backed Chin rebels operating at on Indian soil indicates that anti-China forces within India’s government have already given tacit approval to the attempts to destabilize Myanmar by supporting anti-government ethnic rebels.

Already, anti-government rebel groups have carried out terrorism and war crimes against anyone suspected of working for the junta. A noteworthy example of such being the October 21, 2021 killing of a local village administrator’s family by the anti-government Pakokku People’s Defense Force; which also warned of similar reprisals against anyone they deem to be collaborating with the government.

Canada and the Creation of the R2P Doctrine

The calls of the GCRP to carry out a form of R2P in Myanmar circumventing vetoes from Russia and China are both in line with the established playbook of implementing the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. This doctrine being deployed against countries perceived to oppose western interests via isolating that country on the global stage and then backing NGOs and opposition groups within said countries to destabilize them from within. This playbook for regime change was drafted with the help of the Canadian government.

Canada’s role in drafting the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine can be traced back to efforts taken by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and his Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy. Under Lloyd Axworthy, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was formed in September 2000. This came after calls from then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to address the seeming failure of the international community to oppose or contain humanitarian crises erupting in the 1990s, particularly in Rwanda and the Balkans. Under the authority of the Canadian government, the ICISS was co-chaired by then-President of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans and then-Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General Mohamed Sahnoun. Currently the former serves as the Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect’s International Advisory Board. Future Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was also present in the discussion surrounding drafting a framework for the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine.

Following a year of discussion, the ICISS released in 2001 their findings in a report titled The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The report claimed that the international responses to the conflicts in the late 1990s such as the Rwandan genocide and the collapse of Yugoslavia have been defined by either complete international apathy or weak responses that did little to end the violence. It noted that the Rwandan genocide was the catastrophic consequence of the horrors of inaction by an international community aware of the imminent danger of genocide.

The reality of the situation, conspicuously not mentioned anywhere in the ICISS report, was the role of the West, particularly the United States, in escalating these humanitarian crises to fulfill its’ geopolitical interests. In Rwanda, the US provided missile training for Paul Kagame and the anti-government Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front. This training may have been used in launching the missile strike that killed Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana. While the Clinton administration claimed that the assassination was carried out by Hutu extremists, significant evidence points to Kagame and the RPF actually being the ones to pull the trigger. This assassination set the stage for the 100-day long mass slaughter known as the Rwandan genocide, the chaos of which the RPF used to take power. The RPF then launched both genocidal reprisals against Hutus in Rwanda and other neighboring countries. This was followed by wars in the Congo to secure resources for the US and reduce French influence in Africa. These reprisals were obfuscated by the US and Canada, whom both advanced a narrative that only Hutu extremists carried out the genocide in Rwanda.

The Canadian government would play a significant role in helping the obfuscate the role of the the RPF in the Rwandan genocide and advancing the narrative that the genocide only happened because of international inaction rather than US meddling. This obfuscation made use of the testimonies of Canadian Peacekeeper Romeo Dallaire. Dallaire claimed that he had knowledge from a high-level Interahamwe informant that a genocide was openly being prepared by Hutu extremists, and that these deaths killings lay on the feet of the UN for seeming inaction.

This sanitized narrative obscured the fact that Dallaire openly supported Kagame and the RPF, with Dallaire’s UN superior Jacques Roger Booh-Booh accusing Dallaire of using his authority to acquire weapons for the RPF. In addition, taking Dallaire’s testimonies at face value hid the fact that there was no reliable evidence that the informant in question, Jean-Pierre Abubakar Turatsinze, was a high-ranking trainer of the Interahamwe militia. Furthermore, while plans to target “suspected opponents of the regime” were found, these lists did not target said opponents based on Tutsi ethnicity. While horrific violence was perpertuated against the Tutsi, there was no open plan to list everyone in Kigili based on Tutsi ethnicity for the purposes of a planned mass extermination.

This sanitized narrative of the Rwandan genocide, spread by the US and Canada, as noted by Matt McKenna, created a narrative that has been abused as a framework to justify imperialist intervention in the name of stopping further perceived human rights violations.

That framework for further imperialism was discussed and fermented by the ICISS via the drafting of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The ICISS report frames the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” as supposedly defending state sovereignty in the 21st century. It defines state sovereignty as not just protection from outside interference, but moreso the responsibility of a state to protect its own people. However, if the state fails to protect their own people, then the broader international community has a responsibility to intervene. This intervene is to be carried out using diplomatic, humanitarian, or other means. This idea being based on a supposed “residual responsibility” of the international community to act when a state is violating the well-being of their people.

Means that could be used to exert “Responsibility to Protect”, according to the ICISS, include the use of diplomatic, economic and political means as part of a “direct prevention” toolbox. This imaginary toolbox would be used to prevent supposed human rights violence going on in states deemed to have failed in protecting their population from repression. Diplomatic means highlighted include the forming of fact-finding missions, “friends of” groups, and problem-solving workshops focused on the region that R2P is to be applied on. Furthermore, included were ideas such as diplomatic isolation, suspensions and travel restrictions imposed against any government targeted by the R2P framework. On the economic end, sanctions, arms embargos, and threats to withdraw international aid were discussed as coercive measures that could be used to enforce R2P.

Direct military interventions, supposedly launched with Security Council approval as an extreme last resort, should be led by a “politically controlled” military operation under a military commander. The commander selected to lead an R2P military operation would operate using a single chain of command reflecting unity of command and purpose and the use of adequate resources to execute his mission. To facilitate the success of R2P operations, the ICISS states that there must be maximum coordination between military and civilian authorities.

The ICISS notes that efforts to justify military intervention against any country may face backlash over the human and financial costs. This might block any potential popular support for the R2P doctrine. As such, measures were discussed to be implemented to mobilize popular support justifying R2P. This mobilization was to be carried out using NGOs, regional and subregional organizations, and political leaders to move the population to support more aggressive responses against governments targeted by R2P. The role of the media was also highlighted as an important component of R2P. This is because the media can be used

to intensively cover supposed atrocities and push both the domestic population and the UN to act in favor of pushing forward Responsibility to Protect.

Following the 2001 publishing of the ICISS report, Canada would play a leading role in pushing for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine adapted by the United Nations. These efforts were spearheaded by Allan Rock, the Canadian UN ambassador from 2003-2006. Rock would, at the 2005 Leaders’ World Summit, successfully secure the unanimous adoption by world leaders of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. Both Rock and Axworthy would later go on to further push for the use of R2P against governments targeted by the west in Myanmar, Libya, and Syria.

Haiti – Canada’s Test Run for the R2P doctrine

Rather than protect both state sovereignty and the well-being of the people within states, R2P in practice has been used as a tool to further Western imperialist interests under the pretext of intervening to prevent genocide or massacres. Canada, a lead player in drafting R2P, would also play a role in furthering some of these imperialist interventions.

The first of these interventions was the 2004 coup in Haiti, which saw the overthrow of democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide by a small but well-funded opposition backed by the US, France and Canada. Canada’s role in the planning and organizing of the 2004 Haitian coup started in January of 2003. At that time, the Canadian government hosted secret meetings discussing Haiti’s future. These secret meetings were attended by representatives of the so-called “friends of Haiti” — who are the governments of the U.S., Canada, and France, along with representatives from both the EU and the Organization of American States.

Declassified documents from the meeting were leaked to the journalist Michel Vastel. Vastel would go on to report in the Quebec-based magazine L’Actualite that the meetings attendants all shared the belief that Aristide must be ousted. Vastel further notes that during the meeting, the French government suggested that Haiti be placed under a UN “trusteeship” following in the model of Kosovo. They wanted any effort to overthrow the Haitian government to be justified to the international community as the seeming responsibility of all countries to protect smaller countries from political chaos. This framing demonstrates the use of R2P-oriented language to justify the coup in Haiti.

While the United Nations would not fully implement R2P until the 2005 World Summit, further declassified documents and statements from Canadian officials, as noted by Anthony Fenton in the article Haiti and The Dangers of Responsibility to Protect, exposes how the tenants of R2P were used to plan and justify the coup in Haiti. Fenton notes for example that in an interview given following the 2004 Haitian coup, then-Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America Denis Paradis, stated that the application of R2P to Haiti was the “thematic that went under the whole meeting”. Paradis also organized the “friends of Haiti” meetings to discuss the plans fermented for Aristide’s ouster.

Other Canadian officials, Fenton observes, have also sought to use Haiti as a model for the implementation of the R2P doctrine. This was observed by Fenton in a declassified talking points memo from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, dated 26 March 2004 and titled “Canada’s Responsibility to Protect Follow-up Efforts,”. This memo, according to Fenton, discussed the need to apply R2P principles to Haiti despite the fact that R2P had yet to be ratified.

Fenton further highlighted that there were other declassified documents indicating the influence of R2P on the means taken to overthrow Aristide. Fenton noted that the US and Canada had effectively sanctioned Haiti by blocking access to foreign aid. This being even as the “majority” of the member states comprising the OAS Permanent Council favored allowing Haiti to access aid money. In fact, aid money that Haiti did receive often ended up in the hands of NGOs run by Haiti’s elite corporate class that formed an anti-Aristide opposition. This was in accordance with the guidelines of the ICISS report discussing the use of “preemptive” measures such as working through “friends groups”, NGOs, along with the threats of sanctions.

Drawing on the statements of Canadian intelligence analysts, Fenton observes that the result of Canada and the US blocking any aid from being received by Haiti was the deterioration of socioeconomic conditions. This got to the point where intelligence analysts noted Aristide could be forced to resign or face a military coup. Eight months before Aristide’s ouster, a Canadian memo stated that that the total isolation of Haiti from the world stage has led to the weakening of the Fanni Lavalas government, laying the foundations for a coup. This isolation being caused by the suspension of external assistance and the funneling away of any aid money from the government to NGOs. The growing political chaos in Haiti, was subsequently blamed by the West on Aristide mismanaging Haiti, rather than the conditions imposed by the West on Haiti.

When it came time for the coup against Aristide and the Fanni Lavalas government, Canada would play a massive role in the successful carrying out of regime change in Haiti. According to Richard Sanders, coordinator of Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, Canada sent in Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) commandos to Haiti four days before the coup. JTF2 played a role in securing the airport that was used to exile Aristide from the country. Canadian commandos would be further used to secure key locations in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Immediately following the coup, 500 Canadian soldiers were sent to suppress Aristide supporters opposing the coup. Upon Aristide’s ouster, the coup regime was quickly recognized by Canada, the US and France. All of whom now have secured de facto control of Haitian politics and its’ economy at the expense of the Haitian people.

Libya – How Canada laid the ideological basis for regime change

Canada’s role in the creation of Responsibility To Protect would also lead to the destruction of Libya in 2011. Canada’s direct intervention in the Libyan Civil War has been well documented, with the entire house of Commons –including the social democratic NDP- voting in favor of Canada’s participation in the bombing of Libya. This was followed by the launching of Operation Mobile alongside the US-led Operation Odyssey Dawn. Operation Mobile saw Canada assist in the imposition of the NATO-imposed No-Fly Zone in Libya before handing over command of the operation to the NATO Operation Unified Protector. The result of this intervention saw the death of Gaddafi at the hands of the US-backed opposition. Subsequent Libya was plunged into into total chaos. Today, open-air slave markets operate in what was once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, destroyed by a military intervention influenced by the ideological basis of Responsibility to Protect.

The Harper government would downplay the role R2P had in influencing Canada’s entry into the Libyan civil war. They would also distance themselves from the doctrine at a Parliamentary debate on March 28, 2011. Yet, the ideological framework from R2P, which Canada helped create, was used to justify NATO’s entry into Libya. NATO’s entry being to remove a Pan-Africanist government hostile to American economic interests in the region. According to page 33 of the ICISS report, a human rights abuse that justifies intervention would be any action that falls under the framework of the 1948 Genocide Convention. In Libya, the threat of an imminent genocide as discussed by the ICISS report was exactly what was used to justify intervention in Libya.

Once anti-Gaddafi protests began in Libya during 2011, the Libyan envoy to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, warned of an imminent genocide carried out by Gaddafi-aligned mercenaries (which Maximillian Forte explained to be a racist term used to demonize pro-Gadaffi African soldiers) was to occur in Tripoli. On March 14, 2011, claims emerged of a Rwanda-style bloodbath to occur if Gaddafi was to take Bengazi. Maximillian Forte notes that both Al Jazeera and the BBC claimed that Gaddafi had openly deployed his air force to bomb protesters en masse. This was even though the Pentagon had seen no confirmation that Gaddafi was using his air force to bombard the opposition.

In the days following the passing of UN Resolution 1973 and the entry of NATO into the Libyan civil war, it was claimed by president Obama, according to Forte, that intervention was justified to prevent the total destruction of Benghazi. Obama claimed this otherwise would have happened had they supposedly let Gaddafi press on for “one more day”.  However, the column initially sent by Gaddafi into Benghazi -namely trucks and ambulances- wouldn’t have been enough to completely raze the city. In fact, UN Resolution 1973 itself would draw on the R2P doctrine in its’ wording. This can be seen by the resolution authorizing UN member states to use all options necessary to “protect” civilians in Libya. This resolution was preceded by UN Resolution 1970, which not only laid the grounds for Resolution 1973, but “recalled” the Libyan authorities’ responsibility to protect its population. The noting of responsibility for states to “protect” their population fully echoed ICISS statements that R2P was the necessary response to any country supposedly failing to protect their own populations from violence.

As mentioned earlier, the ICISS report states that military intervention under the guise of “responsibility to protect” can draw backlash from the public over human and financial costs. In this case, it media outlets and NGOs may be used to generate sympathy for military intervention. As noted above by Forte, media outlets uncritically regurgitated opposition claims of an imminent mass slaughter being planned by Gaddafi despite the lack of independent investigation verifying these statements. These media outlets were not the only ones manufacturing consent for regime change; prominent NGOs also played a role in pushing the “imminent genocidal reprisal” narrative as well.

According to Brian Berletic, one such NGO that played a role in manufacturing consent against Libya was Amnesty International, has included members of the US state department within leadership positions. Berletic notes that Amnesty International uncritically took the opposition’s words of imminent mass slaughter at face value and openly called for arms embargoes, sanctions, and diplomatic isolation to be imposed on Libya in response.

In addition to Amnesty International, another NGO that helped manufacture consent for regime change in Libya is the online advocacy and petition giant According to John Hanrahan, Avaaz openly campaigned for the imposition of a no-fly Zone in Libya. This campaign was carried out by drafting a petition containing 1,202,940 online signatures delivered to the UN. The statement given by Avaaz justifying such a petition was in line with the statements coming from the opposition, uncritically amplified by the media. Namely, the claim that if the UN failed to act, Gaddafi would immediately “create a bloodbath”. Both Amnesty International and Avaaz, after the destruction of Libya, would go on to justify further regime change operations in Syria under the guise of protecting civilians. The former spread unsubstantiated claims of mass atrocities being supposedly carried out by the Assad government with little investigation. The latter would regurgitate calls for a no-fly zone once again in Syria.

Ultimately, while the Harper government did not themselves use the Responsibility to Protect doctrine to justify partaking in regime change in Libya, the ideological basis for Responsibility to Protect proved to be a convenient tool. The tool’s supposed use had no connection to how it has actually been used; in this case, to justify the destruction of Libya under the smokescreen of “protecting” civilians and the supposed failure of the Libyan government to meet its’ “responsibility to protect their people”. For their part, Canadian officials involved in the discussions leading to the ICISS report such as Lloyd Axworthy, believed the imposition of UN Resolution 1973 to have been a successful implementation of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. This clearly indicates that the framers of R2P saw Libya as the triumph of the R2P doctrine on the world stage. That being to serve the actual aim of R2P in overthrowing governments deemed to be oppose to western interests. The catastrophic consequences said doctrine held for Libya weren’t a major concern for Axworthy and other Canadian officials.

Myanmar – How Canada is setting the stage for yet another imposition of the R2P doctrine

As highlighted in the ICISS report codifying the foundations for R2P, and the approach taken by Canada, the US and France to overthrowing Aristide in Haiti, R2P does not necessarily need open military intervention from the get-go as with the case of Libya.

Rather, the framers of the R2P doctrine preferred to employ more subtle ways of overthrowing governments. These subtle means included sanctions and diplomatic isolation, along with the funding and support given to anti-government forces and NGOs operating on the ground in these countries. These efforts being initiated to destabilize the government and create political chaos that a Western-backed opposition could use to overthrow governments targeted by R2P.

In Myanmar, the Canadian government has both sought to isolate the Tatmadaw on the world stage via the use of sanctions, as well as provide funding and support to both opposition forces within Myanmar and Canadian NGOs with links to opposition forces in Myanmar. This is in line with the suggestions of the ICISS report of only openly using military action as a last resort. It was also in line with suggestions given by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect on responding to escalating violence in Myanmar in the face of UN vetoes.

With regards to sanctions, Canada has had sanctions in place in Myanmar since December 13, 2007. These sanctions were characterized by the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations imposing both a freeze on assets of any designated Myanmar nationals connected with the Myanmar State along with an arms embargo on Myanmar. Following the first Parliamentary elections being held in Myanmar in 2010, Canada started to ease some of the sanctions starting in 2012. This easing of sanctions was characterized by the suspension of most sanctions imposed under the Special Economic Measures (Burma) regulations. Even then, Canada maintained sanctions against certain listed individuals and entities that are still in place to this day.

However, as the political situation in Myanmar further deteriorated, Canada would impose new sanctions on Myanmar. After the Tatmadaw coup against the Western-backed NLD-led government, the Special Economic Measures Regulations targeting Myanmar were amended to add nine senior officials in Myanmar’s military to be sanctioned for their involvement in the coup. Said actions were taken in conjunction with further sanctions placed on the Tatmadaw government by the United Kingdom and the United States. This was followed by sixteen individuals and ten entities being added to the Special Economic Measures Regulations on May 14, 2021 under the pretext of escalating political violence in Myanmar.

Sanctions would intensify towards the end of 2021 and into 2022. On December 10, 2021, four Myanmar military and defence-related entities were added to the Schedule in the Regulations. On January 31, 2022, one year after the Myanmar coup, three further individuals were added to the Schedule in the Regulations. This was followed on March 24, 2022, with four individuals and two entities being added to the Schedule in the Regulations. The addition of these individuals and entities were tied to sanctions targeting arms flows, individuals and entities who procure and supply arms and military equipment to Myanmar on bhealf of the regime. All these sanctions were coordinated with the UK and the US.

In addition to imposing further sanctions on the Myanmar government, elements of the Canadian government have met with opposition figures. Dr. Sasa of the “National Unity Government” confirmed a talk he had with Canadian Parliamentarians on April 30, 2021. That talk was regarding how the international community could engage with and provide diplomatic support for the NUG. The NUG has also welcomed new sanctions on Myanmar carried out in coordination with the US and the UK, with Dr. Sasa praising the March 24th sanctions in a tweet on March 29, 2022.

Canadian support for NGOs operating in Myanmar

Apart from seeking to isolate the Myanmar globally via the imposition of sanctions and holding talks with the opposition, Canada has also supported various NGOs operating in Myanmar. This support is evident by Canada’s Myanmar and Canadian NGOs supporting anti-government forces in Myanmar. This support for NGOs is in line with ICISS discussions pushing for the use of NGOs to both isolate targeted governments and to muster global sympathy that could be exploited to impose R2P.

Some instances of direct funding for NGOs as well as various Intergovernmental organizations operating in Myanmar by the Canadian government include:

  • $5,042,744 to the Intergovernmental organization known as the Fourm of Federations for the goal of supporting “Decentralized Governance in Burma”. This goal included providing training and support to any civil society organizations fighting for a federalized government or greater involvement of women in politics. Preceding this funding package was an earlier package in 2013 with $1,141,667.00 in funding to the same organization, also with the goal of broadening knowledge of democracy and federalism among political actors and stakeholders in Burma.

  • $255,118.00 for the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, with the slated goal of protecting Freedom of Religion and Belief in Myrammar

  • $10,000,000.00 for the International Development Research Centre, with the goal of Support for Democratic Transition in Burma

  • $7,594.00 for the Canadian branch of the Burma Task Force

A noteworthy organization being funded by the Canadian government with regards to Myanmar is the Canadian NGO InterPares. According to the website of InterPares, the Canadian government supports their $25 million project to strengthen civil society in Myanmar, with the ostensible goal of improving access to health services, strengthening civil society networks, and advancing civic engagement. The InterPares website notes that the organization has worked in Myanmar against the human rights abuses of the Myanmar government for 20 years. These these efforts, the InterPares website further notes, were supported by the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade & Development.

InterPares also has ties to groups funded by the National Endowment for Democracy as a means of destabilizing the Myanmar government such as the Chin Human Rights Organization(CHRO). The CHRO is reported by Al Jazeera to have received funding not only from Canadian Interpares but the Open Society Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy as well. NED funding for the CHRO was admitted by the organization in a 2006 news report titled “MIZORAM A MODEL FOR EAST BURMA”. In that article, it is stated that the NED is one of the CHRO’s funders. The NED has also worked through the National Unity Government as well, with Zin Mar Aung, the minister of foreign affairs for the NUG, receiving her own page on the NED website.

Canada also hosts the CHRO, in addition to funding them. In a 2006 interview, CHRO director Salai Bawi Lian Mang states that the CHRO’s main base of operations is in Canada. This is as CHRO legally registered with the government of Canada. In hosting and funding the CHRO, Canada provides money for the CHRO’s true goals. These goals being to assist Chin militants operating in India. This is as, according to Berletic, CHRO head Salai Bawi Lian Mang is also the head of the militant organization “the Chin National Front”(CNF). The CNF under Mang have vowed to overthrow the Myanmar government violently. Through the CHRO, Berletic observes, the CNF tries to influence the UN to isolate Myanmar on the world stage. They also send their youth wing to Washington to secure funding to be used to further destabilize Myanmar. Under the facade of the CHRO, Mang himself met with Anthony Blinken in 2021 to discuss US support for the CNF.

On CHRO’s site it’s stated that, “a list of current and past funding partners and organizations may only be provided on request due to the sensitive nature of CHRO’s work.” TCF’s Editor-in-Chief, Aidan Jonah, requested the list of funding partners from the CHRO, but did not receive a response from the organization.

Canada’s ties to R2P: The concept may be disowned, but the ideas behind it remain

When looking at Canada’s ties to the creation and implementation of Responsibility to Protect, it is evident that the Canadian government has played a major role in both helping to draft the creation of the Responsibility to Project Doctrine and enforcing it on any state seen to be against Western interests. The Canadian government organized meetings ensuring the establishment of the foundations for the R2P model. These foundations being laid out in the report on the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty regarding Responsibility to Protect. Canada would then play a major role in the overthrow of the Haitian Aristide government in 2004 under the framework laid out by R2P. The ideological framework provided by R2P regarding military interventions would be further used to justify the imperialist war on Libya.

Currently, as Responsibility to Protect is being touted as a potential response to the escalating political violence in Myanmar, Canada’s actions in diplomatically isolating the Myanmar government and backing various NGOs undermining the government. These actions are all in line with the directives of the ICISS report, and may set the stage for yet another regime change intervention under the smokescreen of “responsibility to protect”. This intervention using the NUG’s “People’s Defensive War” as a proxy in Myanmar against the Tatmadaw.

Opposing Canada’s role in the development and the furthering of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, now targeting Myanmar as part of efforts to contain China’s growing influence in Asia and worldwide, is a crucial task for all seeking to push work towards an independent Canadian foreign policy.

Daniel Xie is a firm anti-imperialist, who writes about the need for an anti-imperialist and independent Canadian foreign policy. He serves as the Associate Editor of The Canada Files.

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