Liberal statesman Irwin Cotler says Canada has “defaulted” on the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle his party once championed by not backing intervention in Syria to stop the slaughter of civilians by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. “The Liberal party has always had an internationalist dimension to its foreign policy. But if you look back at R2P, which was very much a Liberal-initiated doctrine, Responsibility to Protect means therefore that we will have to be taking these responsibilities more seriously,” said Cotler, a former justice minister who did not run in the most recent federal election.
“That doctrine says that whenever there is a situation of war crimes and crimes against humanity and, God forbid, genocide, and the country in which it takes place is the author of that criminality, there is a responsibility to intervene and protect the innocent civilians. And I think we have defaulted on that – not just Canada, the international community – with respect to Syria.”
The civil war in Syria began in 2011 after Assad’s regime responded to peaceful protests with deadly force. Since then, his security forces have killed tens of thousands of civilians, including with poison gas and the indiscriminate bombing of neighbourhoods. Militias from Lebanon and Iran are also fighting with Assad. And last year Russia joined the war on Assad’s side, mostly through the use of airstrikes.
In total, more than 300,000 Syrians have died in the conflict, about five million have fled the country, and another seven million are internally displaced.
Among the non-government groups controlling chunks of Syrian territory is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist militia that has conducted terrorist attacks in Europe and across the Middle East. A U.S.-led coalition is fighting it in both Iraq and Syria. Western intervention against Assad, on the other hand, is limited to modest American support for some rebel groups.
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