The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, adopted at the United Nations World Summit in 2005, is Canada’s gift to the community of nations.
Thanks to the diplomatic overtures of then prime minister Paul Martin and other prominent Liberal politicians, thinkers and diplomats, the UN embraced the notion that the community of nations has an obligation to prevent genocide and intervene when mass atrocities are being perpetrated.
After Justin Trudeau led the Liberals to victory in the 2015 federal election, the new Prime Minister indicated that his government would adopt a more internationalist foreign policy. “Canada’s back ” became the new government’s slogan, leaving many observers hopeful that Canada would once again embrace the human security agenda and become a champion of Responsibility to Protect, which is commonly referred to as R2P.
However, the “Canada is back ” narrative is far more complicated than the government and even some nongovernmental organizations would have the world believe.
In fact, the Liberal government is demonstrating a curious reluctance to fully embrace the R2P doctrine. Genocide On March 17, 2016, U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Islamic State-also known as Daesh, ISIS or ISIL-is committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, as well as Shia Muslims in the Middle East.
In June, the Liberal government voted against a Conservativesponsored motion declaring that the Islamic State is committing genocide against those groups. With the exception of four Liberal MPs who supported the motion, the government party voted against recognizing genocide. The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois also voted in support of the Conservative motion.
Curiously, the Trudeau government refused to take a position on genocide until the United Nations made a definitive statement on the subject. The government’s stance frustrated many human rights defenders, because it has been clear for quite some time that the Islamic State is wiping out ancient ethnic communities and religious groups.
“Canada is appalled by the atrocities and widespread abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including those committed against religious and ethnic communities ,” said Joseph Pickerill, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.
However, the government remains reluctant to use the term genocide to describe the systematic destruction of ancient communities in Iraq and Syria. For example, Pickerill stated in an email that the “atrocities ” committed by the Islamic State are “well-documented ” and that there’s “ample information ” that indicates that it “may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in both Iraq and Syria.”
Dion’s representative acknowledged the June 16th report of the UN-mandated independent investigative mechanism on human rights violations and crimes perpetrated in Syria, known as The Independent Commission of Inquiry. The report found that the Islamic State is perpetrating genocide against the Yezidis.
In response to the report, Minister Dion told the House of Commons that the government now “believes that genocide against the Yezidis is currently ongoing.” And he declared that “we are once again calling on the UN Security Council to take urgent action.”
In addition, the Trudeau government asked the UN Security Council to establish a mechanism to investigate violations of international law by the Islamic State, including genocide. Canada wants the perpetrators of such crimes to be brought to justice and referred to theInternational Criminal Court (ICC).
However, Dion has yet to acknowledge the ongoing genocide targeting Assyrian Christians and Shia Muslims.
A month before the Trudeau government made its grudging but limited acknowledgement that genocide is taking place, former prime minister Paul Martin clearly stated in a telephone interview that the Yezidis are facing extermination. The Islamic State’s massacre of thousands of Yezidis in the Sinjar District in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate in August 2014 was religious genocide, he said.
“Was that an instance for R2P ?” Martin said of the Yezidi genocide. “Yes. On the other hand, R2P has got to work. If you don’t have the capacity to make it work, either, because some countries have lost the will, it’s not going to work.”
Asked if he was disappointed that the Trudeau government was not following the lead of the Obama administration in declaring genocide in the Middle East, Martin deflected the question. “This is a new government that has just taken office ,” he said. “They have taken office after a government that had no foreign policy except to lay down and basically watch the world go by.”
“I think a new government that comes in after a decade really has a responsibility to really think this thing through and make sure it’s ready ,” asserted Martin. “Canada, I think, has got to build up its intelligence capacity; make the deals with the other countries; and I think Canada has to think it through. I think that’s what the government is doing.” Canada never went away When asked if Canada will make a public statement of support for R2P, Dion’s representative acknowledged that the previous Conservative government had already done so. “At the most recent informal dialogue on R2P held in September 2015 at the United Nations in New York, Canada reaffirmed its support for R2P and highlighted the need to move forward on a more focused and coordinated approach to atrocity prevention ,” Pickerill said.
At that meeting, continued Pickerill, “Canada also emphasized its commitment to prevent sexual and gender-based violence, and promoted the full, active and equal participation of women in peacebuilding and state-building processes.”
Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the federal Conservatives, rejects the criticism that Canada was largely absent from the world stage during the Harper years. For example, in a telephone interview, she stated that there was “clear, active participation by Canada ” in theNATO-led air campaign to stop Col. Gadhafi from carrying out mass murder in Libya.
Canada also played an important role at the United Nations during the Harper years, asserted Ambrose. Not only did prime minister Stephen Harper force child and maternal health to the top of the international agenda when he hosted the G8 and G20 summits in 2010, he also co-chaired an international committee on accountability regarding the initiative.
Canada also delivered “huge support ” for the World Health Organizations (WHO) under the Conservatives, said the interim Tory leader. As minister of health, Ambrose saw firsthand how “Canada led the world with the response to (the) Ebola (crisis in West Africa).”
Ambrose pointed out that “Canada was one of the highest contributors to the WHO ,” during the Harper decade. “Canada was the third largest contributor to the WHO ,” said Ambrose. “And for the size of our country, that’s pretty impressive. So I wouldn’t say we were absent ,” from the world stage during the Harper years.
“One of the things that I’m proud of doing is passing a resolution at the United Nations to create the International Day of the Girl at the United Nations ,” she said of a Canadian-sponsored resolution. Thanks to Canada, the world now celebrates the International Day of the Girl every Oct. 11th.
“We had a lot of difficulty working through the UN on that issue, because many countries aren’t supportive of girls’rights.” And she views “what is happening in Syria and Iraq as ground zero for women’s rights.”
Unequivocal stand When it came to the deliberate and systematic targeting of religious minority communities in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, the Conservative government took a clear and unequivocal stand, said Ambrose. “Mr. Harper called it genocide in 2014-what was happening to the Yezidis and Assyrians and the Shia Muslims in Syria and Iraq ,” she stated.
“And this new government had not said it yet ,” said Ambrose. “So I felt the need to bring the motion (on genocide) forward. And the fact that the Liberals weren’t able to support it was actually quite shocking, considering Canada’s history on these issues.”
The defeat of the motion stood in stark contrast to the stand taken by Canada’s closest allies. The U. S. House of Representatives and the House of Commons in the United Kingdom declared earlier this year that genocide is unfolding in Iraq and Syria.
“I think it was a dark spot on Canada ,” said Ambrose of the motion’s defeat. “It’s about taking a stand on an issue that’s not just of the legality, but it’s also about morality.”
Ambrose is outraged by the sexual enslavement of Yezidi girls, who are being sold by the Islamic State to jihadist as if they were pieces of property. “It’s abhorrent ,” she said.
“There’s no doubt what’s happening to the Yezidis is genocide.
Of course, it’s the same for the Assyrians. Shia Muslims are also being butchered by ISIS. And it’s up to us as legislators and public office holders in a democratic country like Canada to stand up and say that. And call it what it is.”
Why didn’t the Harper government bring forward a genocide motion ? “I think the reason we didn’t was because the government called it one ,” Ambrose answered. “There wasn’t a need to bring forward a motion, because the government had declared it. Once the prime minister of the country said, I think this is a genocide, that’s it.”
However, when the Liberals came to power, Canada withdrew its CF-18s from the air campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.
The purpose of the Conservative genocide motion, said Ambrose, was to get the Trudeau government to acknowledge that religious minorities were being exterminated by the jihadists. Refugee settlement isn’t R2P According to Montreal-based mass atrocity prevention expert Kyle Matthews, Canada is doing good work, helping refugees who have already fled conflict zones in Syria.
“But that’s not doing enough ,” said Matthews, who is the senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, and a Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “Resettling refugees is doing nothing to stop the refugee conveyor belt ,” he said of the constant outflow of refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Ambrose agrees that resettling refugees from host countries that are safe, where they are not facing extermination, should not be considered an application of R2P. And she is also concerned about persecuted minorities in Iraq who have been displaced by Islamic State forces.
“If we can push them (the Liberals) to recognize it as genocide, my hope is that we could use the immigration system in a way to actually help some of the people who are the most vulnerable ,” Ambrose said. “There are ways to bring some of these internally displaced people through our immigration program.”
“They are a lot less in number but much more vulnerable, and they are being persecuted ,” the interim Conservative leader said of religious minority communities in Iraq and Syria. “They are being exterminated, and we can make a difference.”
Ambrose cited the example of Germany, which has resettled more than 1,000 Yezidi girls, who were raped and enslaved by Islamic State fighters. These girls have also lost their families and are now alone in the world. “And I think our government could do a lot more to help ,” she said.
Ambrose has met with members of the Assyrian community in Canada. And she warned that this persecuted ancient group, which is indigenous to Mesopotamia, “may cease to exist if there isn’t some kind of intervention.”
“We’re going to keep pressing this government to help bring some of these persecuted groups over through our immigration systems or refugee system ,” she pledged. And she also promised to continue to press the government to do more on the diplomatic and military fronts.