When the United Nations was established in 1945, there was a strong belief that the new international order should be built on a foundation of human rights. The Charter included several significant provisions to this end. Soon a number of important human rights instruments were adopted, notably the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with Canada’s John Humphrey playing a leading role.
The UN’s human rights machinery has evolved and improved over the years, although it is still far from perfect. But the solution is not to weaken or dissolve the UN. Our goal must be to strengthen the implementation procedures and oversight mechanisms.
Canada in the past has shown great leadership in supporting the UN’s peacekeeping, development and human rights programs. This is a proud tradition, which should be enhanced and continued.
The present government clearly doesn’t want to engage with the UN in any meaningful way. Canadians who want our country to be an active international player can do more than simply prepare for the 2015 election. Civil society groups, think tanks, universities, business associations and, in particular, political parties need to re-think and re-set Canadian policy, to determine where and how Canada can add real value to a rejuvenated UN. This doesn’t mean re-inventing the wheel. There are numerous well-established areas of Canadian involvement over the previous seven decades. But new technologies can also play important parts, strengthening capacities for peacekeeping, preventive diplomacy, civilian protection, responses to humanitarian crises and climate change, among other challenges that will undoubtedly confront tomorrow’s UN.
A US-flagged ice-strengthened super-tanker, the SS Manhattan, sailed through the Northwest Passage in 1969 without seeking Canada’s permission. Canada’s diplomats immediately set to work, crafting a strategy to protect this country’s interests in the event of further challenges to our Northwest Passage claim. Central to the strategy was a close involvement in the negotiation and drafting of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As a result of Canadian leadership, Article 234 of the Convention allows coastal states to enact laws against maritime pollution out to 200 nautical miles from shore in the Arctic. Canadian leadership also resulted in provisions of the UN Convention that provide coastal states with extensive jurisdiction over seabed resources, a matter of no small importance to Canada which has the longest coastline of any country. From the Arctic to the South China Sea, countries around the world accepted the validity of these rules today. And when differences of opinion arise, they do so within a legal framework, which reduces the risk of armed conflict.
Ferry de Kerckhove
The Government of Canada continues to have a difficult relationship with the multilateral world. It is highly disparaging towards the UN, particularly with respect to the Middle East and the security of Israel. The realization that Canada is no longer considered to be reasonable or reliable, even amongst those who share our values, should be an inducement for the government to open up to the multilateral world. The Prime Minister should announce at the UNGA that Canada is “back in the game”, but he will have to mean it.
A. Walter Dorn
Canada’s international reputation as a prolific and proficient peacekeeper has been in decline for over a decade, owing to the country’s disengagement with peacekeeping operations. This loss of experience abroad is compounded by the loss of training at home, leaving Canada unprepared to re-engage with UN peacekeeping at the level it once did. As the peacekeepers of the 1990s retire, and as the courses and exercise that were developed to prepare officers for the unique challenges of peacekeeping are cut, Canada’s future foreign policy options are being undermined and narrowed. Given the international demands of the post-Afghanistan era, there are a number of things the Canadian Forces and government can do to reengage in peacekeeping.
Robert R. Fowler
The “me-first,” insensitive policies of the current government have caused irreparable harm to Canada’s reputation at the United Nations, including our 2010 bid for a seventh term on the UN Security Council.
Canadian environmental policy remains a fiasco. Canada had taken strong stands in the global effort to combat environmental degradation, beginning in Stockholm in 1972, and worked hard to build momentum behind efforts to create a global climate treaty. Our decision in December 2011 to become the first nation to withdraw from Kyoto represented a blow to our international reputation from which we have not begun to recover.
But there are numerous other examples. From an “Israel right or wrong” policy on the Middle East to a statistically irrelevant contribution to UN peacekeeping, there is little wonder why Canada has lost support and why our reputation will not be restored until Canada adopts positions on international issues that are seen to be good for the world as well as good for Canada.
Any discussion of the United Nations invariably concludes with a call for its reform. Would-be reformers should start by taking stock of the multiple ways the UN has changed over time, particularly since the end of the Cold War. Major reforms have been implemented in all areas of UN activity including peacekeeping, human rights, criminal justice as well as humanitarian and development work. The Security Council’s policies and practices have also evolved significantly. Re-building the UN from the ground up, in a Bretton Woods-like exercise, is not a realistic goal to pursue but step-by-step reform is entirely possible.
International climate policy-making is scheduled to culminate in a new climate agreement in 2015, which must be extremely ambitious and maximize international cooperation and must therefore be based on equity, trust, accountability and transparency. Despite those being traditional Canadian values, Canada cannot currently effectively advocate for them owing to its standing as a pariah in international climate policy thanks to its history of trust-breaking. To re-build this trust and become once again a genuine international partner, Canada has to bring its domestic climate policy house in order and fully embrace its responsibility and capacity to act ambitiously and urgently within international cooperation processes on climate change.
Canada’s transition from an ardent champion of the Responsibility to Protect to a silent supporter has left a gap in international efforts to advance R2P – a gap that is noticed by diplomats from the world’s smallest to largest nations. As civilians face a seemingly growing threat of mass atrocities in 2014, Canada should re-engage and help lead efforts to advance R2P and save lives. This article outlines four steps that Canada can take immediately to get back into the R2P game.
In 2015 countries will negotiate a set of Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations. These goals, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals, are set to be universal in nature, applying to all countries, including Canada. The “post-2015” agenda affords Canada a number of opportunities to champion a progressive set of goals, support a robust monitoring and evaluation framework, and engage the UN differently. Monitoring progress on a broad set of SDGs may present an opportunity for a coordinated and coherent approach to UN engagement across sectors and government departments.
H. Peter Langille
After the Cold War, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali presented An Agenda for Peace, with a bold call for preventive action, including new peacekeeping and peacebuilding mechanisms.
The idea of a permanent United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) stemmed largely from Canada’s response to An Agenda for Peace, as well as the Secretary-General’s request for a UN rapid reaction force. Rather than rely on slow, conditional standby peacekeeping arrangements for renting national personnel, a UNEPS would provide the UN with its own standing service.
Demand for UN peacekeeping has increased. Calls for rapid deployment have accompanied most recent operations, but contributing states are seldom ready and/or willing to deploy rapidly. By addressing the critical gap in the first six months of complex emergencies, a UNEPS would help prevent armed conflict and genocide, protect civilians at extreme risk, ensure prompt start-up of demanding operations, and address human needs in areas where others either cannot or will not.
Complex political problems lie at the heart of violent conflict and require political solutions, negotiated and agreed by the parties. The structure of the integrated UN mission –with the military, police and civilian components all reporting to the civilian head of Mission – reflects the primacy of the peace process and stands in sharp contrast to the situation where NATO provides military forces under a separate command structure from the UN mission. The demand for UN Blue Helmets has never been greater but significant shortfalls persist in both personnel and equipment. It is time for Canada to re-engage.
Canada’s global human rights standing has diminished in recent years. Canada’s positions have far too often been more obstructive than constructive. The same is true of Canada’s engagement with the UN human rights system with regards to the country’s own record. The list of unratified human rights treaties grows long. Canada is increasingly dismissive of UN human rights reviews. And there is no political leadership or intergovernmental accords in place to ensure effective implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations. This weakens domestic human rights protection and diminishes Canada’s international leadership. It is time for federal, provincial and territorial ministers to reform Canada’s approach to international human rights.
Canada, with other “like-minded” countries, has played a pivotal role in enlarging the multilateral dialogue on gender equality, building alliances between North and South and encouraging the active participation of civil society, especially at the four World Conferences on Women held since 1975. While Canada played an important role in the creation of UN Women in 2010, in other area’s related to women’s rights, Canada has been retrograde. In the lead up to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the election in 2015, a leaders’ debate on gender equality issues could renew Canada’s leadership.
A growing number of states are joining a new movement, emphasizing humanitarian law, to create a legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons.
Canadian policy is incoherent. On one hand Canada supports NATO doctrine, which continues to maintain that nuclear weapons provide the “supreme guarantee” of security. On the other hand, Canada supports the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which includes important nuclear disarmament obligations.
The humanitarian movement to eliminate nuclear weapons fits in with long-held Canadian values. Canada should join with those states calling for comprehensive negotiations to start now, leading to a legal framework for the verified, irreversible, and enforceable elimination of nuclear weapons.
The process for selecting the United Nations Secretary-General (SG) is sadly lacking. There is no agreed list of qualifications, no search committee to identify prospects, no vetting of potential candidates and little testing of their views and aptitudes – either by the Security Council or the GA – before the final selection is made
In 2006, Canada called for reform to the process of selection, to make it more transparent. The proposals we made then are still relevant now.
Ban Ki-Moon’s successor will take office in January 2017. It will be difficult to change a process that has been “owned” exclusively for so many decades by the Security Council (especially the five permanent members). Nonetheless, given what is at stake and the weaknesses of the current practice, I suggest that Canada should renew and press the effort to address its flaws.
Globally, more than half of all emergency assistance is managed by UN agencies, primarily the World Food Program and UNHCR. Governments have little delivery capacity and the NGO contribution, while important, is patchy and uncoordinated. UN agencies act as a focal point for funders; they serve as coordinators, managers and front-line delivery agencies. They are often the first to arrive and the last to leave, and are frequently the only serious humanitarian delivery mechanism in some of the world’s toughest emergencies.
It is still insufficient. The challenge for UN member states, including Canada, is to find ways to build, strengthen and improve the UN’s herculean response to humanitarian need.
Although reform has been a constant in the near seventy-year history of the United Nations, it has not always been possible to successfully adapt UN institutions to a changing world. Meanwhile a multitude of global problems illustrates the growing need for global institutions that can make timely and effective decisions.
At the heart of the problem is the attitudes of nation-states, that cling to outmoded concepts of national sovereignty and do not attach sufficient priority to the necessary and important steps that would improve global governance. A forward-looking government of Canada would make ‘Rethinking the United Nations’ a central program of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Canada’s convening earlier this year of the global summit, “Every Woman, Every Child,” on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) demonstrates that, when it comes to development, Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the reach, legitimacy and return on investment for his Government through the unique channel of the United Nations.
Canadians also continue to demonstrate a deep reservoir of support for the UN. UNA – Canada opinion surveys canvas a particular segment of Canadian society, i.e. what might be called the “civic core” of Canada: the 25% of Canadians with higher household income, are civically active, older, frequently religious and frequently helping others both informally and directly. They are also significantly more likely to vote. These surveys demonstrate greater than 80% support for a range of the UN’s programs and activities. UNA – Canada’s results are backed up by other polls measuring the views of all Canadians.