On June 25 the United Nations General Assembly will hold its 2018 debate on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Unlike in previous years, when the UN GA convened an “interactive dialogue” (a series of statements by member states and experts), this year’s debate will lead to a resolution on the Responsibility to Protect.
This may seem unremarkable, but in today’s arcane, ungoverned international legal order the adoption of a UN GA resolution marks an important step – an indication of wider acceptance of the R2P normative framework by the international community.
The World Federalists have supported the progressive development of the Responsibility to Protect since it was first proposed by a Canada-sponsored international commission in 2001. Governments adopted the R2P principle in the UN Reform World Summit Outcome Document of 2005. According to this doctrine,
1. The State has the primary responsibility for the protection of populations within its territory from atrocity crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. And if a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
The present government has sought to restore Canadian support for R2P. Importantly, Canada has identified an R2P “focal point,” joining 60 other governments that have similarly earmarked a staff capacity within government tasked with overseeing R2P implementation and norm development.
However, as with so many international issues this government prioritizes, the rhetoric and promises exceed the reality of actual Government of Canada measures to implement.
In the R2P context, the recent report by Bob Rae, Special Envoy to Myanmar was disappointing. Rae, and the Government of Canada announcements in response to his report, simply failed to address the atrocities committed in Myanmar as an R2P issue, to assess the humanitarian disaster through an “R2P lens.” In particular Rae, and Canada, failed to conclude that there was “state responsibility” for the massive displacement of over 700,000 Rohingya.
Rae’s report, and Canada’s response, focused primarily on the need to increase humanitarian assistance to those already displaced and living in neighbouring Bangladesh.
It simply defies common sense to suggest that such a large campaign of ethnic cleansing could be carried out without the apparatus of the state military and other agencies. But acknowledging the responsibility of the state of Myanmar for these crimes would have led to calls to take additional action against Myanmar, such as economic sanctions. It was a program of sanctions that years ago led to the initial steps toward that country’s democratization. Clearly Canada didn’t want to go there at this time.
And so, when a government so clearly “talks the talk” but doesn’t “walk the walk,” one is left wondering just what if anything Canada does see as its priorities for advancing the Responsibility to Protect.
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