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Irwin Cotler, MP

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Canada’s responsibility to protect Darfur (National Post)

Posted on November 16, 2007

Last week, the second anniversary of global leaders’ collective endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine was marked by a student-led rally on Parliament Hill urging the government “not to divert its eyes from the genocide in Darfur.” Sudan’s heroic human rights figure, Salih Mahmoud Osman, has just made an impassioned appeal at the Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide at McGill University for “Canada to act now — tomorrow will be too late.”
Yet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Sept. 25 address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City failed even to mention the African continent, let alone the genocide in Darfur, even as the killing fields intensify.
Sudanese forces recently razed the village of Haskanita, displacing 15,000 civilians and killing 100. A subsequent attack on the town of Muhajeria killed at least 45 people, displacing countless others. Andrew Natsios, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, described to me a “poisonous atmosphere” on the eve of peace negotiations this month in Libya.
Moreover, some 400,000 Darfuris have already perished in this genocide; four million are on a desperate life-support system; mass atrocities, including systematic rape and the destruction of villages, continue unabated. The international community is dithering while tenuous peace accords crumble and Darfuris die.
The Conservative government’s failure to make Darfur a priority is especially disturbing given Canada’s role as R2P’s principal architect. The doctrine authorizes international collective action to “protect [a state’s] population from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” if that state is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, or worse, as in the case of Sudan, if that state is the author of such criminality.
The inaction of the international community in Darfur is a betrayal of the Sudanese people and a repudiation of R2P. We must ensure that Responsibility to Protect is not empty rhetoric, but rather an effective commitment to protect people and promote peace. Canada should lead by example in Darfur through the following 10 steps:
-Participating in the mobilization and organization of the UN-authorized 26,000-member joint UN-African Union Protection Force. Canadian officials should work with our African counterparts to help ensure that this deployment is effective and expedited.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi advised me that Ethiopia could contribute 5,000 troops to Darfur, and suggested that Canada could reinforce the mission by providing modern technology, logistical support and equipment. Proactive co-operation with our regional allies is crucial for the hybrid mission’s success.
-Increasing Canada’s financial and military contributions to the current AU mission until the hybrid protection force deploys. Acute weapon shortages have rendered AU soldiers unable to defend themselves against recent brutal attacks. Desertion continues to undermine the mission, since many soldiers are infrequently or never paid.
-Training mission personnel to handle issues of sexual-and gender-based violence. Sexual violence–an endemic feature of the crisis in Darfur — remains largely ignored and sometimes aggravated by AU troops and Sudanese police.
-Enhancing Canada’s humanitarian contribution, particularly given the federal government’s recently announced $14-billion surplus. Darfur’s humanitarian assistance system is itself on life support as financial contributions from donor countries lag behind UN targets, exacerbating severely under-funded humanitarian aid organizations.
-Hold Sudanese genocidaires accountable for their crimes. Sudan’s designation of Ahmed Haroun– charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity and genocide–as Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and the person responsible for hearing human rights complaints, is scandalous. The culture of impunity must end.
-Promoting a greater role for the UN Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide–mandated to monitor Sudan and to prevent other Darfurs, yet hampered by a limited staff and severe underfunding.
-Collaborating with UN Human Rights Council members to ensure the council’s efficacy and fair-mindedness. The council has yet to adopt one resolution condemning the crimes against humanity in Darfur, continuing to afford the world’s major human rights violators exculpatory immunity.
-Negotiating for the release of key rebel figures such as Suleiman Jamous, whose presence in negotiations may stimulate co-operation among rebel groups.
-Using Canada’s significant power at both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to condition debt assistance upon Sudan’s cessation of mass atrocities in Darfur. It is shocking that international financial institutions proceed with business as usual.
-Implementing travel bans, freezing assets, refusing visas and supporting selected sanctions targeting Sudan’s petroleum and financial sectors, as will as a divestment policy, will send a clear Canadian message to Sudan, .
Realizing that the 1994 Rwandan massacre was a preventable genocide led Canada to promote R2P to underpin the moral injunction of “never again.” Should the international community –including Canada–fail to act now, “never again” will become “yet again.”
-Irwin Cotler is member of Parliament (Mount Royal) and the Liberal party’s critic for human rights. A former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, he is the founder and chair of the Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition.

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