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Will Canada Uphold R2P in CAR?

The Canadian government should be clear on what it is willing to contribute to the peacekeeping mission, argues Kirsty Duncan.

By: /
26 May, 2014
By: Kirsty Duncan
Liberal MP for the Toronto riding of Etobicoke North

Two months ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited the Central African Republic (CAR) and condemned the slow response of the international community.

She asked, “How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?”

Thus far, over 140,000 people have been killed in CAR and 80 percent of the Muslim population has been driven from their homes or murdered. On April 29, 2014, two people were killed and six others injured following an attack on an 18-truck, humanitarian convoy, relocating 1,300 Muslims from Bangui’s PK 12 neighbourhood to safer country.

More recently, new fighting in northern CAR has displaced thousands. As of May 2, more than 23,000 people were displaced in the Kaga Bandoro area, nearly double the number from the month before; young people in the area are also at risk of recruitment by armed forces as combatants.

This year, UNICEF and partners have already secured the release of more than 1,000 children from armed groups or more than five times the number of children released in 2013.

While the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, it seems to have forgotten the lesson that, in critical cases, it must act early to prevent further mass atrocities including in CAR and South Sudan.

For too long, the international community has sat idly by and watched atrocities unfold in CAR, rather than assisting in rescuing this failed state and making the long-term commitment to create a functioning, responsive, and accountable security sector, a proper army and police force, and building a functioning justice system alongside other essential public institutions.

The violence in CAR has become increasingly sectarian and brutal. Ongoing fighting and human rights violations have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and left 2.5 million in need of humanitarian aid—the equivalent of Vancouver’s population.

Throughout the country, violence has escalated in plain sight of diplomats, foreign observers, peacekeepers, and the world’s media. Speaking of CAR, Dr. Tahir Wissanji of Médecins sans Frontières noted, “[the people here] don’t die of bullets—they die because of a lack of will to help them.”

On April 10, 2014, the United Nations Security Council at last adopted a resolution to authorize the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation of almost 12,000 by September 2014 to build on the work of the African Union-led International Support Mission in CAR (MISCA), French forces, and the EU forces that have joined them. In light of events on the ground in CAR, we must ask difficult questions of the government in Ottawa.

First, we should all ask whether the number of peacekeepers is enough or whether it is too few as well as whether September may be too late for these forces to make a significant difference. On a per capita basis, for example, this force represents a small fraction of the number of peacekeepers sent to Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s. With that said, for years we have seen how even the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission has struggled to contribute to lasting peace in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

In light of these events, we must also ask where Canada’s voice has gone. Canada was once a vocal advocate for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the political framework that offers hope that ‘Never Again’ will, finally, be taken seriously and become a reality.And for four months, I have repeatedly asked the government in Ottawa what more it could do to provide humanitarian aid, reduce the violence, rebuild civil society, and support peace and reconciliation in CAR. Aside from statements of concern and condemnation, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom does not appear to have been active in CAR. If not to actively deal with the type of appalling inter-religious violence occurring in places such as CAR, for what purpose has the government created this office?

We have also asked what criteria the government would use to make a decision on whether or not to provide logistical, peacekeeping support, or further support funding of the AU’s current troops on the ground in the country and have yet to receive an adequate response.

When liberal critic of Canada’s foreign affairs, Marc Garneau, asked on April 28 in the House of Commons about Canada’s potential participation in the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights Deepak Obhrai responded: “…Who is going to pay to have all of these soldiers go out there? Is it Canadian taxpayers?” Clearly, cost cannot be the only consideration with regard to Ottawa’s decision to prevent ethnic cleansing. We also know that Canadians continue to view peacekeeping as an important role for our military.

Most recently, on May 16, I asked in Parliament whether the government would provide peacekeeping support in line with our capabilities, if asked. This time the Parliamentary Secretary responded with the following: “Canada has been contributing, and we will continue to contribute, to the United Nations for peacekeeping forces for the Central African Republic. I understand that the next batch of UN forces will be arriving in September, and as always, Canada has been contributing our share to United Nations peacekeeping.”

Does this signal movement? Canadians should demand to know whether the government plans to support in any substantial way the United Nations peacekeeping mission. Will the government provide additional, non-budgetary, assistance beyond its assessed and financial contributions? The government has repeatedly ignored our requests about the possibility of airlift assistance—as it provided to efforts in Mali—and other resources, despite the fact that these could make a substantial difference on the ground.

Our allies—and not just France, the UK, and the United States—are stepping up by taking a more active role in CAR. For example, Germany has authorized the deployment of up to 80 troops, air transport, and a hospital plane to support the EU’s efforts; it has ruled out the use of German forces in combat. Will Canada send specialized military assets and will it help build the capacity of Francophone African peacekeepers as we used to do at the École Maintien de la Paix in Bamako, Mali?

The United States has also appointed Ambassador Symington as Special Representative for CAR to coordinate U.S. strategy toward CAR to end the violence, address humanitarian needs, and establish legitimate governance in CAR. Will Canada send a high-level representative to CAR (or as part of a delegation) to demonstrate that Canada is taking the conflict seriously and that we will not accept the status quo?

And, most importantly, we must ask whether Canada will uphold the objectives of R2P so that 20 years from now we are not, as we are today, left asking if we did enough.

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