Tue 11 Dec 2007
Byline: John Ivison
Column: In Ottawa
Source: National Post
Paul Martin was often blasted for promising far more than he was able to deliver. By contrast, Stephen Harper has attempted to do the polar opposite. In general, it is a rule of thumb that has stood the current Prime Minister in good stead.
But the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, is one case in which Mr. Martin was energetic in pushing for a solution, committing money and equipment to support a lasting peace, while Mr. Harper has done little more than pay lip-service to protecting human rights in the region. Mr. Harper considers Colombia, 5,000 km away, "in Canada’s backyard," yet Africa is clearly not a priority for this government.
Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and the Liberals used the occasion to attack the government for its lack of leadership in Sudan, as the country teeters on the brink of civil war once more. Glen Pearson, the Liberal MP for London North Centre who has adopted three children from Sudan, said Darfur is the number one human rights issue in the world now and that any government that proclaims an interest in humanitarian assistance should feel obliged to act.
Mr. Pearson was joined yesterday by former justice minister Irwin Cotler and Liberal Senators Mobina Jaffer and Romeo Dallaire, who were both special envoys to the peace process in Sudan under Mr. Martin.
The case made by Mr. Cotler for strengthening the United Nations/African Union mission in Darfur was compelling.
He lambasted the decision by the Sudanese government to give responsibility for humanitarian affairs to a minister who has an outstanding warrant against him for crimes against humanity, effectively giving him control over two million people he is said to have been responsible for displacing.
"There can be no greater scandalous or dramatic expression of the culture of impunity [in Sudan]," he said.
Sen. Dallaire said the peacekeeping mission was destined for failure, despite the commitment of 26,000 troops and police, because the UN doesn’t have the equipment or trained personnel it needs to move the troops around the country.
Canada has committed $48-million to the mission under the Conservatives but Sen. Dallaire said the country has the capacity and obligation to do more.
He said the Canadian Forces have resources that have not been committed to Afghanistan and could be contributed to the Darfur mission, including a squadron of Bell 412 helicopters, a company of 10-tonne all-terrain vehicles and 40 or 50 trained officers to help coordinate the UN/AU force.
The Martin government committed $260-million in spring 2005 when the peace deal between the Sudanese government and southern rebels was signed, as well as loaning 105 armoured cars to the AU mission. Sen. Dallaire said that kind of commitment is now missing.
"Developed countries are staying out of it, saying that it’s too complex and not in their interests. [The result is]…the mission is going to fail," said the man who has seen the horrific consequences up close when UN missions in Africa go down in flames.
The issue dominated Question Period yesterday and both the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Bernier, were forced on the defensive. Mr. Harper said he has been heavily engaged in Darfur, raising the issue at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda and with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Kimoon.
Mr. Bernier was sufficiently discomfited to resort to the old smear tactic of blaming the previous Liberal government for being guilty of "lots of talk and no action". Except in this case, the Liberals have the government bang to rights.
The Foreign Affairs Minister touted the Conservative record on human rights promotion in Burma, Iran and China.
This is part of the government’s proud boast that their foreign policy can be differentiated from what has gone before because it combines principles, practicality and leadership. Some Conservative would have preferred that Mr. Harper concentrate more on the practicality aspect — protecting the security and prosperity of Canadians — and less on trying to make Canada a moral superpower.
But having placed freedom, democracy and human rights at the centre of Canada’s foreign policy, there is a strong case to be made that the Conservatives should award the number one humanitarian crisis in the world today more than the few helmets, vests and maps that constitute our current contribution.