Wednesday, June 11, 2008
We must hold the UN to a higher standard
Canada’s support for the United Nations has been a pillar of our foreign policy since 1945. The Atlantic Charter, signed by Roosevelt and Churchill in the midst of the Second World War, expressed the deep hopes of a world battered by hatred and vicious men seeking world domination, a world seeking a new order based on justice and freedom. That dream came to fruition at the San Francisco Conference in 1945, where Canada and Canadians played a key role.
Sixty three years later, the world faces challenges of poverty, environmental degradation and nuclear proliferation. Some countries and leaders are still determined to seek solutions to problems by promoting conflict and violence.
The United Nations inevitably reflects this world in all its imperfections. Its membership is now close to 200, from the giants to the tiniest atoll, and its ability to work effectively has been deeply challenged in each decade of its existence.
Canada’s underlying internationalism is not based on a fad. It stems from our experience of two world wars, our deep dependence on the rest of the world for our security and prosperity, our international population, and the simple fact that the great challenges of our time cannot be solved by us alone. We are in the world and the world is in us.
So it would, on the face of it, seem that the government of Canada’s decision not to participate in the planning for the 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism–colloquially known as "Durban II" — and to indicate now that we won’t be present at the conference in Geneva next April, is a real departure from our values and interests.
Not so. The reality of the internal politics of the UN is that the countries of the world, large and small, can use the power of the majority to make decisions that are actually harmful to the very causes they are supposed to promote.
So it was in the 1970s, when the UN General Assembly passed the infamous resolution that equated Zionism with racism and colonialism. And so it was again when the original 2001 Durban Conference was allowed to degenerate into a
festival of anti-Semitism pure and simple, and so became an affront to anyone interested in human rights and human dignity.
The President of Iran said in Rome last week at a conference on the food crisis that "Zionists" were responsible for the shortages and inflation devastating the lives of the world’s poorest billion. Anti-Semitism, which many thought was a horrific scourge finally extinguished by the roar of "never again" after 1945, is in fact a chronic condition, sometimes less prevalent but always capable of erupting. Each generation produces its demagogues only too happy to let loose the demons of hate.
Its proponents are not just lonely crackpots trying out some outlandish conspiracy theory on the internet. They are presidents of countries and leaders of governments.
It is true that racism of all kinds is a terrible thing, that mass hatred and stereotyping of Arabs, Muslims, blacks, Chinese, and indeed every racial group are constant threats to the peace and well-being of each of us as individuals and to people being able to live together. Hatred never sleeps. Neither should its opponents.
But at Durban, there were no NGOs or governments prepared to make these other examples of racism respectable. There were no booths extolling the benefits of Islamophobia or slavery. Only Israel and the Jews were singled out as legitimate targets. The same thing will happen again, because too many governments can’t resist the temptation to throw mud, and worse.
It would be wrong, not just naive, of Canada to deny this difficult reality. This conference will increase race hatred and misunderstanding. It will detract from the hard work necessary to achieve peace in the Middle East. It will give yet another soapbox for the peddlers of false history and vacuous analysis. The best one could hope for from Durban II would be a series of platitudinous resolutions astonishing only in their hypocrisy. The worst would be another celebration of Israel-bashing, with a healthy dose of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion thrown in for good measure.
Canada can be a better friend of the UN by insisting on a higher standard. There are far better ways to spend time and money.
We should draw the line. Enough already.
-Bob Rae is the MP for Toronto Centre and the Liberal party critic for foreign affairs.