Canada can help end Syria’s suf­fer­ing

Four years in, in­ac­tion re­mains un­ac­cept­able, Kyle Matthews and Zach Paikin write.

Montreal Gazette - - Opin­ion - Kyle Matthews is a fel­low at the Cana­dian De­fence and Foreign Af­fairs In­sti­tute. Zach Paikin is a Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor cur­rently work­ing at the In­sti­tute for 21st Cen­tury Ques­tions. twit­ter.com/ kylec­matthews twit­ter.com/zpaikin twit­ter.com/i21C

This month marks the fourth an­niver­sary of the start of Syria’s civil war. Yet an­other year has gone by, and the fail­ure of the world to pro­tect civil­ians in con­flict zones re­mains as no­tice­able as ever. A United Na­tions-backed re­port re­leased this month has found that 80 per cent of Syr­i­ans now live in poverty and the coun­try’s av­er­age life ex­pectancy has dropped by 20 years. Ac­cord­ing to the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, Syr­i­ans now ac­count for the largest pop­u­la­tion of dis­placed peo­ple in the world.

Fol­low­ing the hor­rors of the Rwan­dan geno­cide, the Re­spon­si­bil­ity to Pro­tect (R2P) doc­trine was adopted unan­i­mously by all coun­tries at the UN World Sum­mit in 2005. Its purpose was to pro­tect hu­man rights by trans­form­ing na­tional sovereignty from be­ing an in­vi­o­lable right to be­ing a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect one’s pop­u­la­tion from mass atroc­ity crimes, namely geno­cide, eth­nic cleans­ing, crimes against hu­man­ity and war crimes.

Canada was in­stru­men­tal in cham­pi­oning R2P from the out­set. To­day, at a time in which the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil re­mains par­a­lyzed in the face of an in­creas­ing Syr­ian body count, it can be one of the lead­ing forces in en­sur­ing that pre­vent­ing and halt­ing mass atroc­i­ties re­mains rel­e­vant and im­por­tant in global af­fairs for decades to come.

One of to­day’s prin­ci­pal prob­lems is that the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, de­spite hav­ing an obli­ga­tion to au­tho­rize in­ter­na­tional ac­tion when civil­ians are be­ing slaugh­tered, has failed re­peat­edly to do so. Rus­sia and China have ve­toed four res­o­lu­tions aimed at hold­ing the Syr­ian government re­spon­si­ble for atroc­i­ties.

It is im­per­a­tive that the per­ma­nent mem­bers (P5) of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil reach a con­sen­sus to stop con­flicts from spi­ralling out of con­trol. In our in­ter-con­nected world, Syria demon­strates that atroc­i­ties guar­an­tee that vi­o­lence will spill over across bor­ders and ter­ror­ist groups like the Is­lamic State will take ad­van­tage of the chaos to es­tab­lish safe havens.

In or­der to deal with the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s paral­y­sis over Syria, France put for­ward a pro­posal in 2013 that P5 mem­bers agree to re­frain from us­ing their veto when civil­ians are threat­ened by mass atroc­ity crimes. Sev­eral hu­man rights groups are now lin­ing up to sup­port the French ini­tia­tive. If suc­cess­ful, this would rep­re­sent a ma­jor leap for­ward in the fight to pro­tect pop­u­la­tions from some of the gravest crimes.

Canada must sup­port this ini­tia­tive and should work to bring other coun­tries into a coali­tion that will stand against in­ac­tion.

Dis­agree­ments be­tween P5 coun­tries on pre­vent­ing geno­cide are less ide­o­log­i­cal than they are geopo­lit­i­cal. This isn’t about the the­o­ret­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of sovereignty; it’s about rules of the game in a po­ten­tially mul­ti­po­lar world. Ul­ti­mately, these dis­putes — among the most con­tro­ver­sial to­day in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs — could be an in­di­ca­tor of whether this cen­tury will be one of con­flict or co-op­er­a­tion.

Great pow­ers are nat­u­rally con­cerned with their own self­ish na­tional in­ter­ests. But the tra­jec­tory Syria has taken demon­strates that not one coun­try will come out a win­ner if we con­tinue down the same path of wish­ful think­ing that the Syr­ian con­flict will soon fiz­zle out. Canada should use this op­por­tu­nity to recom­mit to R2P and work to bro­ker some kind of truce and po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment, no mat­ter how far-fetched it might ap­pear in the short run.

If we do not dream big for the world now, we might all be faced with night­mares in the fu­ture.

Fol­low­ing the ... Rwan­dan geno­cide, the R2P doc­trine was adopted unan­i­mously.

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