Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 38th Parliament,
Volume 142, Issue 11

Tuesday, November 2, 2004
The Honourable Daniel Hays, Speaker

Speech from the Throne

Motion for Address in Reply as Amended Adopted

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak in response to the motion on the Speech from the Throne to open the Thirty-eighth Parliament of Canada. The Speech from the Throne covered a lot of ground. When Her Excellency came to address this chamber, she went through a number of issues and areas that are of great importance to all of us here and all the people of our great country.

I should like to focus on one specific part of the speech. I would draw the attention of my honourable colleagues to an area that is very close to my heart, and that is the section of the throne speech entitled “A Role of Pride and Influence in the World.” This section deals with enhancing Canada’s ability to respond to crises when needed and building on Canada’s role in multilateral institutions. I want to delve a little deeper into what this means and talk about what Canada is doing to reignite the debate on humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect.

Honourable senators, I have had the opportunity to visit areas where people are desperate for even the basics of life. I have seen and heard from women and girls who are under the constant threat of rape. I myself have also been a victim of an oppressive regime that robbed me of my most fundamental rights.

I know that the world needs more of the values that Canada stands for. Canada has helped me by giving me refuge in a time of need. It allowed me to live in a place where I could grow and flourish without sacrificing the important cultural traditions that make me who I am. Since I arrived in this country, I have seen how Canada can go forth effectively into the world and work with our allies and regional forces to make life better, safer and more secure for people across the world.

We are confronted with situations that are as politically complex and dangerous as they are urgent and serious. Often, these situations involve failed or failing states where ongoing conflict has seen multiple generations who know nothing but war and bloodshed.

I commend the government for the decision to increase the size of Canada’s peacekeeping forces by 5,000 regular forces and 3,000 reserve forces. This means that Canada will be able to go where it is needed and continue to do the good work that we have seen in Afghanistan, Haiti and Bosnia.

All of the peacekeepers in the world will be of no use, however, if we do not do more to determine when it is appropriate to intervene for humanitarian reasons. The question of when to intervene is a difficult one because it often conflicts directly with the rights of sovereign states to the integrity of their borders.

This is where the international responsibility to protect becomes important. What is the responsibility to protect? The responsibility to protect is a concept that balances the principles of non-intervention in the territory of sovereign states with the responsibility of the international community to intervene in situations of massive human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, genocide and internal conflict.

The responsibility to protect civilian populations lies first with the state itself. State sovereignty implies responsibility, and it is assumed that the primary responsibility of any sovereign nation is to provide security for its civilian populations. However, when the people of a state are suffering serious harm as a result of a humanitarian crisis and the state is either unable or unwilling to act to alleviate the situation, the principle of non-intervention in a sovereign state must yield to the international responsibility to protect.

The question, honourable senators, is not, does the international community have the right to intervene, but rather, is the state taking the responsibility to protect seriously.

In many situations, we find that sovereign powers have forsaken the responsibility to protect their civilian populations or even been the authors of their own misfortune. This is one of the reasons why Canada must strive to be engaged in the world and work to meet its responsibility globally.

As the Secretary General of the United Nations, Koffi Annan, has said:

Few would disagree that both the defence of humanity and the defence of sovereignty are principles which must be supported.

Alas, that does not tell us which should prevail when they are in conflict.

Humanitarian intervention is a sensitive issue … fraught with political difficulty … but surely no legal principle — not even sovereignty — can ever shield crimes against humanity.

The responsibility to protect as a concept was first put forward in the 2002 final report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. This commission was established by the Government of Canada and other Canadian supporters in 2000 to meet the Secretary General’s challenge to examine the right of humanitarian intervention. In its final report, the commission argued that, in situations where states are unable or unwilling to protect their civilian population from mass atrocities, or where the state itself is the perpetrator, the international community has a responsibility to act.

This naturally leaves us with several questions, such as when a state is deemed to have failed in its responsibility and what sorts of international responses are appropriate in different circumstances. This is why the commission broke the responsibility to protect into three more specific responsibilities.

The first, and the most important, the responsibility to prevent, involves the responsibility to address the root causes of internal conflicts and other man-made crises that take place when a population is at risk.

The second, the responsibility to react, refers to the responsibility of the international community to intervene — whether by sanctions, diplomatically or militarily — in situations of compelling human need. Part of this principle is that international responsibility be exercised in the least obstructive possible way, while still addressing the situation at hand.

The third and last, the responsibility to rebuild, means ensuring that not only the consequences of any intervention are addressed but also that the root causes of any humanitarian disaster are addressed after an intervention takes place.

The commission was clear on the fact that military intervention should only be used in cases where the harm to human beings is occurring or imminently likely to occur. Examples of this kind of harm include large-scale loss of life or large-scale ethnic cleansing. Other tests must also be met when the international community considers intervening in a sovereign state. We must be sure that we have the right intentions and that we are using the appropriate means, with the appropriate authority and a good chance of success.


The most appropriate forum in which to discuss this sort of intervention is the United Nations, and the appropriate authority for military intervention should be the exclusive province of the United Nations Security Council. The United Nations offers the best chance of assuring that the appropriate means of intervention are chosen and that the expertise of regional authorities can be engaged. The best solutions can only be achieved if all nations acknowledge the responsibility to protect and to commit to giving situations where humanitarian intervention may be warranted the quick and thoughtful considerations that they are due.

We have seen the consequences of failing to take the responsibility to protect seriously in Rwanda. To once again quote the Secretary General of the United Nations in his address on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: “We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenceless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago.”

Honourable senators, such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life.

What can we do? First, we must acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide. Neither the United Nations Secretariat, nor the Security Council, nor the member states in general, nor the international media paid enough attention to the gathering signs of disaster. Still less did we take timely action. When we recall such events and ask why no one intervened, we should address the question not only to the United Nations but also to its member states. No one can claim ignorance. All who were playing a part in world affairs at the time should ask what more they could have done; how they would react the next time; and what they are doing now to make it less likely there will be a next time.

Honourable senators, what is Canada’s role? The values of Canadians are such that they want to see a foreign policy in which the security of people is valued at least as highly as the security of states. We see the responsibility to protect as a responsibility not only to prevent humanitarian crisis from occurring but also to step in when necessary to ensure that the security of the people is protected, even when the state fails in that role. However, in situations where governments have failed to protect their citizens or have perpetrated abuses upon themselves, peacekeeping forces alone cannot always meet the challenges we face. For peacekeeping to be effective, there must be a peace to keep.

The Speech from the Throne called specific attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur in Western Sudan. As Canada’s special envoy to Sudan, I have not only become familiar with the issues that surround this crisis but also intimately connected with the people who suffer in this crisis. When I went to the refugee camps in Darfur earlier this summer, I was inspired at once by the people I met and saddened by the conditions in which they are forced to live. Though they suffered terribly without so much as the necessities of life, they still remained compassionate and strong. I was amazed that even with the adversity they faced, they still came to greet me and offer me what little they had as their guest.

The Darfuris conducted themselves with great dignity, even though they faced such tremendous adversities. These are the special people of Sudan. Like many people around the world, they are looking for someone to protect them and to restore their security. I have seen first-hand in Darfur that Canada can play an important role in bringing relief.

In Darfur, Canada has been able to help the African Union deploy security forces. Though the situation remains desperate, the presence of the African Union troops has begun to restore hope. This is a prime example of how the responsibility to protect can function, even in politically challenging circumstances. In Darfur, we have seen a state that has failed in its responsibility to protect its people. Now, with the help of Canada and other international partners, regional forces have been able intervene to meet that responsibility. In the Prime Minister’s reply to the Speech from the Throne, he went further into this concept. He said:

…we will speak out for reform of the United Nations. We will speak out for the establishment of guidelines to enable the international community to intervene more swiftly and effectively inside sovereign states that perpetrate or fail to stop massive human suffering….

It is the concept of responsibility to protect that we are bringing to the United Nations and to other multilateral institutions. Canada is working to reignite the debate on humanitarian intervention.

Honourable senators, this debate is essential. Without it, the world runs the risk of paralysis in the face of situations like the genocide in Rwanda just over 10 years ago. Canada has so much that it can bring to this debate. For example, we are helping in Africa by training a regional force to preserve peace in tenuous situations. Unless the basic conditions of human security are met, there can be no development and no prosperity. That is why it is so important to ensure that we not only work to prevent humanitarian crises like the one in Darfur but also to ensure that the world community has the essential tools to intervene when it is necessary to do so.

The responsibility to protect is an essential part of making the world into a place where people of all nations can count on their fellow human beings of all nationalities to step in and protect them when their security is threatened. The willingness to accept this responsibility and to take a leadership role is part of what makes Canada the best country in the world.

The Speech from the Throne has reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to leadership in promoting the responsibility to protect so that it becomes the norm for humanitarian intervention throughout the world. Canada has the ability, the credibility and the knowledge to play this role better than any other country in the world. If Canada will not take this role, honourable senators, who will?