Lost UN seat could be a win

| August 2, 2020 | 0 Comments
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in New York in 2017. (Photo: UN PHOTO)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in New York in 2017. (Photo: UN PHOTO)

Many Canadians were disappointed at Canada’s recent loss in the “Western Europe and other” regional race for a two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The late start aside, errors abounded in our campaign. Kaveh Shahrooz, a Harvard-educated lawyer formerly at Global Affairs Canada, criticized it for omitting such issues as Beijing’s mass human rights abuses and Bashar Assad’s massacres in Syria. “(W)e chased a prize of questionable value, betrayed our values in the process and still failed.”
Recent nationwide polling for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute indicates that Canadians believe we should speak up more against gross human rights abuses by Beijing. About 26 per cent are highly negative about the federal government’s performance, while those who were highly positive comprise just 3.7 per cent. Eight in 10 say the government should speak up more; 40 per cent responded that it should speak up “a lot more.”
Conrad Winn, Carleton university professor and founder of COMPAS Research, calls the poll results “stunning,” adding that rarely in Canadian political history has the general public been “so united in their concern as they are presently” about China’s human rights abuses.
Brock University academic Charles Burton terms it a “turning of the tide of Canadian public opinion on China” and “a wake-up call for the federal government….”
Whether a short-lived Security Council (SC) membership has become an empty prize relates partly to the widespread view that the most needed reform to the UN structure is removing all five permanent vetoes. Most of today’s 193 member states appear to feel inadequately represented on the SC, the key body responsible for world peace at a time when there are an estimated 80 million refugees.
Europe beyond Russia, with barely five per cent of the world’s population, still controls (through the U.K. and France) two of the five permanent veto seats. China and Russia abuse their vetoes regularly. The status quo is unfair to countries such as Japan and Germany whose financial contributions to the UN outweigh most of the permanent five (P5) members. The current SC membership denies opportunities to states such as India that have contributed in kind with peacekeeping operations.
For a decade, Germany, India, Japan and Brazil have tried to reform the SC, hoping to benefit from any expansion in the number of permanent members. Canada and Spain sensibly oppose permanent membership for anyone. But without two-thirds of the UN member states supporting change, any of this is probably impossible in the foreseeable future.
Two P5 members are currently among the most difficult global citizens. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is doing everything he can to harm democracies in Europe and beyond. There is strong evidence that the Beijing party-state is incarcerating up to two million Uighurs and other Muslims in numerous concentration and forced-labour camps in Xinjiang. It is crushing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Its concealing of the COVID-19 outbreaks in Wuhan for weeks resulted in the worldwide pandemic. After 557 days of incarceration, Canada’s “Two Michaels” — Kovrig and Spavor — have just been charged with espionage, a crime punishable by life in prison, and are undoubtedly retaliation for Meng Wanzhou’s arrest.
Unencumbered by the need to win a SC seat, the federal government should now work on changing what David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, terms its “almost humiliating posture” towards Beijing.
Canada could take a harder line on dangerous regimes that take political prisoners or kill their citizens. Whether it’s imposing Magnitsky sanctions on their officials, shutting out their politically controlled sensitive technology companies such as Huawei, or leading multilateral actions to isolate them internationally, Canada must speak out against the world’s human rights abusers and push for changes that will keep the worst regimes out of the UN Human Rights Council.
Former secretary-general Ban Ki-moon noted in 2007: “The true measure of the success for the United Nations is not how much we promise, but how much we deliver for those who need us most.”
Better lives for the world’s poor, oppressed and voiceless, including more effective peacekeeping and humanitarian initiatives, should be the system-wide priority.
We must put our lack of an SC seat behind us and focus on pursuing international goals that matter to Canadians and the world. That way, the next time we seek a seat, we can be proud of what we stand for, win or lose.

Former MP David Kilgour was part of the team that lobbied successfully for Canada’s bid for an SC seat in 1999.

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David Kilgour is a former MP and was secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa.

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