Address by the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the United Nations General Assembly
No. 2011/30 – New York City - Monday, September 26, 2011
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Nearly sixty-six years ago, in 1946, one of my predecessors was privileged to represent Canada at the First Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
It is an honour to follow in those footsteps, and to renew Canada’s commitment to the Founding Principles of the United Nations:
- Maintaining international peace and security;
- preventing and removing threats to peace;
- suppressing acts of aggression;
- respecting the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
- strengthening universal peace; and
- promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
This chamber symbolizes the promise of humankind and what we can accomplish by working together to uphold those Founding Principles.
Yet only a short distance from here is an entirely different symbol.
9/11 was a stark reminder that evil exists, that life is fragile, that freedom has enemies, and that the poison of radical terrorism is real.
A reminder that, as far as humankind has advanced, threats to peace, security and human dignity remain.
In this context, I wish to share reflections in three areas:
First, the principles that motivate Canada’s approach to foreign policy.
Second, the basis for Canada’s support of multilateral organizations and multilateral action.
Third, a way forward for the United Nations.
The Founding Principles of these United Nations are more than mere words.
It is our duty to pull them from the printed page, to breathe life into them, and to practise them every day.
In every day practice, it is not easy to uphold principle. It requires struggle and sacrifice.
Some pay the ultimate price.
The world remembers United Nations Secretary General
Dag Hammarskjöld, who was killed 50 years ago this month.
We honour Secretary General Hammarskjöld for his integrity, his principle, and for his great courage in confronting power.
We also remember that it was Canada’s prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who, just a year earlier, stood at this very podium to respond to unjust attacks against Mr. Hammarskjöld.
Canada did not hesitate to defend the office and the person of the Secretary General.
This is the Canadian tradition. Standing for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, or convenient, or expedient.
Over the past century, the world was infected by a lethal combination of utopian ideology and brutal despotism that spawned totalitarian regimes which enslaved their own peoples.
Apologists tried to persuade us that the ideology of communism was benign.
Canadians knew better. We took a stand—for freedom and fundamental human rights.
We stood against oppression in Germany and Ukraine.
We stood with its brave people, and those of the other captive nations of central and Eastern Europe.
Canada does not just “go along” in order to “get along.”
We will “go along,” only if we “go” in a direction that advances Canada’s values: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
And so, Canada would not “go along” to support the farce of a major proliferator of nuclear arms presiding over the Conference on Disarmament.
When North Korea relinquished the presidency, we resumed our engagement in the Conference.
Canada’s tough economic sanctions against this rogue regime remain in place and we continue to advocate reform in how the chair of this important body is selected.
We would not “go along” with appeasement of the former Qadhafi regime, nor would we look the other way when the Lockerbie mass murderer received a hero’s welcome and the Colonel’s embrace.
We would not look the other way as the Qadhafi regime, (blatantly disregarding human rights and the rule of law), waged war on the people of Libya.
Canada backs our principles with action:
- providing military support to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector;
- recognizing the National Transitional Council as Libya's transitional government;
- co-founding the Libya Contact Group; and
- giving early, strong, continuing support to the Libyan people’s struggle against tyranny.
Canada would not simply “go along” or look elsewhere when the Assad regime started killing Syrian men, women and children in a despicable and desperate attempt to cling to power.
We imposed tough sanctions on the regime and its backers.
Canada will not go along with a double standard that castigates some U.N. members for alleged failings while ignoring the notorious abuses of others.
We supported the aspirations of those peoples who sought for themselves and their countries brighter futures during the Arab Spring that just passed.
But we will not go along with the unilateral actions of the Palestinian Authority.
Just a few days ago, the Quartet laid the foundation for a return to negotiations.
Our government’s position has been clear—the only solution to this issue is one that is negotiated by the two parties themselves.
We continue to encourage both sides to accept these principles and return to direct talks based on a two state solution without delay or preconditions.
We uphold Israel’s right to exist.
We uphold its fundamental right, like any member state, to defend innocent civilians against acts of terrorism.
Just as fascism and communism were the great struggles of previous generations, terrorism is the great struggle of ours.
And far too often, the Jewish state is on the front line of our struggle and its people the victims of terror.
Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens.
The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of “going along” just to “get along.”
It was accommodation and appeasement that allowed fascism to gather strength. As Winston Churchill said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
We respect state sovereignty, but Canada will not “go along” or look the other way when a minority is denied its human rights or fundamental freedoms.
It is our common duty to uphold the rights of the afflicted. To give voice to the voiceless.
As citizens of the global community, we have a solemn duty to defend the vulnerable, to challenge the aggressor, to protect and promote human rights and human dignity, at home and abroad:
Women, Christians, Bahá'í and other victims of persecution in Iran.
Roman Catholics priests and other Christian clergy, and their laity, driven to worship underground in China.
Christians being driven out of Iraq by Al Qaeda and Copts being assaulted and killed in Egypt.
In Burma, the regime discriminates against several forms of Buddhism and restricts the activities of Muslims. In other places, the Ahmadiyya community faces violence.
Gays and lesbians threatened with criminalization of their sexuality in Uganda.
And other minorities subjected to persecution, oppression or violence.
Our nationalities are many, but we share one humanity.
I am pleased to report that Canada will be creating an Office of Religious Freedom within our Government at the heart of my own department.
The office will promote freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as key objectives of Canadian foreign policy.
The long history of humanity has proven that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable.
As Franklin Roosevelt observed on the eve of global war: “Where freedom of religion has been attacked, the attack has come from sources opposed to democracy.
“Where democracy has been overthrown, the spirit of free worship has disappeared. “And where religion and democracy have vanished, good faith and reason in international affairs have given way to strident ambition and brute force.”
And this brings me to Canada’s support of multilateral institutions and multilateral action.
Some years ago, a former Secretary General referred to “enlightened multilateralism as the guarantor, not the enemy, of state sovereignty and the integrity of state.”
State sovereignty is not created by multilateral institutions.
Instead, multilateral institutions exist and derive legitimacy from the independent decisions of sovereign states.
Canada’s position in this regard was explained by our Prime Minister just last year.
Referring to multilateral action to address the world economic crisis, Stephen Harper said: “I saw world leadership at its best, a glimpse of a hopeful future—one where we act together for the good of all. The world we have been trying to build since 1945. The world we want for our children and grandchildren. It can be done if we act together. This is ‘enlightened sovereignty.’”
Multilateral institutions and multilateral action result from a collection of sovereign decisions based on individual states’ own interests: Not narrow self-interest in sovereignty’s name, but an expanded view of mutual interest in which there is room for all to grow and to prosper.
Canada calls this “enlightened sovereignty.”
It is the natural extension of enlightened self-interest.
As Canada’s Prime Minister noted when he addressed the General Assembly last year, the U.N. Charter is animated by “the idea that what’s good for others may well be the best way to pursue one’s own interests.”
In other words, enlightened sovereignty.
The world knows that we can accomplish great things by working together.
This year, collective action, under U.N. sanction, helped to limit the loss of life in Libya, and ultimately ended a criminal, illegitimate regime’s war on the people it claimed to represent.
Canada was proud to take part in its demise.
Our Royal Canadian Air Force flew 10 percent of the total strike sorties against Qadhafi’s forces, and our Royal Canadian Navy helped enforce the maritime blockade.
Canada has paid heavily—both in dollar terms and in priceless human toll—to fulfill our U.N. obligation to support the lawful government of Afghanistan.
We used our chairmanship of the G-8 to reach out to leaders from Africa and the Americas and to secure an agreement to enact the Muskoka Initiative for maternal, newborn and child health.
This progress will help to meet a Millennium Development Goal to reduce the appalling mortality among mothers and children in developing countries.
Working with like-minded nations, Canada continues to make significant financial contributions toward peace, humanitarian assistance, development aid and security in the Sudans.
Collective action does not mean uniformity.
For example, Canada is working closely with like-minded countries to advance human rights and democracy in Burma.
At the same time, we imposed the toughest sanctions in the world against that country’s repressive military regime.
Similarly, when Canada placed strong restrictions on Syria’s current regime, we acted independently, but in close consultation and cooperation with other nations.
In the defence of freedom and human rights, form cannot prevail over substance.
The determinant is what route produces the best results.
While multilateral action should be preferred, failure to achieve consensus must not prevent the willing from acting to uphold human rights and the Founding Principles of the United Nations.
Margaret Thatcher was once reported to have said: “Consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes…”
This leads to my third topic: the challenges to the relevance and effectiveness of this organization.
Canada has been a consistently reliable and responsible participant in U.N. initiatives around the world.
We are the seventh-largest contributor to U.N. finances. The citizens of the world deserve that the U.N. abide by the same principles observed by so many governments of member states:
- accountability, transparency and ethics;
- financial responsibility and fiscal austerity;
- efficiency and the elimination of waste and duplication;
- regular reviews to sunset unnecessary, redundant and obsolete mandates;
- and zero tolerance for conflicts of interest, fraud and corruption.
Yet the challenges faced by this organization extend beyond financial probity and operational effectiveness.
This organization is a forum for debate and dialogue, but it must also be a force for positive action to make the world a better place.
As former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker told this Assembly during his defence of the world’s persecuted minorities: “We are not here in this assembly to win wars of propaganda. We are here to win victories for peace.”
The U.N.’s relevance and effectiveness are imperilled when the Founding Principles are observed in word but not in deed.
So it is when the presidency of the disarmament conference passes to a regime involved in the illicit transfers of weapons, material and technology.
Or when Iran, which mocks the values of this organization through outrages such as refusing to allow entry to UN observers on human rights, is permitted to seek leadership roles, such as a vice-presidency of the General Assembly and a spot on the Commission on Population and Development.
Or when objection is taken, on petty, procedural or process-based grounds, to reporting that speaks about credible allegations of war crimes committed in Sri Lanka.
Or when blatant violators of women’s rights are welcomed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often despite reservations that are incompatible with the object and purpose of the convention.
Canada has consistently opposed the debasement of multilateral institutions by conduct that is inconsistent with their values.
For example, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Canada’s principled refusal to support membership in the Commonwealth of Nations by South Africa’s apartheid regime.
The greatest enemies of the United Nations are not those who publicly repudiate its actions.
The greatest enemies of the United Nations are those who quietly undermine its principles and, even worse, by those who sit idly, watching its slow decline.
We cannot sit idly.
Canada is a vigorous defender of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
As our Prime Minister remarked earlier this month: “We are not a country that makes war for gain or for territory. We do not fight for glory. If we covet honour, it is only a reputation for doing the right thing in a good cause.
That is all.
And that is enough.
If I may be so bold, that is why the countries of the world came together in the United Nations. To do the right thing in a good cause. And that cause is peace, justice, freedom and opportunity for all.
Thank you / Merci
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