Canada: no longer a protector of international human rights

There was a time when Canada supported the innocent with humanitarian projects. And after the passing of Nelson Mandela, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien directed the Canadian government to launch an annual conference in support of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The initiative provides an opportunity for world leaders to debate and develop their strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Since Chretien’s day, Canada has taken the lead with regard to new challenges. Canada has become a pioneer among the wealthy industrial countries, acting as an honest broker in international affairs. Canada’s Foreign Policy in a Changing World (2011), the one-time policy paper from the Prime Minister’s Office, reflects the best of Canadian leadership in foreign affairs. Many of the current policies maintained by the Conservative government are reflective of Canadian diplomacy in the post-Chretien era.

However, unlike in the Chretien era, Canada now is only at the beginning of its approach to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. As with the notorious Canadian bombing mission against the Serbs in the Kosovo war of 1999, Canada now seems to be treading a dangerous path, playing the big-brother role in another country, rather than being a team-player alongside its West German, British, German, American and Scandinavian partners. The irony is that Canada has grown to be more compassionate than ever before. During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to Ethiopia, the Canadian government stood on the side of the Ethiopians. It is difficult to imagine any other head of government acting this way in a situation of such emergency.

These days, Ottawa’s foreign policy especially, seems to have drifted into naivete, playing the role of a big brother by granting the Ethiopian regime massive loans, giving it special consideration with regard to freedom of expression and access to emergency aid and now, condemning the new Canadian born Western ally of Ethiopia, Eritrea, for its alleged “human rights abuses”. Eritrea has the longest-running armed conflict against its neighbours and, as a result, has been subjected to a sustained embargo by major powers for more than two decades. But Canada has adopted an absolute friendlier attitude towards Asmara, showing a stark contrast in policy.

In its recent statement published on the United Nations website, Canada expressed its concerns about Eritrea’s “human rights record”, accusing Asmara of running a “systematic and extensive attack” on “generations of Eritreans for seeking an equal place in the life of their country”. Eritrea’s inclusion on the list was approved by the committee on monitoring implementation of resolutions to end the decades-long conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea is also a US state sponsor of terrorism. The regime can also be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is somewhat surprising that Canada has ignored its own experience with violent war and has aligned itself with Eritrea’s government, instead of aligning itself with Ethiopia’s government. In 1989, NATO led a war of extermination against Serbia by targeting civilians in the Serb-held city of Srebrenica. Canadian forces joined in the assault. More than 10,000 Bosnians, mostly civilians, were killed, and hundreds of thousands lost their homes. For Canada to take part in such an attack on civilians would be nothing short of state terrorism. However, Canada’s attitude toward Asmara has been different, not only because it shares some of the same ideology, but also because Asmara is an ally of the Canadian government.

Until now, Canada, despite its membership on the world’s leading security and economic bloc, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), remained a reluctant member of it. Canada was always a member of the G8 but it was never a major player. And with Canada’s neo-liberal, anti-imperialist foreign policy the Canadian government did not take part in any military mission, like Operation Allied Force (1966-68) to protect Egypt and Yemen during Israel’s war of aggression. And the Canadian forces were only present during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

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