Canada abstains, first shot at UN reform

Original Article:

By Alex Harris

Something extraordinary happened at the UN on July 21 and Canada was at the centre of it.

In a UN General Assembly vote demanding Israel tear down the security barrier ruled illegal -- in a non-binding opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- Canada voted to abstain.

Canada did not accede to pressures from the predictable voting blocs and the EU, who voted in favour of the resolution, or pressures exerted by the US and Israel, who voted against it. Given the publicity and the implications of the vote, Canada's stand was even more remarkable.

Canada's abstention is a not so subtle demand to change to the status quo in both the region and the UN. The decision to abstain from endorsing the resolution or condemning it, reflects a singularly realistic view and interpretation of today's realities in the Middle East conflict-- something sorely lacking in the UN today.

The security barrier built by Israel is at once a necessity and a tragedy.

Israeli civilians, long targeted by factions opposed to any peace settlement with Israel, cannot be expected to bear the brunt of the murderous intentions of Palestinian extremists and rejectionists. There is no question the security barrier has worked. Suicide bombings and attacks on Israelis have sharply declined.

Palestinians have seen their economy and much of their infrastructure decimated by Israel. In their understandable desire for a secure environment, Israel is making all Palestinians pay a heavy price. The security barrier, military incursions and checkpoints humiliate and frustrate the thousands whose only desperate desire is to go to work and provide for their families. Is it collective punishment? Sure it is. But in lieu of a Palestinian Authority (PA) unwilling to behave responsibly and exert all efforts to curtail terrorism, Israel has little choice. The PA cannot claim to be the representative government of a people and not behave in the best interests of those it claims to represent.

It is in the framework of these realities that Canada voted to abstain from the UN resolution, demanding Israel removes the security barrier. In so doing, Canada, in it's usual, quiet and understated way, may well have fired the first shot at real UN revolution of overhaul and reform.

In recognizing 'fact's on the ground', Canada's vote is more than a numerical reflection of the zero sum game, the all or nothing game of world politics.

Recent headlines are hard to ignore. The Palestinian Authority is in disarray, on the verge of disintegration. Decades of corruption have bankrupted the PA's coffers, authority and credibility. Most importantly, the Palestinian people have been cheated. Under the current leadership, they have been deprived of a past, present and future. Palestinian politicians, newspapers and intellectuals have been clear. They acknowledge the chaos in Gaza and the West Bank isn't as a result of conflict with the Israelis-- it is the result of the decades long corruption by the PA leadership.

The Palestinians have long had to contend with various political factions. Some are secular, while others are religious. Some are more moderate; others espouse the vilest form of hate and violence, with variations of every stripe between them. The PA insists that their mandate is that of a democratically elected government-- a single election held decades ago, under less than ideal circumstances. Mr. Arafat's opponent had to be approved by Mr. Arafat himself.

By insisting that the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank never be evacuated, Israeli religious extremists adopt the view that somehow, biblical theology is an acceptable basis for modern cartography-- politics and reality be damned. Like their Islamist counterparts, Israeli extremists are determined to fulfill what they see as their God given destiny. Though small in number, these religious extremists wield far more power than their numbers indicate. Israeli parliamentarians are legendary in their ability to form deal-making coalitions across a wide spectrum of political ideologies. Thus, the extremist position becomes disproportionately exaggerated and the majority of Israelis are held hostage to political agendas they find abhorrent.

Canada's UN vote seems to signal that the status quo is no longer acceptable. The vote was in effect, a challenge to the world body.

The issues in the Middle East are complex and intricate. They are not meant to be viewed in a vacuum. Votes in the UN are not meant to be simple or permanent exonerations or castigations of any one nation's behaviour. Canada's abstention is a refusal to be drawn into another meaningless round of finger pointing and recriminations, something the UN does with exquisite regularity.

The world body would do well to consider Canada's position.

The UN has spent decades attempting to resolve the Israel-Palestinian issue. More non-binding resolutions have been passed in the Genera Assembly condemning Israel than any other country. Over cocktails and haute cuisine, UN diplomats have stood idly by as atrocities in Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Algeria, China, East Timor and a host of others have resulted in the deaths of millions. The immediate unfolding humanitarian crises in Darfur are all but being ignored. In the meantime, the UN Iraq Oil for Food is blossoming into a full-blown scandal. And so it goes.

Many despotic and autocratic regimes indignantly insist that the democratic principles espoused by the UN be applied, notwithstanding realities and 'facts on the ground'. Such righteous indignation and would have far more credibility if that same indignation were applied at home. For those regimes, democracy is only applicable when it works to support a particular agenda-- it is never important enough to be applied at home. This begs the question: If democracy isn't good enough to be applied in their home countries, why should we believe that their UN votes really take into account the best interests of others? The victims in Darfur, waiting for any help as the UN fiddles, are no doubt asking that very question.

Canada's principled stand last week in the face of undeniable pressures exerted made no friends on either side of the issue. It was not a vote endorsing one side or the other. It was a vote acknowledging that the status quo isn't good enough.

Decades in the making, Canada has earned respect and credibility at the UN. Her vote can never be taken for granted by anyone. Known by all but acknowledged by few, Canada, as a nation, has more credibility than the UN itself.

The UN would do well to look in the mirror Canada is holding up.
Haggis McBagpipe
This makes a body proud to be Canadian, albeit a forum-addicted one.
UN's Louise Arbour criticizes Israel's barrier
Associated Press

GENEVA The United Nations' top human rights official on Thursday said that Israel should find a better way to ensure its security than the barrier it is erecting to seal off the West Bank.

At her first news conference as UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour of Canada also said she was encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision aimed at ending the legal "black hole" of detainees held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

Arbour said Israel's barrier was "not conducive to the resolution of the conflict" in the Middle East.

"One has to hope that the government of Israel will reconsider the wisdom of ensuring its security -- which I concede is a most, most pressing concern -- through means other than this particular one," said Arbour, who gave up her seat as a justice on the Supreme Court of Canada to accept the UN post on July 1.

The Israeli government reiterated Wednesday that it will continue construction of the barrier, arguing that it is preventing suicide bombings and saving lives.

The Palestinians contend the barrier, which in places winds through land captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War, is a land grab ahead of final peace negotiations.

The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution Tuesday calling on Israel to take down the barrier and comply with a non-binding ruling issued earlier this month by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands. Canada abstained on that vote.

"All authorities point more or less in the same direction and that is that, as presently conceived and erected, this barrier should be removed," Arbour said.

She pledged to use her four-year term primarily to campaign for the rights of "the most vulnerable -- the very poor, the imprisoned, the disenfranchised, the targets of intolerance and hatred."

The world must guard against a rollback in human rights, she said.

"In particular legitimate and robust responses to terrorism must be made to operate within legal constraints," Arbour said. "Moreover, the war on terrorism should not obscure all other pressing social problems."

She said the U.S. Supreme Court had alleviated the main concern about suspected al Qaeda members and other detainees at Guantanamo by granting them access to legal protections.

"We're now entering a stage where all observers will be very preoccupied with the quality of the delivery of justice and judicial review that will be made available," Arbour said.

"This applies to conditions of detention everywhere," she added. "The black hole was the critical issue, the lack of any form of public and in particular judicial scrutiny. That defect, it looks now is very well on the way of being addressed."

Arbour, 57, gained international prominence as the chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunals trying the alleged main perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the massive human rights crimes in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

She succeeds Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was one of 22 people killed in the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad in August.

He had taken over from former Irish president Mary Robinson. Before leaving office in September 2002, Robinson accused the United States, Russia, China and other governments of hiding behind the war on terrorism to ride roughshod over civil liberties and troublesome opponents.
The original article posted is a good one.

Sometimes, when no one is happy, there is a forced consensus.

That leads to the real issues at hand-- coming to terms that gives everyone a piece of the pie, rather than the whole pie.

People get along better when dessert is shared, so to speak.
It is a good article given the fact it is written by you.
What do you take issue with?
None taken. As I said it is well written and factual. The previous post was meant to be a compliment. Even if we don't agree on certain things does not mean I can't give you credit for other things.
I reposted

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