Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca)
Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege today to speak on a subject that is close to my heart and the most valuable thing we possess beyond our good health. That is human rights, the right to live in peace, say, do and go where we want within the confines of a fair, compassionate legal system, free of harassment and secure in due process. As the name implies, they are not a privilege but an undeniable right as a member of the human race.
We in this beautiful country are very fortunate to be in one of the few countries where its people can express their human rights to their fullest potential. Tragically the same cannot be said for most countries in the rest of the world.
The end of the cold war with its two warring superpowers has given rise I think to an environment of greater political instability and has unleashed decades of seething ethnic and tribal tensions; for example, Yugoslavia, Somalia and, right around the corner, South Africa.
This will give rise to more bloody regional or civil conflicts and the rise of smaller, non-functional or poorly functional nation states with their nationalism, tribalism and, at times, intolerant attitudes and behaviours.
Added to this melting pot of troubles are a number of other factors. Developing nations economies are either stagnant or have regressed dramatically over the past 20 years. Corrupt leaders have throttled and pillaged their economies for their own ends, pocketing foreign aid for themselves. Foreign governments in many cases have given aid for prestigious megaprojects that have often wound up being megaflops instead of concentrating on small scale rural projects.
I will give an example. Sub-Saharan Africa, exclusive of South Africa, will take 40 years to get to the same level of economy that it had in 1970. If we take Nigeria out of that equation, it is going to take 100 years for that part of the world, that represents a population twice the size of America, to get back to where it was in 1970.
Another factor is a world population that is spiralling out of control. In fact by the year 2050 we will have a population that will exceed 10 billion or more than twice what it was in 1990. These numbers will outstrip, I feel, the ability of this planet to adequately provide for its inhabitants and leave the majority of people with an appalling quality of life on a planet that is suffering from a significant amount of environmental degradation. Examples of this we can currently see.
I would suggest that we would in part concentrate our efforts on providing aid in conjunction with population control in many of these third world countries.
When we put all these factors together we have a climate that is ripe for conflict, struggle and human rights abuses. Although we may say we live in a beautiful and big country with a small population and that many times the situations seem far distant from us, make no mistake about it, what happens half a world away will sooner or later wind up on our doorstep.
As has been mentioned here before by some hon. members, I like to think of ourselves not necessarily as Canadians first but as citizens of this planet. If we all practised that perhaps we would be able to engage in a little bit more tolerance between each other.
Abuses of human rights such as detention without trial, torture, rape, extrajudicial executions are commonplace and occur in such diverse countries as Iraq, China, Liberia, Brazil, Egypt, El Salvador, Angola and Burundi, just to name a few.
My first personal experiences with gross human rights violations came when I was working in Africa in the 1980s. Here I saw people who had had chunks of their flesh torn out, whose human rights were trampled, who were tortured with hot irons, who were gang raped, who were brutally beaten and who were murdered. Once you see this first-hand you cannot turn your back on it. You feel compelled by every part of your soul to do something about it.
The response of the international community has in many cases been abysmal, particularly with smaller countries where people tend not to care too much about what happens. The world and the international community seem to deal with human rights violations in other countries only when it is politically expedient or when the media has thrust it on to the front stage so that it cannot be ignored.
Self interest has directed many governments' response to human rights and violations of friends of a country are often met with silence while those that are enemies of a country are publicly and vigorously castigated. This shows a terrible lack of
political integrity, foresight and compassion with respect to foreign policy.
What can we do about this? I should say that I am proud that we are one of very few countries in the world, one of only a handful I think, which can actually speak credibly on the matter of human rights which makes it more imperative that we do so.
First, I suggest that we publicly castigate countries that commit gross human rights abuses. We must take a lead role in mobilizing other nations to force the country in question to mend its ways. International co-operation is the most expeditious way of dealing with this.
There are certain techniques we can use and some that have been underutilized in the past. Most of them involve economic levers against the guilty party, for example, via the World Bank, the IMF. I think country to country loans are a powerful and often underutilized technique and can be very effective.
We also need to tie economic aid and trade packages to human rights. Sports sanctions and the freezing of state assets are two other options that can be utilized under certain circumstances.
A second thing that we as a country can do is to start looking at the United Nations and help to mobilize the countries in the UN to utilize it as the primary force to act as the advocate for human rights in the world.
The following are some of my recommendations. First we have to define the various courses of action that we can take against states which commit gross human rights violations and get the acceptance of the UN body at large to follow suit when this occurs.
Second, we must put forth an early, firm and decisive action on the part of the UN against brutal regimes and anticipate problems before they occur. We must anticipate these trouble spots and act early. A couple of examples might be Mr. Zhirinovsky and his so-called democratic group in Russia. Another one that is happening very close is South Africa. I just would make an aside and say that we as a country have to support democratic reform in that country. If South Africa falls and falls into the same morass and quagmire as has occurred in most sub-Saharan African countries after their independence, then we will lose the whole southern half of the continent for the next 50 to 100 years. I think it is very important that if we invest now it will pay off amply in the future. An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure. Yugoslavia is an excellent example where we did not take the initiative early enough and now we are paying for it in spades.
Another thing we need to push for on the world stage is to support the international tribunal against war crimes. We must make it known on the public stage that individuals who commit gross human rights violations are going to be met with the full and effective force of the international community.
As an aside I would also push for this country to press for the banning, as I have said before in this House, of anti-personnel devices world-wide. These devices have no role to play in war. They are meant purely to maim innocent civilians and destabilize a country for decades to come, even after peace has occurred.
For us to do these things and to forge a consensus among other countries and to stop flagrant abuses of human rights will require clarity of vision, unshakeable determination and backbone. When you look, as I have said, into the terror-filled eyes of innocent civilians who have had their basic human rights trampled and see the despair and suffering they are enduring, you cannot turn your back on it. In fact, with every fibre of your heart and soul you are compelled to help them.
It is our moral obligation to this beautiful, cruel, frustrating world that we live in to provide the international leadership to fight for one of mankind's most basic needs.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Canadian Foreign Policy