Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Conservatives Secretly Rewrite Foreign Policy to Exclude Humanity and Gender Equality

Not that I should be surprised by anything this government does, but discovering that they have re-written our foreign policy to remove humanitarian and gender equality, is low even for them.

Murray Dobbin is Right. Stephen Harper is not fit to govern. I want my country back!!

"Gender Equality", "Child Soldiers" and "Humanitarian Law" are Axed from Foreign Policy Language
Embassy Magazine
By Michelle Collins
July 29, 2009

With subtle strokes of the pen, it appears the Conservative government has been systematically changing the language employed by the foreign service and, as a result, bringing subtle but sweeping changes to traditional Canadian foreign policy.

In an email communication obtained by Embassy, staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs express concern about frequent changes being made to commonly used terms, particularly where such changes are not consistent with accepted Canadian policy, and which may be carried out to minimize international obligations on issues as complex as the Omar Khadr case.

Among the changes identified are the excising of the word "humanitarian" from each reference to "international humanitarian law," replacing the term "gender equality" with "equality of men and women", switching focus from justice for victims of sexual violence to prevention of sexual violence, and replacing the phrase "child soldiers" with "children in armed conflict."

For many observers of Canada's foreign policy, these are distressing language changes that water down many of the very international human rights obligations Canada once fought to have adopted in conventions at the United Nations. As one source said, in the international world of diplomacy—where officials often focus detailed discussions on the language included in documents and policies—wording makes a big difference.

Indeed, the email states "It is often not entirely clear to us why [office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs] advisers are making such changes, and whether they have a full grasp of the potential impact on [Canadian] policy in asking for changes to phrases and concepts that have been accepted internationally and used for some time."

Sources have told Embassy that tweaks to Canada's foreign policy language that are fraught with policy implications have been underway since the Tories took power in early 2006. And while not unusual for any new government, the extent to which some language changes de-rail long-standing policies is worrisome for many who are actively involved in international human rights.

Backing Away

Sources say that removing the word "humanitarian" from every reference to "international humanitarian law," by order of the minister's office, represents a significant shift. Where international law refers to the body of laws which govern relations between states, international humanitarian law, often linked to the Geneva Conventions, is that which hinges on the distinction between combatants, civilians, or protected persons.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said that removing the word 'humanitarian' dilutes the international human rights obligations involved, and this is very worrying.

"International humanitarian law is referred to...because the legal obligations that are at stake are from that particular area of law, which is an incredibly important area of law, it's essentially the law that governs in the midst of war," Mr. Neve said.

"What just flabbergasts me is taking out the reference of international humanitarian law to international law because that's what the ICC's about," said Errol Mendes, a professor of international law at the University of Ottawa. "International law goes from being extremely fluffy to basically inter-state law. Whereas international humanitarian law, interchangeable with international criminal law, becomes very specific and focuses on individuals and on potential prosecutions of individuals. It's extremely important."

Mr. Mendes, just returned from a three-month stint working at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, said that such changes to the language, depending on the context, could be an attempt to downplay the International Criminal Court.

Particularly telling, he said, is the example cited in the email of changes that had been made to "a standard docket response" of Canada's position with regards to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the new docket, the minister's office has removed the words "impunity" and "justice" when calling for an end to sexual violence in the DRC, and is instead calling only for efforts to "prevent" sexual violence.

"The word justice, whenever it's linked into the word impunity, is code-word for the ICC, especially when it's referring to the DRC because of the handful of cases that the court has right now, most of them are from the DRC and most of them, interestingly enough, deal with sexual violence, child soldiers, and impunity," Mr. Mendes said. "While prevention is part of the mandate of ICC, it's central focus is justice. It basically means to say that Canada is not interested in more prosecutions in the DRC from the decades civil war which has cost more lives than any conflict since the Second World War. Close to 4.5 million people have died there, many of them, perhaps most of them, civilians."

Mr. Neve said that while both prevention and impunity are very important justice goals for Canada to be actively promoting, he said removing 'impunity' and replacing it with 'prevent' becomes very worrying.

"It does suggest less of a commitment to the importance of the role ICC and other kinds of justice mechanisms in dealing with horrific human rights violations like the mass rape that women have experienced in Congo."

In fact, a source close to Foreign Affairs told Embassy that the Prime Minister's Office had once tried to change Canada's official position on the ICC to essentially state that Canada does not support the ICC, it tolerates it.

"The language 'end of impunity' is very clear; that's International Criminal Court language and the whole initiative around the ICC," said the source, who wanted to remain anonymous. "The government here has had a difficult time getting their heads around that one, I think."

More Than Just Words

Particularly making waves is the expunging of the word gender. "References to gender-based violence are removed," the email states, without providing context, before going onto state that the minister's office has also just clarified that the term "gender equality" is replaced by "equality of men and women."

Gender is a term that entered the common language in the mid-1990s and was entrenched internationally when included in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998. It was not a decision that was made lightly as, in international documents such as the Rome Statute, wording carries heavy meaning. Delegates debated between using the word "sex" or "gender." Proponents of including the word "gender" and criminalizing gender violence insisted it more consistent with international law because it reflects sociological aspects.

Removing references to "gender equality" and "gender-based violence" from Canadian foreign policy are particularly sensitive because it is Canada who, in the past couple of decades, has led the fight to bring these terms into the international development and human rights agenda.

"Canada worked hard and long to include gender-based violence in international documents, in the world of children and armed conflict where Canada is a leader, we've worked very hard to include gender-based violence as a serious violation. So removing that is a serious step backward and I would argue that the Canadian public would not agree with that," said Kathy Vandergrift, chair of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children.

Mr. Neve said it is fundamentally important that "gender-based violence" be recognized as a particular form of human rights abuse at the United Nations and elsewhere because it reflects the fact that it is women, particularly in the midst of conflict, who disproportionately experience very serious and distinct forms of gender-based violence.

"To learn that Canada is determinedly taking that language out when what we should be seeing from Canada is championing efforts to further strengthen that language and be a real defender of how important it is in international documents, is very upsetting," he said.

Exactly why such a change could be underway is not entirely clear, though many point to the agendas of some conservative women's groups as influencing factors. This is particularly obvious in the change from "gender equality" to "equality between men and women," they say.

"The term 'gender' has a specific meaning, it refers to a series of socially constructed roles," said Maxwell Cameron, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. He said that removing the term 'gender' from Canada's foreign policy vocabulary would mean there are a host of issues that can no longer be talked about in a meaningful or clear way.

As the source close to Foreign Affairs explained, the social conservative base is looking for some wins of out of the Harper government.

"And one of the ones they're getting is these kinds of languages," the source said. "It's a substantial change in philosophy and for anybody outside who's followed Canadian foreign policy, if you were to talk to the Nordics or the Brits or the Dutch, they would be shaking their heads. They wouldn't understand what was going on, and would ask 'why are you contesting language which everyone's accepted and which you helped pioneer?'"
Striking Out 'Child Soldiers'

While it might appear to be one of the least controversial language changes cited in the email—changing "child soldiers" to "children in armed conflict"—sources told Embassy this may be related to the case of Omar Khadr.

Mr. Khadr is the Canadian who was captured by U.S. soldiers following a fire-fight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was only 15 years old at the time, and has been detained at the prison in Guantanamo Bay ever since. Despite pressure from opposition parties and human rights groups, the government has consistently refused to bring Mr. Khadr to Canada—the only Western government to not repatriate its citizen from Guantanamo.

"One example where I would see it as very negative is that we...the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children...have advocated that Omar Khadr be considered a child solider," Ms. Vandergrift said. "At senior levels, we don't think we have a problem, we think the department understands, but at the political level there is a sense that children involved with terrorists groups are not child soldiers, and that's simply not the case under international law."

Indeed, sources told Embassy there is an effort—led by the Prime Minister's Office—to minimize or downplay Canadian obligations with regard to Mr. Khadr because there remains a legal question as to whether Canada acted in compliance with international law. Canada championed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and was the first nation to sign the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict.

"At the very least...we should have at least evaluated what our international obligations were, under those treaties, leaving him at Guantanamo, and there's no evidence anyone ever did that analysis," a source said.

Mr. Neve, too, raised concerns about possible ramifications for the issues around Mr. Khadr. He said there is a very particular, legal reason to recognize him as a child soldier and to weaken that language could suggest an intention to avoid the legal obligations that come with it.

"There is nothing wrong with talking about children in armed conflicts, but there are very particular contexts in which it would be important to refer to child soldiers," Mr. Neve said. "There are specific legal obligations and international conventions that Canada has ratified."
Battle of Words

Pushback from the bureaucracy at the Department of Foreign Affairs is said to be a constant effort, and discussions around the effects have been ongoing since the Conservatives took power.

And while the changes are made through the minister's office, it is well-known that many of the tweaks to language and policy direction are being driven by the Prime Minister's Office. Among the ranks, it is believed that Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, like former foreign minister Peter MacKay, represents more of a "Red Tory" and progressive conservative approach. Appealing to Mr. MacKay and Mr. Cannon on the merits of the policy, therefore, is said to be somewhat more welcomed than under the likes of former foreign minister Maxime Bernier.

"What we have then is under a minority government, a substantial shift in policy," a source said. "And because you don't need to go to Parliament for the vast majority of things that happen in foreign policy, that shift has taken place largely through directives from government to the bureaucracy; so essentially from the PMO and to some degree the [Privy Council Office].

"So many of the changes in language are a reflection of the bureaucracy doing what the bureaucracy does, and a pushback from the political level."

One woman in Kamloops was very upset about this, as we all should be.

Tory foreign policy thumbs nose at rights of child
Kamloops Daily News
September 8, 2009

Kamloops – It was with feelings of revulsion that I listened to a recent report outlining how the Harper Conservatives’ Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has excised certain phrases such as ‘child soldier’ and ‘international humanitarian law’ from use in the ministry.

I wonder how many of the people who voted for the Conservative Party in the last election realized that they were in effect voting for changes by stealth to our foreign policy.

Under International Humanitarian Law we have the ability to prosecute war criminals with reference to justice for impunity in matters of genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes of sexual violence.

Under the changed appellation of International Law no such ability exists as it is merely intra-governmental law. Is this what we voted for? In Cannon’s new lexicon Child Soldier is lost in favour of either Children in Armed Conflict or merely Combatant. Distinctions are erased between children as victims of armed conflict, children as civilian victims and children as offenders.

Thus, the government can thumb its nose at the UN International Convention on the Rights of the Child and ignore the plight of Omar Khadr, the only western inmate of Guantanamo Bay who has not been repatriated by his government and continues to rot in that hell-hole. Is this what we voted for?

This government is backing away from supporting the International Criminal Court, an organization of which Canada has been a member since its creation in 2002. Brian Mulroney, in fact championed the Convention on the Rights of the Child which brought in the protection of child soldiers, an achievement of which all Canadians were justly proud.

I don’t believe any of us voted to have these basic human rights removed.

Monte Lake

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