06/26/2014 01:23 EDT | Updated 08/26/2014 05:59 EDT

Will Canada Keep its Peacekeeping Promise?

Three months ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the Central African Republic or CAR and condemned the slow response of the international community. She asked, "How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?"

Over 140,000 people have been killed in CAR; 80 per cent of the Muslim population has been driven from their homes or murdered. The fighting has left 2.5 million people needing humanitarian aid, the equivalent of Vancouver's population.

The children of CAR continue to witness terrible violence, and the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition in the capital has tripled since January. This year, UNICEF and partners have already secured the release of more than 1,000 children from armed groups or more than five times the number of children released in 2013.

For too long, the international community sat idly by and watched atrocities unfold in CAR, rather than assisting in rescuing this failed state and making the long-term commitment to create a functioning, responsive, and accountable security sector, an accountable army and police force, and building a functioning justice system alongside other essential public institutions.

On April 10, 2014, the United Nations Security Council at last adopted a resolution to authorize the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation of almost 12,000 by September 2014 to build on the work of the African Union-led International Support Mission in CAR, French forces, and the EU forces that have joined them.

Is the number of peacekeepers enough? Is September too late for these forces to make a significant difference? Where has Canada's voice gone on UN peacekeeping and the responsibility to protect? For five months, I have repeatedly asked the government what more it could do to provide humanitarian aid, reduce the violence, rebuild civil society, and support peace and reconciliation in CAR? And we have repeatedly asked about Canada's potential participation in the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR.

On May 16, when I asked in Parliament whether the government would provide peacekeeping support in line with our capabilities, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs offered a generic response: "Canada has been contributing, and we will continue to contribute, to the United Nations for peacekeeping forces for the Central African Republic."

On June 16, I again asked the Parliamentary Secretary to Foreign Affairs: "Will the parliamentary secretary confirm tonight whether Canada will provide such peacekeeping support, and what kind?" For the first time, the government provided a somewhat clearer answer regarding support for the UN mission: "The UN team was recently on the ground in the Central African Republic to finalize the operational planning for MINUSCA. Based on this recent assessment, the UN will begin to ask member states to support the specific needs of this mission. Based on these needs, our government will decide on how Canada can best contribute to that mission. As we have already stated publicly, Canada will not be sending companies or infantry troops of the Canadian Armed Forces. However, there are other ways in which we can and will support the UN mission and the overall objective of ending the conflict in the Central African Republic. As we did when the EU mission was established in December, the government will respond expeditiously in support of the new UN mission."

Canadians should demand to know whether the government will provide additional, non-budgetary, assistance beyond its assessed and financial contributions. The government has repeatedly ignored our requests about the possibility of airlift assistance -- as it provided to efforts in Mali -- and other resources, despite the fact that these could make a substantial difference on the ground.

Our allies -- and not just France, the UK, and the US -- are stepping up by taking a more active role in CAR. For example, Germany has authorized the deployment of up to 80 troops, air transport, and a hospital plane to support the EU's efforts; it has ruled out the use of German forces in combat.

Will Canada send specialized military assets and will it help build the capacity of Francophone African peacekeepers as we did in Mali? On June 19, I asked the government: "Exactly in what other ways will the government support the UN mission?" Unfortunately, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs refused to answer, instead regurgitating the government's past action in CAR.

Self-congratulations and blanket statements of support are not helping the children of CAR, who face crimes against humanity and war crimes. What we do now or fail to do will have an impact on society for years to come, and we will be judged on how we choose to act.


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