Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Decade later: Canada and the Mine Ban Treaty

This is from rabble. One reason that we have done little lately about land mines is that Harper is very pro-US and the US opposes the treaty. On cluster bombs too Harper has not even officially banned its use by Canadian armed forces. Again the US is a prime user of the munitions. Canada remained silent while Israel used them extensively in Lebanon.
The critique of the International Court of Justice while making some good points fails to note that the US is vehemently opposed to the court even as it stands. In fact it refuses aid to countries that will not make an exception for US troops in said countries as far as co-operating with the court is concerned.

A decade later: Canada and the Mine Ban Treaty


Why did the struggle against landmines fall out of fashion?



>by Yves Engler
December 6, 2007


Anniversaries are a time for reflection.

This month marks the ten-year anniversary of the International Mine Ban Treaty. Largely initiated (with grassroots pressure) by the Canadian government, it is one of numerous well-publicized international humanitarian initiatives undertaken over the past decade by the Canadian government.

Canada has had a hand in weakening patent laws to allow delivery of generic drugs to poor countries, pushed for the elimination of cluster bombs, and helped set up an international criminal court. These activities have enabled Canada's reputation as a force for "humanitarianism" around the world. On the treaty anniversary, it is worth pausing to reflect on the fruit these initiatives have borne.

A story in the Ottawa Citizen at the end of last year noted that 100 million landmines are buried in more than 70 countries. After describing ongoing destruction caused by these weapons, the article states that, in 1996, Canada championed an anti-mine treaty and convinced most of the world to sign. But now, even as the campaign to end the use of landmines sputters, Canada has all but disappeared from the scene. Another Citizen article notes that currently, "a federal government focused on its military and aid effort in Afghanistan, is changing its strategy on landmines."

The reality is that, for a time, Ottawa and the media were abuzz with the crusade against landmines. But, for all the noise, anti-landmine work never received even one per cent of the money spent on the military and over the past few years, Canadian funding for anti-mine work has been in decline. Why did the struggle against landmines fall out of fashion? Was it ever a real priority? And if Canada's rhetoric has not matched its deed on landmines, how about the other humanitarian initiatives listed above?

In February 2007, Canada joined forty-nine countries in signing a United Nations declaration calling for the prohibition of cluster munitions. "Although Canada is part of the process launched in Oslo to ban cluster munitions," stated Paul Hannon, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada, "the Canadian government has yet to officially suspend the use of this inaccurate and unreliable weapon that causes unacceptable harm to civilians."

Not only has Canada been slow to follow through, but can anyone remember even a murmur of official protest when Israel covered southern Lebanon with these weapons last summer (when the Conservatives were in power) or when the U.S. dropped cluster bombs in Afghanistan (when the Liberals were in power) at the start of that war? What's more, numerous major Canadian banks provide credit to cluster bomb producers and the Canada Pension Plan has more than $50 million invested in U.S.-based cluster munitions manufacturers.

Reacting to grassroots pressure to reform an international patent system that provides protection to multinational pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the poor and sick, the Liberal government set up the Jean Chr├ętien Pledge to Africa Act (later renamed Canada's Access to Medicines Regime). This law amended Canada's Patent Act to reflect changes in intellectual property rules made to the World Trade Organization's TRIPs agreement in 2003.

The Canadian law allows generic companies to produce drugs that are still under patent in Canada so long as they are only used for export to developing countries with public health crises. With much fanfare, Canada became the first country to amend its laws to correspond to the WTO's changes (the European Union and Norway subsequently began similar programs).

But Canada's law is fraught with red tape. This Magazine explains that, "generic drug-makers are forced to make short-term applications to make finite amounts of a specific drug to a particular country and have to disclose all of these details to the pharmaceutical industry, giving it (and the US government and other agencies hostile to generic drug manufacture) ample opportunity to enact punitive sanctions against the country in need."

Over the past three years, not one pill has gone out under the legislation (a recent Toronto Star article claims the first pills may go to Rwanda some time soon). The initiative seems to have been but a way to quell growing public pressure to make generic drugs accessible to poor countries.

Potentially the most important of all initiatives mentioned above is the International Criminal Court (ICC). Canada played an important role in setting up the ICC. In 1998, Canada chaired The Like-Minded Group conference in Rome, which was key to forming a coalition of states that supported the ICC. Canada also paid for some developing countries to take part in the conference. And it is a Canadian, Philippe Kirsch, a senior diplomat, who now presides over the ICC.

While it's hard to disagree with the idea of a court to try human rights abusers that go unpunished in their home country, reality is more complicated. Simply put, the court is set up in the interests of the powerful. Employing poison gases, for instance, counts as a war crime, but the use of nuclear weapons does not. Incredibly, aggression, the supreme international crime according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is not covered.

As Diana Johnstone points out, the court has been set up to administer "international" justice to internal conflicts, but only in countries too weak to resist its authority, or those not well enough connected to a major power. It is unlikely that western allies, such as interim Haitian dictator Gerard Latortue or Rwanda's Paul Kagame (for his role in invading Rwanda or the millions killed in the Congo), will be sent to the ICC anytime soon. And it is even less likely that George Bush or Tony Blair will be indicted for their roles in Iraq, or Paul Martin for his role in Haiti.

Even worse than a court that reinforces the world's power imbalances, there is a strong possibility that NATO countries will justify future invasions on the grounds that a wanted fugitive is not being handed over to the ICC. "Rather than a Court to keep the peace," Diana Johnstone writes, "the ICC could turn out to be — contrary to the wishes of its sincere supporters — an instrument to provide pretexts for war." The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, similar to the ICC, was used to justify NATO's illegal 78-day bombing of Serbia.

Canadian politicians usually profess high-minded ideals while doing the bidding of big business, the military and powerful allies. This is unlikely to change until the majority of Canadians become engaged in shaping Canadian foreign policy.

Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical. Both books are published by RED/Fernwood.

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