Arms Trade Treaty: No Agreement

By Adrienne Wiebe, Policy Analyst/Educator for MCC Latin America and the Caribbean. (Previously published on the MCC Latin America Advocacy Blog)

MCC was part of a global coalition of civil society organizations, churches, and individuals that urged governments to sign a strong arms trade treaty during negotiations at the United Nations last month.

MCC is one of the international groups that signed the Interfaith Declaration. And many individual members of churches and followers of this blog did as well.

Unfortunately, despite many compromises and dilutions over the course of four weeks of negotiations, several countries blocked the final signing and asked for more time to consider the agreement. The countries were the USA, Venezuela, Cuba, and Russia, and North Korea – an odd group of countries to be on the same side of an issue!

This article by Paul Holtom of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute explains some of the contentious issues, and possible next steps.

While it is discouraging that a treaty was not signed, this is not the end of the story. Momentum has been building for over a decade with civil society pressure. The need for an international and legally-binding treaty to bring the arms trade under control is now widely supported.

A the end of the UN meetings, a group of over 90 states gave a joint statement, read out by Mexico, saying “we are disappointed, but we are not discouraged” and we are determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible, “One that will bring about a safer world for the sake of all humanity.”

MCC will continue to follow these negotiations and to support civil society efforts to pressure governments to establish a universal Arms Trade Treaty.

Cluster munitions – an opportunity for advocacy that cannot be ignored

By Hanna Coppes, Advocacy Research Intern, MCC Canada Ottawa Office

Cluster munitions are faulty weapons that need to be prohibited worldwide.

Many Canadians may not be aware of the destruction that can be caused by this military weapon, but to people who have faced  the realities of war in places such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya, this is not the case. In all of these countries, cluster munitions are a constant threat to safety for people even, in some cases, decades after a conflict has ended.

What are cluster munitions?

Cluster munitions are bombs that can be released from the air or from land, and are designed to explode on contact. A single bomb can release hundreds of submunitions, effectively covering an area as large as a football field. However, these submunitions have a failure rate of anywhere from 5 to 30 percent. Lying dormant, they can be ignited when disturbed by farmers working in their fields, or by children who are often intrigued by the bright colours of the weapons.

Canada joined 110 other nations in recognizing the destructive and inhumane realities that are caused by the weapon when we signed onto the Cluster Munitions Convention in 2008. This is a treaty that seeks the prohibition of the weapon in all circumstances.

The Canadian government is currently going through the process of ratifying the treaty by passing legislation that seeks to enshrine the ban of the weapon in Canadian law. Bill S-10 The Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act, was introduced in the Senate on April 25, 2012. When Parliament resumes in September, the bill will need to pass second reading before being sent to a Senate committee for study. After passing through three readings in the Senate, the bill will then move on to the House of Commons where it will go through the same process.

A cause for concern

As I have studied Bill S-10 over the past four months, it has become clear to me that there are many problems with this legislation. For example, as it now stands, the current legislation allows Canadian forces to use cluster munitions when working in joint military operations with countries that are not part of the convention (such as the United States).

This part of the legislation reeks of compliance with military interests rather than fulfilling the obligation, as set out in the Cluster Munitions Convention, to be a global leader in seeking the ban of this destructive weapon.

Canadian forces have never used or produced cluster munitions, and are already starting to destroy their own stockpiles. How does reserving the right to use them in joint operations promote peace or provide new life for victims?

The role of the Christian advocate

Through my time interning with MCC this summer, Bill S-10 has provided a good opportunity to learn more about advocacy in general.

Issues like ratifying the Cluster Munitions Convention and tackling the growing influence of the military in policy decisions seem overwhelming. What can one person, or even one organization hope to do? However, when advocacy is informed by the experiences of victims of these destructive weapons, and when it joins with the efforts of coalition partners such as Mines Action Canada and Project Ploughshares, that one voice becomes a multitude.

Seeking a ban on cluster munitions is an admirable and necessary task for the Canadian government to take on. But there is still work to be done to ensure that Canadians do not play a part in the use of the weapon at any time and for any reason. As Christian advocates, I think we need to speak out against this deadly weapon in order to stand in solidarity and loving care with those who are vulnerable to its effects.


Bogus refugees include pregnant women, babies and children

By Jane Pritchard, member of Toronto United Mennonite Church and family physician who has cared for refugees for the past 22 years in her private medical practice.

On April 25, 2012, via an Order in Council, the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, significantly restricted access of refugees to health care.

I firmly believe that these actions are morally wrong, demonizing refugees as being primarily “bogus” and declaring that certain countries of origin can never produce refugees.

But purely from a public health perspective, these changes are unsound policy.

Who is most at risk of a life-threatening condition in any given short period of time? Pregnant women and their infants.

It is no solution to deny pregnant women from, say, Hungary, with all the inequities they face, prenatal care because they are from “a designated country of origin.” They need prenatal care, safe delivery, and their babies need access to medical care and immunizations.

Otherwise they will wait until fear of death is greater than fear of an unknown hospital bill, and then they’ll end up in our emergency departments, paid for by the provinces and territories; or they will suffer terrible consequences, even death, at home.

On May 11th, at the office of Toronto MP Joe Oliver, a small group of physicians demonstrated to focus public attention on the dire consequences to health that could result from these changes. This was the beginning of “Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care” (CDRC), a broad-based coalition of physicians across the country trying to preserve healthcare services for our patients and those yet to come.

Perhaps due in part to our public outcry, Minister Kenney did make changes to the original Order in Council to exempt government-sponsored refugees from the cuts. The changes, however, appeared overnight on a government website just before the July long weekend, and there was never any direct admission of a retraction.

Instead what was announced was “expanded health services,” a new category allowing government-sponsored refugees access to medications, basic dental procedures, vision and special devices.

This was precisely what they received before the changes.

The loss of this coverage would have raised the embarrassing spectre of refugees in remote UNHCR camps losing their access to medications needed to treat their diabetes, depression, hypertension, and heart disease when they agreed to be sponsored by the Canadian government.

Prior to the government’s “clarification” on June 30, it was plainly evident on the government website what the changes were going to mean for each category of refugee, and this was apparently acceptable because refugees should not get gold plated health care plans that Canadians cannot afford.

In fact, what we were and still are asking to restore is access to the basic services all Canadians on social assistance receive across the country.

Refugees come here with no money, traumatized, and usually needing to learn a new language to work.

What is the point of denying their children glasses so they can attend school?

I had an opportunity to present a handwritten letter to Minister Kenney two weeks ago after a church celebration in Toronto for the safe arrival of refugees who had been persecuted for their Christian faith.

I expressed my appreciation for his intervention in the case of these particular refugees, and urged him to use the power invested in him by the people of Canada, and by God, to restore access to health care for all refugee claimants. I quoted Deuteronomy 24:17: “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice.” It felt like a respectful encounter.

But much more is needed.

Physicians can take the issue only so far. To further influence the Minister and the government, citizens across the country must make their views known, loudly and often.

We can’t do it alone.

Will you write letters to Minister Kenney, your MP, and to Prime Minister Harper? To your local newspaper?

So-called “bogus” refugees include pregnant women, babies, and children.

Beyond the limits of efficiency and accountability

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director

In an interview on CBC Radio’s The House on July 7, 2012, Canada’s new Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, described his priorities for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA):

“I’ll be looking for efficiencies… insuring that every nickel of taxpayer money is spent for the right reasons, that we have accountability, and that we… achieve the optimum results with taxpayer money.”

In this respect he made it clear that he would be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Bev Oda, whose speeches and press releases made frequent use of words such as “efficiencies” and “accountability.”

These words were still ringing in my ears a few days later when I presented a paper at a conference held at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school outside of Chicago, Illinois. Entitled Prophet in the Technological Wilderness, the conference was organized by the International Jacques Ellul Society to mark the centenary of the birth of Ellul, a French sociologist and theologian who died in 1994.

Wheaton is in the process of adding Ellul’s vast collection of published and unpublished writings to its archives, joining the papers of other prominent Christian leaders and writers such as Billy Graham and Frederick Buechner.

Ellul is known for his trenchant commentaries on both biblical texts and his social context. The latter focused primarily on the dominance of what he termed technique—that is, the pursuit of efficiency that is embodied in not only in technological devices and systems, but in all human activities. Contemporary society, he argued, has become preoccupied with finding the “one best means” in everything that we do.

What, you may be wondering, is the problem with that? Who could be against trying to be more efficient, especially when resources are growing scarcer and needs are growing larger?

According to Ellul, the problem with the dominance of technique—with our obsession with things such as efficiency and accountability—is that it inhibits the proper consideration of the ends we are pursuing. He goes so far as to describe this inhibition as a state of tyranny, because individuals and communities no longer have the freedom to choose means other than those dictated by the outcome of (apparently) rational analysis.

Ellul’s analysis poses a challenge not only to how Christians conceive of governmental bureaucracies such as CIDA, but how we conceive of our own work. It speaks to MCC as well as Minister Fantino!

After all, if Mennonites are ever tempted by the vice of pride, it might be for our frugality, for our ability to do “more with less,” as the title of a well-known cookbook published by MCC puts it. And if Mennonites are ever tempted by the vice of wrath, it might be when we encounter incompetence or corruption.

To be clear, I don’t think that Ellul’s point was that we should be satisfied with wastefulness, incompetence, or corruption. We should never celebrate careless thinking or willful deceit.

His primary concern was that we should never think that effectiveness depends entirely on our own actions. We should resist the illusion that we can fully grasp how to best improve our methodologies.

For Ellul, the solution to the problem of the tyranny of technique, indeed, the solution to all problems, is Christ. Our freedom, our very salvation, depends on the work that Christ accomplishes, not the work of our own hands and minds. Christ is the one best means that relativizes all other means, putting them in their proper place.

The lesson for institutions such as MCC and, dare I say, even CIDA, is that we should avoid letting our efforts to improve the way we work become ends in themselves. True effectiveness means that we must subordinate the pursuit of efficiency and accountability to the greater ends that we seek.

Free Trade and Human Rights in Colombia – One Year Later

Over the summer we will occasionally be re-posting material fromMCC colleagues and partner organizations. This is from the MCC Latin America Advocacy Blog

Do free trade agreements have an impact on human rights? Canadian and Colombian NGOs are challenging their governments to examine the reality behind the claims that free trade automatically improves human rights conditions. MCC Colombia Policy Analyst, Rebekah Sears reflects on this.

Rice threshed by hand in rural Colombia. Photo by Rebekah Sears

Last August (2011) Colombia officially entered into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Canada(see previous blog). FTAs are strong relationships, giving each country easier access to trade and to the other’s resources and economic interests. But these agreements usually extend beyond pure economics. They stress the importance of mutual accountability and support on areas such as poverty reduction and human rights. This was the case with the Canada-Colombia FTA as well.

Prime Minister Harper: FTAs Spread Democracy and Promote Human Rights

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially announced the Canada-Colombia FTA last August he claimed that in addition to boosting the economic and trade sectors in both countries, such an agreement would also promote good human rights practices.

“Colombia is a key regional partner with Canada in important objectives – spreading democracy, promoting human rights and improving hemispheric security.”[i]

Within the FTA, the Government of Canada has agreed to conduct an annual human rights impact assessment. This is supposed to include the status of human rights within contexts where Canadian companies are working, noting the impact of these companies and actions. This report is due in May every year.

Inadequate Canadian Government Report

But this year, several opposition MPs and human rights and development organizations were thoroughly disappointed with the quality and content (or lack thereof) in the human rights report tabled in May 2012. The Government claimed that since a full year had not passed since the implementation of the Canada-Colombia FTA that there was insufficient information for a full report (another blog about this).

In the Parliamentary Committee on International Trade, NDP and Liberal trade critics, Don Davies and Wayne Easter respectively, claimed that the Government was backing away from obligations for an annual report, and that the fact that a full year has not passed was no excuse.

The human rights and development organizations who testified at the committee had similar reactions. Alex Neve, Director of Amnesty International Canada argued that since the UN requires human rights impact assessments before the implementation of FTAs, as well as after, that there was more than enough time to submit a full report.

Panning for gold. International gold mining companies are displacing artisan mining in Colombia. Photo by Rebekah Sears

NGOs publish Alternative Human Rights Assessment

So, in response the NGOs decided to take action and matters into their own hands. Recently this coalition of human rights NGOs published a shadow report. The 155 page report is identified as the beginning of such an assessment, recognizing that there is still a lot of work to do on gaining a full assessment. The methodology, for example, at this point looks mainly to qualitative interviews and assessments. But as a reaction to the insufficient report tabled by the Government only a couple months ago, it is a good start. Plus the work is not done.

The report focuses on the situation concerning labour and union prospects, as well as case studies where Canadian mining and other companies are working within or near communities. The preliminary results are worrying to say the least. They note the insufficiencies of human rights monitoring systems, both on part of the Colombian Government and the Canadian Government’s lack of initiative, plus the potential dangers for several communities in close proximity to Canadian mining projects.

More assessments are needed, but this shadow report by the coalition of NGOs is a positive step in terms of promoting and protecting the human rights elements of the Colombia-Canada FTA when the Government of Canada remains silent.

[i] Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, “Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada in Bogotá, Colombia,” News Release, Prime Minister’s Office (August 10m 2011).