Garden hoes and cluster bombs: Bill S-10 and MCC’s message to the Canadian Senate

By Casey van Wensem, Advocacy Research Intern, MCC Ottawa Office

In a small village in northern Laos in early 1981, a mother of 11 children accidentally strikes a cluster bomb with a hoe while working in her garden, and is killed.

Titus Peachey with hoe head given to him by Laotian family 30 years ago.

The next day, MCC service worker Linda Peachey pays a visit to the woman’s family. During her visit, Linda is given a gift, and with this gift, she is given a request: “Take this hoe head back to America,” says the woman’s husband. “Use it to tell our story, so that this won’t happen again to other families in other countries.”

Linda and her husband Titus have been carrying this hoe head around for over 30 years, telling and re-telling the family’s story. Today, Titus presented that hoe head to the Canadian Senate.

Titus’ testimony to the Senate Foreign Affairs committee is part of the Senate’s ongoing study of Bill S-10, Canada’s legislation to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The MCC Ottawa Office has also presented a written submission to accompany Titus’ oral testimony.

The Senate committee has been studying this bill for four weeks so far. Senators have now heard testimonies from several members of the government (including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird), as well as representatives from a variety of concerned civil society groups.

While members of the government are content with the current form of Bill S-10, which allows for a wide range of exceptions to the prohibition on cluster munitions, civil society groups have stood in unified opposition to the government’s position. Their message is loud and clear: If passed without amendments, S-10 will weaken the international pressure against the use of cluster munitions and cost innocent lives.

Cluster bomb hidden among plants.

Titus Peachey reminded the committee today that victims’ voices must be included in the legislative process. When the international community drafted the Convention of Cluster Munitions, victims were there to ensure that the terms of the treaty were consistent with their lived experiences. The Canadian legislation, unfortunately, would not stand up to that same scrutiny.

The following are some excerpts from MCC’s written submission. These recommendations come out of our longstanding grassroots relationships with communities affected by cluster bombs in places such as Laos and Lebanon.

  • “Canada once again has the opportunity to stand as a global leader in preventing the devastating impacts of an inhumane and reprehensible weapon.”
  • “Despite aiming to implement a Treaty that clearly calls for a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions in all situations, Bill S-10 maps out broad exemptions that, in the end, legislates only a limited prohibition on the weapon.”
  • “Governments can, and must, do more to address this unacceptable humanitarian problem.”

You can read the full submission here.

The Ottawa Office will continue to track this bill as it progresses through the Senate and on to the House of Commons. For more background on Bill S-10, you can read our blog post of two months ago. You can also follow live updates from committee and other government proceedings on Twitter at #S10.

If you would like to get more involved in this issue you can sign Mines Action Canada’s petition calling for amendments to S-10, visit the Ottawa Office’s cluster bombs website, and pray for world leaders to end the use of these deadly and inhumane weapons.

By Casey van Wensem, Advocacy Research Intern, MCC Ottawa Office

Spirituality of a Department of Peace

By Steve Plenert, MCC Manitoba Peace Program Coordinator

Would Jesus say that supporting and working for a Federal Department of Peace is a good idea?  I leafed through my copy of the gospels looking for insight on this question.  In so doing, I found no specific passages where Jesus addressed Roman authorities on the subject.  However, as is so often the case, some of his statements and actions do bear on the subject.

One day Jesus disciples were hungry, so as they walked through a grain field, they picked some, crushed the grains and ate them.  It happened to be on the Sabbath and so the religious authorities got upset with Jesus for doing this.  Jesus pointed out how King David had done something parallel with his followers when they were hungry and the only bread available was that consecrated to God.  Jesus pointed to an alternative way to be in the world.

On another occasion as Jesus walked the beach on the Sea of Galilee he met a tax collector.  Presumably he had his fisherman friends with him.  Also, presumably, a tax collector on the beach wasn’t sun-tanning, but was collecting taxes from fishers.  Rather than merely scorning the taxman, Jesus invited him to join as one of his followers.  This would certainly have upset the established social order of the time.

Jesus also gave ideas for how to deal with Roman soldiers.   If one of them asked you to bear a burden for one mile, you carry it for two instead.  Under Roman law a soldier could demand one mile’s worth of carrying but more was not permitted.  By voluntarily carrying the load an extra mile you put the soldier into the position of either owing you a favour, being grateful or breaking the law.  It challenged the established order of power and relationships.

Similarly Jesus said to turn the other cheek if you got slapped.  If you were slapped by someone’s backhand, you were considered that persons inferior.  To offer the other cheek was to claim socially equality – even if in a potentially “two black eyes” kind of way.  Again, Jesus encourages his followers to challenge the established order of power.

The teachings and actions of Jesus are a series of alternative narratives.  Alternatives to the prevailing social order, the prevailing religious order and the prevailing order of power.  The idea of a Federal Department of Peace, as outlined in Bill C-373, is an alternative narrative for the political situation of our time.  This legislation suggests creating a Civilian Peace Service.  It suggests training peacemakers.  It dedicates serious resources to the use of non-violent crisis intervention techniques. And much more.

The legislation itself makes for an interesting read.  One particularly interesting section says that the agency will,

“include the intellectual and spiritual wealth of the people of Canada by involving private, public and non-governmental organizations in the administration of the Department and in its development of policy and programs.”

I like the sound of “spiritual wealth” being included in this legislation.  When it comes to resources, reflections and practitioners, the Mennonite constituency of our country certainly has an abundance of “spiritual wealth.”  Engaging politics in this way sounds like something that we can be a part of as a faith community.

Bill C-373 is still a long way from becoming legislation.  As we continue to reflect and act on the International Day of Peace, working toward making every day a “Peace Day,” perhaps it’s time to contact your federal MP and let them know that you support it and that you think they should too.  Engaging our faith and our convictions in this way can help us shake off some of our fear and shake out some of the salt of the earth we are called to be.

Would Jesus vote for a Department of Peace?  The gospels don’t say, but I think he certainly would be in favour of such a non-violent alternative to war-making.

By Steve Plenert, MCC Manitoba Peace Program Coordinator

Responsibility While Protecting (RWP): New acronym, same old debate?

“To go, or not to go: that is the question.”

Well, that isn’t exactly the question, at least not according to Hamlet. But as Ferry de Kerchkove—Canada’s former High Commissioner to Pakistan and Ambassador to Indonesia and Egypt—jested at a recent conference on lessons learned on Afghanistan, it is the perennial preoccupation of the international community.

If the heap of security-related analytical frameworks—Responsibility to Protect (R2P), Will to Intervene (W2I), and now Responsibility While Protecting (RWP)—tells us anything, it’s that the question of when (and how) nations intervene in the affairs of other nations, particularly when citizens are at risk, continues to be a hot topic on the international stage.

Responsibility to Protect—otherwise known as R2P—commits states to taking action to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Endorsed at the 2005 World Summit, R2P’s three-pillared implementation strategy outlines the state’s responsibility to protect its own people; the international community’s responsibility to help states fulfill this obligation; and the international community’s duty to take timely and decisive response through peaceful, and failing that, forceful means.

While advocates argue that R2P is an idea whose time has come, both cheerleaders and critics alike agree that its implementation track record has, thus far, been less than stellar.

Much has been said about the ways in which the 2011 mission in Libya—which, when mandated, adhered quite closely to R2P’s precautionary principles but, when operationalized, suffered from unauthorized mission creep—may have fatally weakened the legitimacy of R2P. Now, with the UN Security Council in a deadlock over Syria, R2P’s reputation is once again at risk.

Does this spell R.I.P. for R2P?

Well, now we can add one more acronym to the pile of security-related theory and practice: RWP.

RWP, or Responsibility While Protecting, aims to spark renewed debate around R2P’s parameters of military intervention. First proposed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in her opening address to the UN General Assembly last September, and expanded by Brazil’s Permanent Representative in a November 2011 concept note to the Security Council, RWP is not intended as a separate norm but a clarification of the third pillar.

In a nutshell—a relatively little one, as it’s still in its infancy—RWP features two key proposals: 1) that any consideration of military intervention follow a specific set of criteria (including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences); and b) that a monitoring-and-review mechanism be established to ensure that the implementation of Security Council mandates are rigorously debated and interpreted.

At this stage, it’s difficult to anticipate the ins-and-outs of what RWP might mean—if anything—in practice.

For people within the pacifist tradition such frameworks are, of course, cause for a healthy dose of skepticism. While RWP reaffirms that prevention is always better, its talk of “last resort,” “proportionality,” and “balance of consequences” smacks of old just war concepts dressed up in trendier clothing.

But since RWP is intended to clarify the military intervention component of R2P, I don’t fault it for this. Given that military intervention can intensify conflict and even birth new cycles of violence, the third pillar could well be served from some clarity around how and when states intervene with force, and—if Libya taught us anything—how to interpret, monitor, and assess Security Council resolutions.

Now, whether such a tool will actually break the kind of political stalemates we see on the Security Council is anyone’s guess. Would RWP have helped turn Chinese and Russian vetoes into abstentions? Would it help deepen consensus on when, and more importantly how, to intervene? Don’t R2P’s precautionary principles already serve this purpose?

No new framework—no matter how catchy the acronym—will ever make such decisions completely immune from the mixed motives of geopolitics.

Nevertheless, setting standards for what might constitute a “responsible response” seems a step in the right direction. So, if RWP is used as a complementary tool for developing more robust guidelines for interpreting the third pillar, particularly around the monitoring of UN Security Council resolutions, it could (“could” being the operative word here) have positive impacts on the normative development of R2P.

A huge caveat: Will putting more energy towards clarifying the military intervention component only serve to dilute the normative development of R2P as a whole?

One risk to all of this is that the other two preventive pillars—pillars that us folks from the pacifist tradition typically have an easier time getting behind—will ultimately continue to play second fiddle. Whatever the standards used to determine “ethical” intervention, in the end any use of coercive force prior to exhausting robust preventive measures will always be morally suspect. Rightly so.

R2P is, after all, supposed to be a doctrine of prevention. Yet since its adoption, academic and policy debate around R2P’s legal and normative content seem to continually neglect its preventive dimension.

Beyond the Security Council, UN emergency response is unreliable, poorly-resourced, and sadly lacking in core capacities. And the development of preventive policy tools requires political will that goes beyond the motivating nature of shame—shame that comes from sitting on our hands while mass atrocities unfold in real time.

Prevention is the best form of protection.

I know…an obvious statement, and much, much easier said than done. But “to go or not to go?” should not be our only question.

It would be nice to shift the terms of the debate once in a while…

By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

Faith: the Missing Piece of the International Development Puzzle

by Casey van Wensem, Advocacy Research Intern

If the current international development discourse has a blind spot, it would be on the issue of faith.

On September 21-22, Canadian civil society and academic leaders gathered to discuss the state of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at a conference hosted by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). The purpose of this gathering was to look at the successes and failures of the MDGs and to determine how we, as Canadian civil society, can deliver and advocate for better aid in the post-MDG world. A number of important issues were discussed, including:

  • making aid more sustainable,
  • getting beyond aid dependence,
  • listening to the voices of the poor,
  • encouraging people’s livelihoods.

All of these are extremely important issues.

However, one big issue was missing: faith.

The simple fact is that the vast majority of people in the world are people of faith. This was pointed out at the conference by panelist Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). However, with the exception of her brief statements, the faith issue remained largely absent from civil society discussions at the conference.

So what’s so bad about applying a non-religious worldview to international development? Isn’t that the best way to promote equality between different cultures? The problem is, when we leave faith out of the picture, we are leaving out the very thing that shapes most people’s view of the world.

Canadians may note that faith is simply not an important Canadian value, and that Canada is committed to respecting Canadian values in the delivery of foreign aid by bill C-293 (otherwise known as the “better aid bill”). Evidence, however, shows otherwise.

Research by Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby shows that “no less than 2 in 3 people across the country say that their religious or spiritual beliefs are important to the way they live their lives.” A recent Maclean’s Magazine poll also tells us that a majority of Canadians identify themselves as Christians. These are no small numbers. A recent article by Bruce J. Clemenger, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, also makes a convincing argument for including faith in policy discussions, regardless of public opinion about matters of faith.

Seen through the lens of faith, the MDGs also take on a deeper meaning. I find it hard to even think about helping the world’s poor without looking to the perfect example set by Jesus.

With this in mind, it would make sense for the Canadian Government to consider the role of faith – both in our country and in others – when dealing with international development issues.

All of this, however, should not be taken as a major criticism of Canadian civil society. After all, most Canadian NGOs have no religious affiliation, so why would we expect them to uphold religious beliefs?

Rather, this is a call to faith-based organizations like MCC to take a leadership role in international development by demonstrating the important role that faith communities play. In this way we can exemplify the faith that God accepts as pure and faultless as expressed in James 1:27 – to reach out to those in our world who need help the most.

by Casey van Wensem, Advocacy Research Intern at the MCC Ottawa Office

 Graphics from End Poverty by 2015