A new Canada-Mexico partnership — one that fights against mass atrocities

With a global power vacuum, middle powers like Canada and Mexico need to boost their support of, and cooperation on, anti-atrocity initiatives.

By: , /
December 8, 2016
Trudeau Pena Nieto
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Last year the United Nations established the first international day to commemorate the victims of genocide. Officially called the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, the day is marked on Dec. 9 — a reminder to the world of our collective responsibility to stop mass atrocities. It was also on this very day in 1948 that the Genocide Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. 

“The prevention of genocide is a specific obligation under international law,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon remarked in 2015. “Governments must act on this imperative by investing in prevention and taking preventive action. On this new international observance, let us recognize the need to work together more concertedly to protect individuals from gross human rights violations and uphold our common humanity.”

Unfortunately, as today’s deadly crises in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the Central African Republic demonstrate, the worst kind of human rights abuses are still being committed. More political will and leadership are needed to work for the prevention and interdiction of these atrocities. 

No doubt this will be a challenge for incoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who takes the reins from Ban on January 1. There is also no better time than now for countries like Canada to play a pivotal role in the world and to assist other countries to live up to their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.

Following the horrific genocide committed in Rwanda in 1994, Canada played a significant role in the development of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine. With the support of then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Canada established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which went on to release a report in 2001 that argued national sovereignty came with responsibility. In other words, if countries failed to protect their citizens from mass atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes) then the international community must respond promptly.

Thanks to relentless lobbying by Canada, R2P was adopted and endorsed by all UN member states in 2005. But while Canada’s role is well known, Mexico — a country we more often think of when it comes to trade — has also been a strong supporter of R2P and an anti-atrocity leader in the global community. 

The former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Rosario Green, served on the advisory board to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty that introduced R2P to the world in 2001. In 2009, the first regional forum for Latin America and the Caribbean on the Responsibility to Protect was held in Mexico City. Since then the government of Mexico also appointed a national focal point for the Responsibility to Protect, which underlines the country’s commitment to help solve this global problem.

Last but not least, in 2014 Mexico partnered with France in launching an important initiative to try and get the five countries with permanent seats on the UN Security Council to refrain from using their veto power to block action when atrocities are ongoing. The two states submitted a statement open for signature at the 70th General Assembly Summit that resulted in over 80 countries endorsing the France/Mexico initiative.

While progress is being made, more can be done. If we are to improve global governance and protect human rights, middle power countries like Canada and Mexico need to work together more closely to achieve a more stable and peaceful planet. With the rise of populism, we cannot assume countries that traditionally engaged on these issues will continue to do so.

Canada and Mexico must work in closer cooperation to support R2P at the political level and operationalize it through UN peacekeeping operations. They must join voices and continue to advocate for the restraint of the use of the veto at the UN Security Council when atrocities are unfolding. And they should also join other initiatives including the recently formed “Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes” network.

For too long the Mexican-Canadian relationship was focused on travel and trade. The time has come to deepen our cooperation on issues of global importance.