House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was scientists.

Topics

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, first, priorities should be focused on Syria right now with Russia, saying the trade deal and those negotiations are not the priority, and to set that aside until we see some action from Russia, but also getting our allies involved here. It is clearly not going to be just because of Canada that Russia will act. It is important that we act with our allies in the region. A contact group would be the way to go in terms of structure, of getting those who can gain the ear of Russia to work together in a coordinated fashion.

As members know, the flow of arms in the trade that continues with Syria comes from Russia and if we get Russia, I believe we can get China which is the other veto on the Security Council.

Finally, as I said before, it is also important that Canada support and respect the UN and that we show we are responsible when it comes to the UN and we earn back the trust of members of the UN so we will also one day have our seat back on the Security Council which, of course, would give us more influence.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Madam Chair, as the parliamentary secretary was saying, Russia and Syria have an important relationship. However, Canada also has a good relationship with Syria when it comes to trade. It should be noted that Syria is a major economic partner to Canada and that many Canadian investors invest in Syria.

What can be done, in that respect, to put more pressure on Syria?

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, that brings up the question of a coordinated effort. We do have a lot of business interests, but we obviously cannot do this alone. If we look at the confluence of contacts within the business community, ensuring that those who have done truck and trade in the past with the regime or truck and trade with countries that are continuing to do business with Syria, then that could be something we push.

I should take a moment to underline that we need to push the issue of an investigation on Houla. There is an opportunity here. We could push Russia to get an outside independent investigation of what happened this past weekend in Houla to ensure that there would be an independent investigation. We have the regime saying that it wants to ensure that there is an investigation. We could ask Russia, which is trusted by this regime, to push for this as well. It could be something that allows for some action to take place.

Finally, we need to strengthen the Annan initiative. It is something that everyone was hoping would have done more. Clearly it needs to be strengthened and we need to convince our two Security Council representatives, China and Russia, to accept that process.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I would like the hon. member for Ottawa Centre to say a few words about something he has not yet had time to raise, and that is the situation of ethnic minorities.

To what extent are the ethnic minorities at risk in the Syrian conflict? We know there are strong ethnic tensions in that region and in Syria in particular.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, most people who have studied Syria know that this is a very diverse country. There are diversities within religion and ethnic groups. We know that Assad has done a very good job of knitting together alliances with different groups. From a minority group himself, that is how he has been able to hold onto power.

Clearly what should be underlined here is the need to ensure that minorities not be targeted. We saw what happened after the fallout from the war in Iraq. The dissent into chaos was not just about a civil war so to speak. It was about ethnic groups fighting each other and targeting each other based on religion. We also saw the sad spectacle of al-Qaeda coming in to a place where it had no reach at all before. This remains a concern.

Those who would say “arm the other side”, I would ask them if they know who the other side is. Be careful because it could be extremists. There was a bombing recently where I believe 54 soldiers were killed on the Syrian government side. Some are suggesting that outside militants were involved. We do not know, but we should be cautious.

At the end of the day, we see many groups that are concerned that their ethnicity and religion are targets for those who wish to take out grievances. We need to be vigilant on this.

Finally, we need to support both Jordan and Turkey which are receiving many of the refugees fleeing this violence.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 7:50 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Madam Chair, I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the debate this evening, though, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre put it, with a heavy heart given the atrocities there.

The death and destruction, brutality and barbarism, of the Syrian government's latest massacres of its own civilians, as described by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the member for Ottawa Centre, have passed a tipping point, indeed if it had not been passed before, mandating the invocation and application by the UN Security Council of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and requisite international action.

The massacre in Houla followed a familiar pattern of Syrian assault and brutality. Syrian tanks, heavy weapons and artillery, which were to have been withdrawn to barracks, in accordance with the UN security resolution endorsing the Kofi Annan peace plan, indiscriminately bombarded the Syrian town of Houla and followed it up with a particularly barbaric slaughter of its inhabitants, a wanton execution even by the standards of Hafez al-Assad, going house to house with guns, axes and knives, leaving more than 108 dead, 49 of whom were children.

The Syrian government argues that this was the work of “armed terrorists”, but it was Syrian tanks and artillery that encircled and bombed Houla, in violation of the UN-supported ceasefire that itself has been violated again and again, and Syrian militias, Shabihas, as attested to by the UN monitors themselves, that perpetrated the atrocities.

Moreover, the weekend blood-letting in Houla was followed by still more killing of 50 civilians in Homs, the oft repeated target of such brutal assaults, again in violation of this “ceasefire”.

Indeed, the massacre was so barbaric in its brutality that the Security Council moved quickly, in the aftermath of the Houla massacre, to unanimously condemn:

—in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers...in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood.

The non-binding UN Security Council statement continued:

Such outrageous use of force against civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government under United Nations Security Council resolutions...

However, the Security Council action was only a press statement, not even a presidential statement, such that it does not even form part of the record of the UN Security Council. Shockingly, it is as if, for the official record of the UN Security Council, this massacre never took place. Nor was this a resolution of the UN Security Council itself. Nor did it contain any reference to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, let alone invoke the doctrine as authority for collective action by the international community.

Such collective action need not, and I think this needs to be stated, involve only military action or even involve a military action. There is a whole series of initiatives that the Security Council can take that I hope to get to in my remarks and outline what said resolution could include.

However, the tipping point for R2P has clearly arrived. Indeed, this is a paradigm case for the invocation of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. More than 12,000 Syrian civilians have been murdered, close to 1,000 of them since the UN-endorsed Annan peace plan went into effect on April 12, and some 13 months have passed since The Economist published a cover story in April 2011, entitled “Savagery in Syria”. Thousands more have been imprisoned, some of whom were tortured and executed in detention, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. And while Kofi Annan was visiting with the Syrian leader just last week, in the aftermath of the Houla massacre, there was, yet again, the discovery of grisly murders in Assukar in eastern Syria.

Indeed, the UN-approved Annan peace plan has been unravelling, if it has not already unravelled. Simply put, the unarmed 290 peace monitors dispatched under the plan have not so much monitored the ceasefire, which has yet to occur, as much as they have been used as a political cover for the killings themselves and the violations of the peace plan itself.

First, the Annan peace plan called for “a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms”, and for the Syrian government to “immediately cease troop movement towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres,” as a condition for the ceasefire, but the Syrian government has been violating this requirement since it was adopted, increasing its troop movements and bombardment of population centres, such as occurred two weeks ago and since, while the brutality of the regime has continued unabated.

Second, the Annan plan sought the “timely provision of humanitarian assistance”; yet by all accounts, Syria is experiencing a humanitarian disaster, with one million civilians deprived of food, shelter and medicine, the basic staples of humanitarian relief.

Third, the plan sought to “intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons”; yet arbitrary detentions and torture in detention have continued, as have disappearances and executions.

Fourth, the plan sought to ensure freedom of movement for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them; yet much of the country remains closed to those who would seek to report on the regime's crimes and thereby even deter them.

Fifth, the plan called for respect for freedom of association and “the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed”; but Syrians who have demonstrated peacefully, as occurred recently in Aleppo, do so at their peril, if not at the peril of their lives.

Finally, the peace plan called for a transition to a “democratic, plural political system” to address “the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”; but this undertaking is repeatedly mocked by the Syrian government's justification of the killings on the grounds that those who sought a democratic, pluralist political system were terrorists, thereby justifying the massacre in Houla, for example.

The question then becomes: What needs to be done, and as the member for Ottawa Centre put it, what have we learned in order to resolve what needs to be done?

One is reminded, and it bears a reminder at this point, of the poignant and painful dispatch of U.K.-based journalist Marie Colvin just before she herself was murdered in the assault on Homs two months ago, wherein she decried the Syrian government's “merciless disregard” for the humanity of the Syrian people. Her last words bear recalling, particularly this evening. “Am in Baba Amr. Sickening. Cannot understand how the world can stand by, and I should be hardened by now.... Feeling helpless.... No one here can understand how the international community can let this happen”.

Simply put, Marie Colvin sought to sound the alarm on the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Assad regime against the Syrian people, the classic rationale for the invocation of the responsibility to protect doctrine, when the state, as in the case of Syria, is the author of that criminality. Indeed, one might also ask what happened to the hallowed R2P doctrine.

At the UN world summit in 2005, more than 150 heads of state and governments unanimously adopted a declaration on the responsibility to protect, authorizing international collective action to protect a state's population “from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. If that state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, or worse, as in the case of Syria, that state is the author of such criminality.

When the peaceful protests in Syria began in March 2011 in Daraa, triggered by the arrest of young Syrians whose only crime was anti-regime graffiti, Syrian demonstrators then took to the streets, olive branches in their hands, proclaiming “peaceful, peaceful”, the march heralding the prospective blossoming of the Syrian Arab Spring after both Tunisia and Egypt.

Since then, those seeking freedom and democracy have looked for international support and solidarity in their struggle against the murderous regime. Accordingly, what is required now is a UN Security Council resolution. It is astonishing that no such resolution has yet to be adopted after 14 months of mass atrocity in order to implement the conditions of the initial Arab League peace plan, which evolved into the UN-sponsored Annan peace plan. It is time we acted on our international obligations under the R2P doctrine, whose first pillar is that of “sovereignty has responsibility”.

In particular, what is so necessary now is a comprehensive, consequential and binding UN Security Council resolution that would include the following elements.

First is the cessation of Syrian government violence; the mandated deployment of an Arab-led peace protection force in Syria; and the ordering of troops and tanks back to barracks and bases.

Clearly, the deployment of 290 unarmed UN monitors, not unlike the initial deployment of Arab League monitors, has ended up with the monitors being observers to the killings rather than a protection force to prevent the killings to begin with.

Second is protecting against the vulnerability of the targeted civilian neighbourhoods, and the related refugee flow toward Syria's Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian borders, through the establishment of civilian protection zones, which Anne-Marie Slaughter referred to as no-kill zones, along Syria's international borders.

Third is the provision of unfettered access to the sick and wounded for the humanitarian agencies such as the International Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent. People are dying as much of hunger as by bullets, as much of neglect as by artillery. As Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, put it three months ago, and it has only gotten worse since:

It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help.

Fourth, the UN resolution, pursuant to its implementation of the Annan peace plan, must mandate media access, both as a means of providing independent verification of violations of the plan, if not to help deter these violations—

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I must interrupt the hon. member. The time has elapsed. Perhaps he can add some more in comments and questions.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, now that the three major parties have already made their positions clear, it is absolutely clear that all of us are seriously concerned with the situation that is taking place in Syria, aside from a few partisan jabs by the NDP. Otherwise, we are all on the same line, that being that action needs to be taken in reference to what is happening in Syria. I am delighted tonight that we have all had the opportunity, from here representing Canadians, to make a very strong statement to the Assad regime that its actions, its atrocities, are not acceptable.

At one point the NDP was talking about, as I said, the partisan thing of not being on the Security Council. However, the hon. member for Mount Royal has already stated quite clearly how ineffective the Security Council has been up to now in reference to taking action.

As recently as today, both the presidents of Russia and China have said they will not endorse the regime change in Syria, all saying quite clearly they would be supporting the Assad regime. They said it even today. Both of them have veto power at the Security Council to stop any kind of a resolution, including the right to protect out there. We have just called for the Security Council to take action.

I would say to the NDP that we took a strong stand at the Human Rights Council in Geneva by sponsoring the condemnation of the Syrian regime. It does not only have to be the Security Council. There are other venues like when Canada sponsored the Iranian resolution condemning Iran at the General Assembly. Therefore, we can do it. I am very happy and glad to see that the member brought the question—

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I would like to give the hon. member an opportunity to respond.

The hon. member for Mount Royal.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Madam Chair, other agencies such as the United Nations Human Rights Council do have a role to play. When I had to abbreviate my remarks, I was about to follow with that which the UN Human Rights Council can do by way of an independent commission of inquiry as recently voted upon. The problem is Syria, because it does not admit that UN commission of inquiry in order to engage in that investigation.

Similarly with regard to the UN Security Council, the UN Security Council has not been the problem. It has adopted resolutions, admittedly somewhat belatedly. The problem has been China and Russia, which have vetoed those resolutions. I might add that two unanimous resolutions were passed but they were not resolutions actually; they were more by way of a presidential statement.

What is needed at this point is a binding UN Security Council resolution, the elements of which I have sought to describe. Maybe I might just continue to give some of those elements that I could not give before for reasons of time.

What is needed are expanded and enhanced sanctions that the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as the U.K., France and others have called for. In other words, global travel bans and asset freezes, utter diplomatic isolation and condemnation, the expulsion of Syrian diplomats, as our government and others have done, and the treatment of the Syrian government as the pariah it has become, devoid of any legitimacy.

I might add that the Syrian government has continued to violate all principles and canons of international law. One need only look at the documentary evidence in this regard to appreciate that the authorizations for all these violations have come from the highest levels of the Syrian government, from every layer of the Assad regime's military intelligence and security apparatus. They have to be held accountable for their war crimes, and they have to be put on notice that they will be held accountable.

Seventh, and again pursuant to the Annan peace plan, the UN resolution must require the release of all arbitrarily detained persons and political prisoners. Any resolution must order and implement, as a means for verifying, a complete arms embargo again as a condition of maintaining the peace, and the member for Ottawa Centre mentioned this as well. Just recently there have been documented reports of arms shipments by Russia to Syria. We need a complete arms embargo.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:05 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I want to give the member for Mount Royal a chance to expand even further if he wishes to.

I have a question and maybe just a response to my friend from the government side. My statement was that we need to earn back our security council seat, because we lost it. This was simply an observation and not partisan. We would be able to do that, I am sure, if we demonstrate respect for the UN. That is a simple observation and it is a proposition for my colleague. This is in the spirit of a proposition.

However, I want to ask my colleague to expand more. One idea that has come forward is the idea of a motion from the general assembly along the lines of what my colleague has outlined, to put more pressure on both China and Russia and to show that the general assembly also has a role here. Granted it is not in a position of ultimate power, but perhaps it would be another way to put pressure on those countries that are on the security council that are vetoing what are good initiatives, as he has already laid out. Perhaps that would be another way to continue to put pressure on both China and Russia.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Yes, Madam Chair, I would support such a resolution by the UN General Assembly. We could get a preponderant vote in the UN General Assembly because we have to appreciate that Russia and China are isolated. The UN Security Council resolutions that they vetoed, 13 members of the UN Security Council supported. The United Nations Human Rights Council proposed a commission of inquiry and it was only Russia, China and Cuba that opposed it and 43 supported it. Again, they were isolated.

A UN General Assembly resolution would show that the preponderant membership of the international community is in support of some of the elements that I and my colleagues have mentioned this evening and would further isolate Russia and China and exercise a kind of diplomatic leverage that perhaps could shame them into supporting a UN Security Council resolution.

I will continue with some of the elements, as the member for Ottawa Centre invited me to do. This resolution, pursuant to the Annan peace plan, should mandate an inclusive political dialogue and process that genuinely respects the legitimate aspirations of the whole of the Syrian people, including the large majority that are not Alawi and in which, as the UN plan put it, “citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations, ethnicities or beliefs” and with a view to President Assad stepping down as part of that process.

The international community needs to leverage, as I mentioned, Russia and China. We need to do so in such a way that Russia in particular has to appreciate that if it seeks to be part of a Middle East peace process, as it always has aspired to do, and if it seeks legitimacy as a superpower, which it aspires to be, then it must conduct itself as a legitimate superpower would, as one that cares about peace in the Middle East would and, thereby, not veto such a UN Security Council resolution.

In the event that it would continue to seek to veto such a resolution I will invoke here as a recommendation the Kosovo precedent. This was referred to by the member for Ottawa Centre. When Kosovo occurred, we did not have a unanimous resolution that authorized intervention at the time. We had only a majority at the time because Russia had vetoed it as well. We even have a larger and more significant majority now for a resolution with regard to Syria than we had with regard to Kosovo. I would recommend that in the event that we do not get full unanimity, then we should adopt the Kosovo precedent.

In conclusion, Syria is a case study of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine: first, the notion of the principle of sovereignty as responsibility, a country's responsibility to protect its citizens; second, and this I take up with my colleague from Ottawa Centre, the responsibility to remember the lessons of history, le devoir de mémoire of the dangers of indifference and the importance of the responsibility to even prevent atrocities to begin with; third, the dangers of inaction in the face of mass atrocity and the responsibility to act in order to hold the perpetrators accountable; fourth, the danger of impunity and the responsibility to bring the perpetrators to justice.

As UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has put it, “loss of time means more loss of lives”. Tragically, we have not yet done what needs to be done in order to save lives.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:10 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Chair, the violence in Syria continues to take a terrible toll on the civilian population. Canadians were horrified to learn the details of the May 25 massacre in Houla, Syria. Shockingly, the dead included 49 children, executed in cold blood.

Despite an international outcry and the UN Security Council condemnation, Syrian forces continue to assault the people of Houla. This slaughter underscores the appalling impact of the Assad regime's efforts to repress the people of Syria. Since the violence began more than 9,000 Syrians, most of them civilians, have lost their lives. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes and communities, and more than one million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Canada has soundly condemned the Assad regime's vicious attacks on civilian populations. We welcomed the UN Security Council's condemnation of the killings in Houla, which noted that such outrageous use of force against the civilian population constitutes a violation of international law. We echo the Security Council's demands that the government of Syria immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres and return troops to their barracks. We join the Security Council and our allies in calling for those responsible for the heinous attacks against the Syrian population, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, to be brought to justice.

Canada stands with the Syrian people in their time of need. In March, the Minister of International Cooperation, announced a contribution of up to $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance to allow humanitarian organizations to provide urgent life-saving relief inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. This support will provide Syrians affected by the violence with emergency food assistance, safe water, sanitation facilities, essential household items and other much needed help.

Recent attacks in Houla underscore the brutal reign of a tyrannical regime. The people of Syria, a proud people, devoted to their homes and their communities, have chosen to flee their country and seek refuge outside its borders. More than 70,000 people and their families are currently receiving help in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In these countries, it is the quiet heroism of ordinary people who open their doors and their homes for those in need. We honour their humanity.

For many of those remaining in Syria the outlook is grim. Relief workers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as UN agencies, are making heroic efforts to meet the urgent life-saving needs of those affected by the violence. However, these efforts continue to be obstructed by the Assad regime.

Last month, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Cooperation welcomed Valerie Amos, UN emergency relief coordinator, to Ottawa to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. The UN has made it clear to Syria that the humanitarian needs are enormous and access is required by the UN to provide urgent life-saving assistance. Canada continues to call for full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to reach those in need. Those in positions of power in Syria must move quickly to facilitate relief efforts. Our government will continue to press at every opportunity until that access is granted.

Canada is appalled by the threats to safety and security faced by humanitarian workers in Syria. Already, the Secretary General of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and two Red Crescent volunteers have lost their lives in the line of duty. We mourn their loss and we pay tribute to their courage. We condemn the lack of respect for life-saving medical services in Syria. Medical personnel, facilities and ambulances must not be targeted and health care personnel must be able to provide aid in safety and without hindrance. The Red Cross and the Red Crescent emblems must be respected by all sides.

Canada continues to support the efforts of the international community to bring an end to the violence. Recent evidence of mass graves dug by the regime's butchers is irrefutable. We have repeatedly called on all parties to co-operate with UN observers, to respect the ceasefire, and to support the efforts of Kofi Annan, joint special envoy, to resolve the crisis, including full implementation of the six-point peace plan. The plan requires the cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians, and calls upon all parties to ensure the timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly condemned the violence in Syria, including the Houla massacre, but the time has come for stronger action. The Security Council must increase the pressure on Assad to end what is rapidly becoming a humanitarian catastrophe by adopting strong sanctions against the regime.

Canada has enacted strict economic sanctions against the Assad regime and has recently expelled all remaining Syrian diplomats. We call on countries around the world to adopt equally strong measures against the Assad regime to ensure that it fulfills its commitments and immediately stops the senseless slaughter of its own people. We call on countries with ties to Syria to urge an immediate implementation of the ceasefire and other provisions of the Annan plan before the humanitarian situation becomes more dire.

We call on countries with ties to Syria to offer evidence for how the Assad regime is any better than all the other alternatives.

The violence in Syria must end. The people of Syria must be saved from oppression and attacks. Civilians denied the necessities of life must be provided with humanitarian assistance. The international community must redouble its efforts to pressure the Syrian regime. The Government of Canada will continue to monitor the humanitarian situation in Syria and work with our partners in an effort to end the suffering of civilians and ensure life-saving assistance reaches those who need it most.

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Chair, we state the facts on this side of the room. We were surprised, for instance when Canada lost its seat on the Security Council and did not even bother the second time around to be a candidate for a seat on the Security Council, because of the reputation we lost.

These are facts. We cannot deny them. I would like to ask a question with respect to international law. It is unfortunate that our colleague from Mount Royal is already gone because I wanted to ask a similar question.

When one is a member state of the UN—

Situation in Syria
Government Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Denise Savoie

It is a rule in the House that we cannot mention the presence or absence of a sitting member, just for the record.