Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important debate this evening.
It is important to recognize the tremendous unanimity of views in the House tonight, faced as we are and watching as we do the tremendous destruction and the devastation of the livelihood of innocent people who live in Kosovo. We have now been watching this for more than a year.
The humanitarian situation in Kosovo is disastrous with hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees, some of whom lack basic shelter and basic necessity.
What is the most shocking is that many of the problems are the direct result of the due actions of the Yugoslav government which itself is charged with the basic responsibility of its own people, its own citizens in that area. It is clear we are watching the war of a government on its own citizens, determined to drive them into the country, determined to drive them into the ground.
The situation of violence and oppression is creating a humanitarian situation of enormous proportions. Some 290,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict in Kosovo. I come from a city of 3.5 million people. If we had 300,000 people displaced in the city of Toronto, imagine how we would cope with that tremendous problem. We are having problems coping with homelessness, with disease and with other issues within our own communities now. How would we cope with the enormity of that disaster?
For those who go back to the Quebec ice storm, think of what it would be in terms of humanitarian tragedy if the people the ice storm struck had nowhere to go, nowhere to return, and were going back to bombed houses, totally destroyed places. This is the type of life that the people in Kosovo are living at the behest of their own government. This is the terrifying aspect. Winter approaches. Some 50,000 people, children and elderly, are without shelter and afraid to return to the remains of their homes.
We watch the situation on television. We read about it in the newspapers but we have little firsthand experience. This evening in the House we heard from the Reform member for Red Deer. He spoke of when he travelled to Bosnia. I can echo that. We have some experience with it, as does the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence. We travelled to Bosnia. We have been there. We have seen devastation in those areas. The same is now taking place in Kosovo.
There is a difference between what is taking place in Kosovo today and what is taking place in Bosnia today. That difference is the fact that in Bosnia some years ago NATO chose to act. We acted with efficiency. We finally were pushed into the situation where we had to do something. We did it. Today, while we have to live with the tremendous situation the member for Red Deer described, to some extent we are seeing a situation where peace, security and civil society are returning. Farmers can till their fields. Children can play. Birds can sing again. There is a chance for life, which does not exist in Kosovo.
Why is there that difference? The difference is, as the minister pointed out in his opening statement, the Yugoslav authorities have a plan to terrorize their own population. That plan is succeeding for one reason and one reason only. It is that there is no credible threat from the international community that will stop them.
Stopping them with resolutions was proven in the Bosnia situation not to be successful. Words are good in parliaments. They are a part of our work. However words will not deal with Slobodan Milosevic. We learned that in Bosnia. He will only be stopped by actions. That was our experience. There is no reason it would not apply here as it applied in Bosnia.
The need to act is clear. All members in the House that I heard speak tonight have echoed that. How to act, however, is less clear. There will be debate and there will be reasonable discussions about how we should act. We know, as the member from Esquimalt and many others have pointed out, that NATO has the capacity to act. The question we must ask ourselves is a reasonable one. What is the legal authority by which NATO will act? If we act without legal authority that is an issue.
I had the privilege of attending the debates of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in Copenhagen this summer. We debated a resolution on Kosovo. A strong debate took place between those of us who wanted to ensure there would be a capacity to act and those who were more determined that whatever action would be taken would be taken under legal authority.
Eventually the OSCE adopted a resolution which provided that military measures should be taken in Kosovo with the explicit endorsement of a relevant UN security council resolution.
I opposed that aspect of the resolution when it came up in the OSCE assembly. I would oppose the same approach we are taking tonight. The foreign minister addressed the reason in his remarks. If we depend upon a clear security council resolution with Russian and Chinese approval, there is a serious chance it just will not happen.
The member for Red Deer put that in context tonight. We have to look at that as members of parliament who believe in a world society which is governed more and more by the rule of law. The very humanitarian principles we seek to apply tonight are those that create the sense of the world law to which we want to adhere if we are to have a rule of law we can all live within. It would be similar to the rule of law those of us in the House adhere to, wish to adhere to, and wish to build in a world community in the same way we have in our wonderful Canadian society. We must be aware of that.
While the security council resolution is important and may put the UN authority in jeopardy if we act without it, we have to face the fact that if we allow the UN security council issue to prevent us from acting the UN will lose its authority in the world. It will be eroded to such a point that it will become irrelevant for all of us.
I believe my view echoes that of most members who have spoken tonight. We must prepare to act. It must be a preparation that is credible and determined. It is only this credible and determined action and the ability to deliver it that will provide the Yugoslav authorities with a reason to back down. Only that will bring them to the table. Only that will force them to act. If not, we will see this situation drag on. We will see problems develop in the region that will be worse than those if we do not act.
I met with the Macedonian ambassador today. He told me not to be hasty in this matter. He said that they would be ineffective if precipitous NATO action was taken. I asked him what would happen if this situation were to drag on for another year, what would happen to the communities and societies living on the border of this untenable situation.
That is what the situation will be. It will drag on for years. We will not see 200,000 refugees; we will see 400,000 refugees. Inevitably people will be dragged into the situation. If we do not act now, the worst thing that will happen is that we will have to act a year from now when thousands of lives will have been lost and the situation will be much worse. It is always that way. We are forced to act.
We must deal with Russia's reaction, with Turkey and with Greece. All of this is true. The risk of not acting is worse than the threat of acting. We must act if we are to preserve the moral authority of our situation in a world where we must preserve humanitarian rights in the face of the determination of states to deny rights to their own citizens.
I read a little history as I prepared for my speech tonight. Count Bismarck who subsequently became Prince Bismarck, the chancellor of the German Empire as it was then, said in 1890 “If there is another war in Europe it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans”. This is not a damned silly thing we are talking about tonight. This is a human tragedy. We are on the threshold of the 21st century and nothing has changed.
We owe it to ourselves to act as parliamentarians and as citizens of the world to make a change. Let us pledge in the House tonight that we will act together to make a change. Let us pledge that we will keep the spirit of the House tonight in which all members are saying that we must act. Let us encourage our government to be positive, to act and to end the humanitarian tragedy that we are facing. If we do not act today we will act in the future and it will be worse.