Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate on the motion by the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the Canadian role in Libya.
Canada's armed forces are helping protect the civilian population in Libya from violence at the hands of the Gadhafi regime. Our actions in Libya are part of a NATO-led mission authorized by United Nations Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. The House of Commons unanimously voted for sanctions and to endorse military action. The conditions that prompted these actions still exist.
The Gadhafi regime has continually shown no regard for human rights and has refused to abide by its own international humanitarian and legal obligations. It has chosen to wage war against its own people, including alleged acts of sexual violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war to further the regime's military goals. For that reason, it is our Conservative government's position that Canada's role in Libya must continue alongside our NATO partners in the timeframe set out by the alliance, which is the reason we are debating this motion today.
NATO leaders have said that a 90-day extension is currently required to effect change in Libya and we have agreed with that assessment. Canada has and will continue to work closely with its international and regional partners, such as the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and NATO, to ensure that peace and security are brought to the people of Libya.
As the minister for the Status of Women and a female member of Parliament in a freely elected House of Commons, I wish to address the serious allegation that the Gadhafi regime is using rape, fear of rape and other forms of sexual violence against the Libyan population.
Given the chaotic situation in western Libya and the stigma attached to reporting rape in Libya, it is difficult to know exactly what is going on at this time, but we are learning more every day. The investigation by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court indicated on June 8 that the prosecutor has significant evidence that Gadhafi is using rape as a weapon against the Libyan population. The prosecutor, therefore, is considering adding rape to the serious charges against Gadhafi and his relatives.
We have all heard reports on the case of Ms. Imam al-Obeidi, who was abducted and subsequently detained while attempting to tell a group of foreign journalists in March that she had been tortured and gang raped by 15 members of Gadhafi's forces. Allegations of attacks such as those against Ms. al-Obeidi must be investigated. Torture and the widespread and systematic use of rape against the population are not only serious violations of international law but are abhorrent and unacceptable.
I would like to focus the rest of my comments on the broader perspective for women and girls.
The specific experience of women and girls in armed conflict is often linked to their status in society. We know that when women and girls thrive, the whole of society benefits. So empowering women and girls can help to promote peace and progress for all.
The use of sexual violence as a tool of war devastates societies in ways that few weapons can. It ravages families and communities. It is wrong, it is immoral, it is abhorrent. In these contexts, sexual violence can be a war crime or a crime against humanity.
Countries around the world came together at the 1995 the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and agreed that, “While entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict and terrorism, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society as well as their sex”.
Where violence and discrimination against women and girls exist prior to conflict, they get worse during conflict. That is why our government is taking action. Today in Rome, the Minister of International Cooperation announced, among other measures, help for up to 50,000 women and girls in Libya who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence.
We must work to promote equality between women and men and ensure that the differential impact of conflict on women and girls is recognized and addressed through every phase of war and peace. To ensure that this happens, it is important that women be included in the peace process and that they be given the training and support they need to participate meaningfully.
In October of 2010, Canada unveiled its action plan on women, peace and security. This national action plan will help us focus and coordinate the implementation of our commitments and will increase the effectiveness of our response to ensure the systematic integration of the concerns and experiences of women and girls in conflict situations.
This principle of equality through all stages of conflict and peace is the key to the development of stable countries built on a foundation of human rights and the rule of law.
Our national action plan will guide the way Canada develops policy and how we select, train and deploy Canadian personnel and ensure they have the right knowledge and guidance for implementing Canadian policies effectively in the field. It will steer Canada's interventions abroad so they encourage the participation of women and girls, promote their rights and advance their equal access to humanitarian and development assistance.
It is in specific debates such as on this motion that national action plans are essential, and I applaud our government for its proactive position on this topic. Canada has a long history of supporting the rights and well-being of women and girls in situations of conflict, as reflected in our ongoing active implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security. We have also taken action through international programming to address sexual violence, to support civil society and to strengthen international criminal justice mechanisms.
Our government understands that work has to be undertaken in a number of areas to advance women's human rights and equality internationally. That is why we are proud that the Prime Minister is leading international efforts to improve the health and save the lives of mothers and children in some of the world's poorest countries by targeting the leading causes of mortality in mothers and children in vulnerable countries. These new initiatives will support comprehensive and integrated approaches to provide much-needed health services for mothers and children.
It was in this spirit that I spearheaded the recent successful all-party House of Commons initiative in the last parliament of Canada to lead a United Nations resolution proclaiming September 22 as an international day of the girl, a resolution supported by all parties of this chamber, recognized as key to advancing equality for girls throughout the world.
Canadians understand that when girls have a solid foundation in life with the best skills and living conditions, they can truly blossom, grow and join in building a stronger world. The international day of the girl will galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for these goals, helping to raise global awareness of the unique challenges facing girls, as well as their tremendous potential.
“Girls' Rights Matter“ was Canada's theme for International Women's Week this year, because we know that when girls know their rights, they are more likely to exercise them in ways that will benefit themselves, their families and their communities.
The promotion of human rights and the equality of women and men, boys and girls, will continue to be important priorities of Canada's foreign and aid policies. It is based on a belief that equal rights for women and girls are an essential and inherent component of progress on overall human rights and democratic development, and that sustainable and equitable development will only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners and decision-makers in the sustainable development of their societies.
Consequently, Canada has continuously promoted the integration and mainstreaming of gender analysis in the work of all international fora, including such multilateral organizations as the United Nations, the OECD, the Commonwealth, La francophonie and the OAS.
Canada has played a key role in bringing issues such as violence against women, women's rights as human rights, and national machinery for the advancement of women, and women in decision-making to the forefront of international discussion.
We have condemned the stoning of women in Afghanistan, spoken out against honour-motivated violence and condemned all forms of violence against women and girls worldwide.
Our government is also committed to addressing violence against women and girls in Canada. As members know, in the recent Speech from the Throne, we committed to taking action to address the problem of violence against women and girls.
Our government has no more fundamental duty than to protect the personal safety of our citizens. It takes this responsibility very seriously. We will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society and work to prevent crime. Violence against women affects us all. It destroys families, and weakens the fabric of our society.
I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to ensuring fair, equitable and respectful treatment of all citizens, and to taking further action against acts of violence against women and girls at home and around the world.
Over the last year I have met with women and girls from around the world. I have heard their struggles to access education and to live free from hunger, disease and violence.
We must be vigilant and stand steadfastly to ensure that women have the respect and dignity they are entitled to as human beings.