One of the biggest criticisms lodged against Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, has been his lack of commentary on the country’s history with its indigenous people of its First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations. In what could be considered a daring move, Trudeau used his time at the General Assembly podium to address this oversight.
Describing this blight in Canada’s history as a “great shame,” Trudeau painted a bleak picture of the legacy of Canada’s paternalistic colonialism on the lives of its First Nations. He spoke to an audience, unusually full for the third day of General Assembly, about parents who when they wished their children goodnight were unsure if they would be there in the morning, out of fear of youths either running away or taking their own lives because of the limited opportunities indigenous people in Canada face.
Trudeau framed Canada’s reconciliation with its indigenous people to address climate change and equality issues as well. During a media briefing immediately after his remarks, Trudeau was open in his intent to use domestic reconciliation as a platform in the international UN venue, saying it was the best way for Canada to “pave the way to move away from colonial structures and establish new structures which will respect the inherent rights of indigenous people.”
“If I suggest certain countries need to do better on human rights,” Trudeau added, “the response has been ‘tell me about indigenous people’s rights in Canada.’ It’s time we owned our history.”
Trudeau used the briefing to address the global issues not addressed in his speech. If the Trudeau who spoke in the General Assembly was honest about Canada’s history, the Trudeau of the briefing was honest about his agenda for Canada. He focused on, for example, Canada’s strong support for multilateral diplomatic solutions, following the script of many of G7 leaders this week; not surprisingly, it may be related to the fact that Canada is seeking a seat on the Security Council for the 2021-2022 term. — LAURA KIRKPATRICK
Divining major powers’ speeches
Russia: Diving straight into “extraterritorial use of national laws,” Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, said he was pleased to see Trump, the US president, state in his speech on Sept. 19 that it is important to abide by the “sovereignty of one’s affairs” — a concept, Lavrov said, that means countries can work side by side based on mutual respect and reject interference by other countries in one’s own affairs.
Lavrov, whose gift for rhetoric was on full speed at the General Assembly, said, among other remarks trumpeting Russia, that his country “has honestly gone through its share toward elimination of war” as NATO is trying to restore the climate of the Cold War. The West’s construct of a “you against us” policy has provoked instability in certain areas and is the “roots of [the] lengthy conflict in Eastern Ukraine.”
As with most speakers on the agenda for Sept. 20, Lavrov praised the UN, rebutting Trump’s determination to defund it, saying “we believe in the future of the UN.” He added that member states needed to be especially careful about peacekeeping reform “and not proceed harshly.”
Unilateral sanctions above UN sanctions is illegitimate, he noted, and “everyone is alarmed today” regarding newer restrictions against Iran. Witnessing the dangerous confrontation about North Korea, Lavrov advised that military hysteria “is a disaster.” The best response, he advised, is to return to negotiations to end the nuclearization and support the Russia-China dialogue proposed in July.
Lavrov also congratulated his country for winning the job of running the new UN office on counterterrorism (even though the job was bartered); and called the new treaty to “outlaw nuclear weapons” a mistake that will “only push this goal further away” and undermine existing disarmament treaties.
In true Lavrovian wordplay, he called the current state of foreign affairs a “polycentric world order,” a trend that everyone will need to adapt to, he noted, including “those who are used to lording it over others.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Germany: Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister, stood in for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is immersed in her re-election campaign in the Sept. 24 vote and could not attend the General Assembly session. Nevertheless, Gabriel’s tack was familiar turf for the Merkel government — apologetic for its egregious sins from World War II while acknowledging how much it cherishes its neighbors, former enemies, in the decades since it has rebuilt itself as a thriving democracy in Europe.
Gabriel, sounding liberal and dovelike, cited a speech from President John F. Kennedy in 1963, calling for new ideas for disarmament and arms control and building trust, he said. If a country can have atomic weapons and be in a position to create havoc in the world, other political leaders will follow this path, Gabriel said, speaking in German.
He also said that his country, which is running for an elected seat on the UN Security Council for 2019-2020, is committed to providing humanitarian support and to UN peacekeeping; is the fourth-largest provider of assessed contributions to the UN; and is offering about $300 million for reconstruction of Mosul, Iraq.
As for the UN itself, he said, “We have to work together to give the UN more clout and efficiency” and not focus on cutbacks but finding more resources if it is to fulfill its ambitions. “We have to change course,” Gabriel said, by granting the UN more freedom and more resources in exchange for greater transparency for use of its funds.– DULCIE LEIMBACH
China: Foreign minister Wang Yi concentrated on his country’s striving for peace coupled with development, a constant motif in its messaging at the UN, remarking that “this organization [the UN] has been upholding peace as its mission.”
China’s classic intertwining of its so-called goals for peace with economic ambitions continues to send a mixed message to the rest of the world, and Wang’s speech at the UN kept up this posture, avoiding references to its aggressive development in the South China Sea. Wang also noted a “new type of international relations”: win/win cooperation, attributing it to “a great vision from Xi Jinping,” China’s president.
China usually supports the UN in its speeches, saying this time that it “needs to lead the global united front against terrorism” and “should serve as the main channel as conflict prevention and step up mediation efforts,” among its many roles.
As to the prickly situation on the Korean peninsula, Wang referred to the original six-party talks that were set up 13 years ago, promoting the statements from the talks as still relevant. He repeated that denuclearization of the peninsula is paramount, and in a vague poke at the US, called on it to “honor its formal commitment” — without providing details.
“There is still hope for peace and we must not give up,” Wang said, adding, “China is always a force for peace . . . committed to denuclearization of the peninsula.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
The forgotten war
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi of Yemen reminded the world that his country is ending its third year of war, “imposed by the Houthi coalition.” The war, Hadi did not say, has left more than 7,600 people dead, a raging cholera epidemic and a humanitarian disaster putting the country on the verge of famine.
Hadi remains the internationally recognized leader of Yemen, although he lives in exile in Saudi Arabia (and does not appear to be underfed). He drew a black-and-white picture of the status of the Arab world’s poorest nation, pointing fingers for the collapse of the government on the Houthis, an “evil coalition” that has “rebelled against consensual solutions . . . and the political process carried out by UN” and “taken the country hostage.”
Yemenis, Hadi said, have taken one stand, to resist the rebels, “who are implementing an Iranian expansionist agenda in our region.” That is why Hadi and his government “request support from our generous brethren, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and they have stood by us.”
They certainly have been dropping plenty of bombs on strongholds of Houthis in Yemen, aided and abetted by Britain and the US in arms sales and military technical expertise; the US is also waging a bombing campaign in Yemen against the local Al Qaeda affiliate. Iran, for its part, has been accused by the West of arming the Houthis.
With only passing reference to the cholera epidemic and the “food insecurity” crisis, Hadi thanked Saudi Arabia for its “continued humanitarian relief.” This conflict, he failed to note, has not appeared prominently on the radar of the UN Security Council, through influence by Britain and the US, to the consternation of other Council members, countries in the region not aligned with the Saudis, international human-rights experts and child-monitoring agencies of the UN. A solution for the lengthening war is not on the horizon. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
A war crimes team to probe ISIS atrocities in Iraq
The Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on Sept. 21, establishing an investigative team and special adviser (to be appointed by the secretary-general) to support the Iraqi government in collecting and preserving evidence of possible war crimes committed by ISIS. Britain and Iraq worked closely on the resolution, which explicitly respects Iraq’s sovereignty. The team will prepare evidence to be used in criminal proceedings in national courts but consistent with international law.
With an initial mandate of two years, the team is also expected to share evidence and legal expertise with their Iraqi counterparts. Britain has committed about $1.3 million to the team and is encouraging other UN member states to contribute to a voluntary fund to be set up by the UN.
Alistair Burt, Britain’s minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “We owe it to those who have suffered” to begin the slow, painstaking process of bringing perpetrators to justice.
While Russia expressed its support for the resolution, it pointed out what it considered a hypocrisy in consulting Iraq when the Syrian government has not been consulted on similar resolutions. Russia also said that its air force’s presence in Syria is justified. — KACIE CANDELA
Protecting cultural heritage from terrorism and mass atrocities
The violation of cultural assets, whether by removal or destruction, are attempts to “erase complete manifestations of history, the artistic expression that define people at a certain transient moment of history, which can never to be relived.” Those were the words of the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, speaking at a UN General Assembly side event, “Protecting cultural heritage from terrorism and mass atrocities.”
Under Bensouda, the court prosecuted Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a Malian Islamic extremist, for the destruction of some of Timbuktu’s Unesco-designated world heritage sites, primarily shrines. For his role in the desecration, Mahdi received a prison sentence of nine years in The Hague and must pay millions of dollars in restitution. (It’s unclear how he will do that given his meager assets.)
Mahdi’s case was part of growing movement, led by Italy, France, the European Union, Unesco and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, to preserve cultural heritage during conflicts. The panel at the side event often referred to the Timbuktu judgment and UN Security Council Resolution 2347 — condemning the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, religious sites and artifacts and noting that trafficking in such might constitute a war crime — as the basis for strengthening how the international community can address willful violations of cultures.
Italy is driving the global cooperation in securing these sites to combat terrorism and to promote peace and security. It is training its national police force, the carabinieri, in cultural preservation and offering this force to others.
As a mix of “hard and soft power,” said Federica Mogherini, the foreign affairs minister for the European Commission and present at the meeting, “culture is now at the heart of European way of building prosperity in the world.” — LAURA KIRKPATRICK
Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, thanked the UN and all the countries that have responded to the earthquake that devastated Mexico City on Sept. 19. He said that El Salvador and Panama were the first to respond, sending crews and equipment to aid Mexican rescue teams. Additionally, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and Chile, some of which have experience with earthquakes, have sent equipment and expert teams. Vedegaray called it a “privilege” to be a part of the UN and have friends around the world.
Videgaray also addressed the situation of the so-called Dreamers, whose immigration status is in question as the US reconsiders its DACA program. Videgaray said that while immigration policy should be defined by the US government, the Mexican government has a moral and legal obligation to protect Mexicans everywhere in the world. He said that if DACA ends, it will be a big loss for America but a big gain for Mexico. Videgaray said that he has asked the UN and Secretary-General Guterres to look out for possible human-rights violations in the US related to the problem. — KACIE CANDELA
Rex Tillerson: the eve of destruction?
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed the Security Council late Thursday on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Tillerson first addressed the moral burden of possessing nuclear weaponry, citing the enormous responsibility of nuclear stewardship, learned firsthand by the US as the only country to have used nuclear weapons in conflict. Tillerson then spoke directly of Russia, “the other great nuclear power,” urging its international cooperation.
Tillerson also called out rogue regimes, who fail to appreciate such a responsibility, warning the nuclear proliferation could escalate destabilization and undermine the states’ prestige and security. Speaking directly about the threats posed by Iran, North Korea and nonstate terrorist actors intent on proliferation, Tillerson reaffirmed the US commitment to international standards and UN resolutions, while adding that America will “remain ever vigilant” against the threat they pose. He reiterated that the US will “destroy them long before they can reach their goal.” — LAURA KIRKPATRICK