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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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When states fail to protect their own, the United Nations must act
By Lloyd Axworthy
The Toronto Star
September 11, 2005


At the end of the last century, it became evident that new sets of common risks threaten the security of individuals regardless of nationality. Old notions of national security predicated on the defense of borders make little sense when the threat posed by violence and conflict, international networks of predators and criminals, pandemics and natural disasters requires a new approach to protecting people.

After the Kosovo intervention it became clear that a new international regime was necessary to set rules and procedures to manage international action for the protection of people. An international commission, established by Canada with the approval of the Secretary General, crafted a definition of sovereignty centred not on the prerogatives of the state but on its responsibility to protect its citizens. If a state legitimately protects its citizens then it is in full right of its sovereign power. If it fails to do so, or in fact is the perpetrator of a massive attack on the rights of its citizens, then the international community must assume that function.

The U.N. summit can be an opportunity for Canada to show leadership in helping to implement a Responsibility to Protect resolution. We have a blueprint that could well provide the forthcoming assembly session with a framework in which to re-wire the U.N. system, to make it an effective instrument to respond to the risks of civil conflict and global calamity.

Not an easy task. Already the obstructionists, traditional U.N.-haters and entrenched sovereignists are busy in New York trying to scuttle the reform efforts. To overcome the opposition, we will have to take the reform process beyond traditional diplomacy and begin enlisting the power of civil society through the tools of international communication and organization. At last count there were more than 25,000 human rights organizations around the world. This is a powerful voice Canada can help harness to the advancement of a new human rights system at the U.N. based on the "responsibility to protect" model.

And no other country is better suited than Canada to take on a leadership role. The federal government should be making it a priority - indeed should already be in a proactive planning phase - to quickly develop a Canada-made action plan on human rights and the responsibility to protect, based on the summit leader's declaration.

Graham Greene wrote, "Once in a while a door opens and lets the future in." Canada has a chance in the next few weeks to prove that we can open doors. Will Canada step up to the threshold?

Lloyd Axworthy is president of the University of Winnipeg and former minister of foreign affairs.

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