As Canada vigorously campaigns for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, the Trudeau government continues to boast of its progressive feminist foreign policy.
However, this week at opening of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland demonstrated that they lack the courage of their convictions, exposing a disappointing timidity in the face of rising Chinese power.
Last weekend in Montreal, Freeland hosted the first-ever Women Foreign Ministers Meeting. And that’s when she announced the establishment of the position of Women, Peace and Security Ambassador. And two days later, Freeland took to social media to trumpet the significance of the new diplomatic post. “This is a big step forward for our feminist foreign policy!” she declared on Twitter on Sept. 23, 2018.
Freeland told the gathering of female foreign ministers that she, as Canada’s top diplomat and “a committed feminist,” understood that “all of our efforts to advance our diplomatic, trade, security and development priorities must fully take into account the needs of women and girls.”
On Twitter, Maxime Bernier, a former leading Conservative member of Parliament who now leads the Peoples Party of Canada, took aim at the government’s feminist initiative. “More crazy identity politics from Liberals and millions wasted on international chitchat,” Bernier Tweeted on Sept. 23rd in response to Freeland’s announcement. “Are peace and security gender issues now?”
Wars and women’s bodies
Bernier asked a provocative question. Based on the facts, it is very clear that the answer is: Yes, peace and security are gender issues — at least in part.
International peace and security, war, civil conflicts and sexual violence are inextricably linked. There is no doubt that rape, sexual assault and sexual torture, which tend to disproportionately affect women and girls, are terrifying features of conflict situations.
Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres submitted his annual report on conflict-related sexual violence to the Security Council. The report, which covers the period from January to December 2017, found that “sexual violence continued to serve as a driver of forced displacement and a factor inhibiting the return of uprooted communities to their places of origin.”
According to Guterres, “sexual violence was also used by belligerent parties to attack and alter the ethnic or religious identity of persecuted groups.” And he writes that sexual violence in conflict situations is “an integral component of strategies to secure the control of land and resources,” devastating the “the physical and economic security of displaced and rural women and women belonging to minority groups.”
In addition, the secretary general asserts that wars are “being fought on and over the bodies of women, to control their production and reproduction by force.” Sexual violence in conflict zones is often perpetrated in public or witnessed by family members “to terrorize communities and fracture families through the violation of taboos, signifying that nothing is sacred and no one is safe.”
According to a 2017 report produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), sexual violence has been perpetrated by combatants in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
“Many cases of conflict-related sexual violence documented by OHCHR in Ukraine were associated with other human rights violations and abuses, such as unlawful killings, abduction or incommunicado detention or looting of their property, which complicates documentation and investigation,” states the report, which is entitled “Conflict-related Sexual Violence in Ukraine 14 March 2014 to 31 January 2017.”
“The majority of cases of conflict-related sexual violence document by OHCHR in Ukraine occurred in the context of the deprivation of liberty by government forces or armed groups,” the report continues. “In these cases, both men and women were subjected to sexual violence.”
Chinese internment camps
This week on the sidelines of the opening session of the General Assembly, Freeland held a bilateral meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
According to a Sept. 25 post on Freeland’s Twitter account, she and the Chinese foreign minister discussed “the state of the rules-based international order, multilateralism, the WTO [World Trade Organization], and how to strengthen [the] Canada-China bilateral relationship.” However, she made no public mention of China’s massive crackdown on and internment of Uighur Muslims in China.
Last month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported that more than a million Uighurs and other Muslims are being interned in “political camps for indoctrination” in western Xingiang autonomous region.
The mass internment and political re-education of Chinese Muslims echoes the horrors committed by the Communists during the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao. According to published reports, the internees live in very harsh conditions with little to eat and endure violence at the hands of guards. And no one ever leaves the camps, according to a story published in the Globe and Mail in August.
In addition to her meeting with Yi, Freeland, along with Prime Minister Trudeau, took part in an international policy discussion sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. The topics included trade and the importance of defending democracy, diversity and human rights.
During the question-and-answer session, a representative of Human Rights Watch, an NGO that advocates for human rights and the persecuted, confronted Trudeau and Freeland with the horrific truth about the internment of Uighurs in China. She asked if the Trudeau government would protect Uighurs from being deported to China. And she also wanted to know if Canada would lead an international coalition to protest China’s internment of the persecuted Muslim minority.
In response, the prime minister gave a weak, self-congratulatory answer, boasting about how Canada always raises human rights issues in bilateral meetings. But Trudeau failed to specifically condemn Beijing’s internment of Uighurs and other Muslims minorities. He would only say that Canada had raised the issue with the Chinese.
Similarly, Freeland’s answer was disappointing. The foreign affairs ministers acknowledged that she had raised the Uighur issue during her meeting with the Yi. Then she went on to tell the Human Rights Watch representative that Canada is “not perfect” when it comes to human rights, citing Indigenous issues. “We are humble about our inadequacy, and that is really important,” she said contritely.
“Starting from that place, we do think it’s important to speak up about human rights around the world,” she added.
Since becoming Canada’s foreign minister, Freeland has repeatedly declared: “Women’s rights are human rights,” echoing the words delivered by Hillary Clinton in her historic 1995 speech to the UN’s women’s conference in Beijing. In that speech, Clinton fearlessly forced women’s rights to the top of the international agenda. And Clinton, then first lady, did not shy away from openly challenging the Communist regime’s horrible record on women’s rights.
Not surprisingly, Chinese censors blacked out the televised broadcast of her speech, preventing ordinary Chinese from hearing her words. But inside the conference hall, Clinton’s speech was met with wild applause from delegates, especially when she thundered: “Women’s rights are human rights!”
Freeland is no Hillary Clinton. By treating the Chinese with kid gloves on the Uighur issue, Freeland played into the hands of the brutal Communist regime that persecutes and denies its citizens basic human rights. Beijing does not want to be publicly embarrassed or challenged on human rights. The Communist regime would rather deal with such issues behind closed doors, thereby allowing it to continue to perpetrate gross human rights abuses on a scale not seen since the days of Mao or the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin.
Freeland should study the findings of the OHCHR regarding sexual violence inflicted upon women and men who have lost their liberty in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Once detained, victims are powerless and are often subjected to sexual assault, which is often tantamount to torture. If that is the case in Ukraine, it is almost certain the people locked up in Chinese internment camps suffer similar sexual violence.
If the supposedly feminist Trudeau government’s commitments to advancing the interests of women and girls as well as combatting sexual violence are to be taken seriously, Canada must get tough with China on human rights. And this means taking an unyielding public stand on human rights in concert with other members of the community of nations.