Canada's UN Votes Seen as Neutral
By Ron Csillag
April 26, 2001
Canada has again voted in favour of a United Nations resolution highly critical of Israel's policy on settlements in the territories, but abstained on other anti-Israel measures adopted by the world body last week.
Canada's votes on April 18 on five Arab-backed resolutions condemning Israel for alleged human rights violations against Palestinians are identical to its stand on the same issues a year ago, and are not seen as a shift in policy.
But notably, the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) is pleased that Canada voted against a resolution that called for countering "defamation of religions" as a way to promote human rights. The CIC believes Canada's stand presages this country's commitment to prevent the return of the Zionism-equals-racism debate at a UN-sponsored conference this summer.
All the votes took place at the conclusion of the UN Commission on Human Rights' (UNCHR) annual session in Geneva.
On April 6, Canada abstained on a resolution reaffirming the "inalienable, permanent and unqualified right" of Palestinians to self-determination, including their right to establish a sovereign and independent state. The resolution passed by a vote of 48 for, two against (the United States and Guatemala) and two abstentions (Romania and Canada).
Canada explained its vote by saying that while it supports the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, the issue must be settled "in the context of direct, bilateral negotiations." Canada added that its abstention is "consistent" with its previous neutral votes on the issue.
Israel is an observer at the UNCHR and cannot vote. But its UN ambassador, Yaakov Levy, rejected the vote, saying Palestinian self-determination is a political issue that can be resolved only through negotiations.
On April 18, Canada supported a motion that expressed "grave concern at continuing Israeli settlement activities, including the expansion of settlements, the installation of settlers in the occupied territories, the expropriation of land, the demolition of houses, the confiscation of property, the expulsion of Palestinians and the construction of bypass roads." The resolution also expressed "grave concern at and strongly condemned all acts of terrorism and violence."
The measure passed by a vote of 50 in favour, one against (the United States) and one abstention (Costa Rica).
Given Ottawa's longstanding view that post-1967 lands are occupied and that settlement activities are unhelpful to the peace process, "we didn't expect Canada to vote any other way," said Robert Ritter, the CIC's national executive director.
Canada abstained on three other resolutions that condemned Israel for alleged human rights violations. The most contentious of them expressed "grave concern at the deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate recourse to force, which could not but aggravate the situation and increase an already high death toll, and urged the government of Israel to make every effort to ensure that its security forces observed international standards regarding the use of force."
The resolution passed by a vote of 28 for, two against and 22 abstentions. Israel strongly rejected the measure as one-sided.
Canada also abstained on votes denouncing Israel for "imposing" its laws on the "occupied Syrian Golan," and another calling Israel to task for purportedly violating the human rights of Lebanese detainees. Both measures passed easily.
But a positive development was seen in Canada's vote against a resolution on combatting "defamation of religions as a means to promote human rights, social harmony and religious and cultural diversity." The measure called on member states to provide "adequate protection against all human rights violations resulting from defamation of religions."
Canada explained its opposition to the motion by saying the "divisive" issue did not advance the protection of human rights, but rather confused things by mixing racism with religious intolerance. The resolution also did not adequately address questions of the links between diversity and the fight against racism, Canada said.
Neverthless, the motion passed by a vote of 28 for, 15 against and nine abstentions.
The CIC's Ritter praised Canada's stand, saying it provides a glimpse into this country's opposition to re-introducing the old Zionism-is-racism canard at the UN-backed World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance slated for Durban, South Africa this summer.
see Zionism-as-Racism Furor Threatens to Engulf UN
Canada "is working diligently" to ensure the issue will not be raised in Durban, Ritter stated.
Overall, the CIC "is not unhappy" with Canada's votes at the UNCHR. "They're fairly consistent with previous years" and represent "no erosion" in Canada's relations with Israel.
The ongoing challenge for Canada, especially in the wake of its support for last autumn's resolution that condemned Israel for excessive force against Palestinians, is "to understand the extent to which what's going at the UN is being used for political purposes," Ritter said. Canada should be "more sensitive to that abuse."
©2001 - Canadian Jewish News