Conflict resolution, cluster munitions and Canada

Against all odds Libya national unity government is holding

In an upbeat new report entitled Libya Turns the Page (21 May 2021), the International Crisis Group writes:

The establishment of a unified government, which enjoys the backing of Libya’s competing political groupings, their affiliated military coalitions and their foreign backers, is a historic achievement.

It sets the stage for reunification of political and military institutions that have been divided and recurrently battling since 2014.

Against the backdrop of these “astounding” developments, huge challenges remain in “knitting” the country back together and preparing for elections later in 2021. ICG highlights two in particular:

  • Lack of a legal framework and plan for a vote; and
  • Lack of clarity about overall command of the armed forces.

Accordingly, they make two recommendations for priority action by the national unity government with UN Assistance:

  • Libyan factions should agree on the legal framework for a vote in late 2021; and
  • parliament should explicitly recognise the new Presidency Council as supreme commander of the armed forces, as the UN-backed roadmap established in November 2020.

For the full report, click here.

Enhancing Prospects for Peace in Ukraine

With “frostier than ever” relations between Russia and the European Union, the International Crisis Group, in its Watch List 2021 – Spring Update, assesses the “sorest point of friction” still to be the continuing war between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian state forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Crisis Group writes:

A ceasefire Kyiv and Moscow agreed to in July 2020 has broken down. Negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow are deadlocked. Neither side is taking steps prescribed by the 2014-2015 Minsk agreements that ended the worst of the fighting and were intended to bring peace. The Normandy Format peace process that includes France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine is largely dormant, with no new summit on the horizon.

Accordingly, they call upon the EU to work with member states and allies (like Canada) to “mitigate risks” and seek ways to break the impasse, including to:

  • Encourage Kyiv and Moscow, and its proxies, to return to observing the July 2020 ceasefire as a prelude to renewed talks among the Normandy format countries and the U.S.
  • Work with the Biden administration to create incentives for breaking the impasse, particularly a clear plan for sanctions relief for Russia “in response to measurable progress.”
  • Develop economic incentives to aid and support Kyiv’s planning for the eventual reintegration of Donbas.

For the full commentary and detailed list of actions for the EU and allies like Canada, click here.

Whither Canada?

Should there in fact be a renewed opening of negotiations under the Minsk/Normandy process, Canada is well placed to make a contribution to further such negotiations. – Andrew Rasiulis

For more on the role that Canada could play, if it chose to put international conflict resolution over domestic politics, see our 16 April 2021 blog under the heading Tensions increase in Ukraine.

Note also that Ukrainian media is reporting that their President himself in late April, in an interview with the Financial Times, suggested increasing the number of participants in the Normandy format peace talks to include not only the USA but the UK and Canada.

We reiterate our call for Canada to take a much more constructive approach to the Donbas peace talks, including potential participation in an enlarged Normandy format process.

We must stop Yemen’s downward spiral

US President Biden in February ended US support for Saudi Arabia-led military offensive operations in Yemen, including related arms sales, and on 25 May announced his special envoy for Yemen will travel to Saudi Arabia and Oman for talks aimed at:

achieving an urgent comprehensive, nationwide, and sustainable ceasefire to ensure the regular and unobstructed delivery of essential commercial goods and humanitarian assistance throughout Yemen and a transition to an inclusive political process.

In the meantime, however, as Crisis Group had previously warned, the military, political and humanitarian situation in Yemen has gone “from bad to worse”. The litany of problems includes:

  • UN-led, US supported, nation-wide ceasefire efforts yielding no progress
  • Houthi rebels poised to launch yet another (and likely successful) military offensive in the north
  • Saudi-brokered deal in the south “hanging by a thread” and an
  • Ever worsening humanitarian situation and insufficient international aid response.

But there is much that the international community can do, including heeding the UN’s call to end all military assistance to all parties to the conflict, a step that Canada continues to refuse to take.

In addition, Crisis Group outlines the following additional urgent steps:

  • Increased humanitarian aid on a priority basis including investment in “medium-term projects away from front lines” to foster local stability.
  • Support for a UN-led “international contact group” to help coordinate the international diplomatic response to the Yemen crisis.
  • Pushing the UN to adopt a more inclusive peace process.

On the issue of a more inclusive peace process to encompass a much broader range of military and political actors, including civil society groups, Crisis Group writes:

The UN’s current two-party mediation framework … excludes many of the armed and political factions likely to influence the durability of a ceasefire or political settlement.

It also boxes out political parties, civil society actors, women’s groups and youth organisations that have been crucial throughout the war to preserving local stability and social cohesion and whose buy-in and support will thus be important in sustaining any pact.

For the full Crisis Group analysis and recommendations, click here. For more on broadening and deepening the Yemeni peace process, see: The Case for More Inclusive — and More Effective — Peacemaking in Yemen (, 18 March 2021).

For those interested in an expert analysis of Yemen’s social and political crisis and its broader implications for the Arab world, see Yemen in Crisis: the Road to War” (Verso, 2019) by Helen Lackner.

Whither Canada?

The Committee report is likely to be scathing. – RI President Peggy Mason

In our 14 May 2021 blog we provided an update on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee study on Canada’s arms exports, including additional testimony provided by RI President Peggy Mason. The committee has now entered the report-writing stage with the aim of releasing the Final Report before the House of Commons rises for the summer break on 23 June 2021.

Only dramatic action by the Government of Canada can restore any semblance of credibility to its oft-repeated declarations of support for, and adherence to, the Arms Trade Treaty.

We repeat our call on the Government of Canada to cease any and all arms exports inconsistent with our national and international legal obligations, beginning with our arms exports to Saudi Arabia.  

Urgent action needed on Canada’s Cluster Munitions Law

Another area where there is a yawning gap between Canada’s international treaty obligations and its national implementation is in relation to cluster munitions. Former treaty negotiator Earl Turcotte, in a 17 May article in the Hill Times entitled: Canada Continuing to fail on cleaning up cluster munitions law, writes:

What is arguably worse than not joining an important disarmament treaty? Joining with no intention of complying with its core provisions.

Turcotte reminds us of the type of weapon the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) totally bans:

Cluster munitions are designed to target wide areas, killing and maiming indiscriminately. Typically, more than a third fail to detonate upon impact, posing a lethal threat to man and beast for decades. Approximately 98% of all known cluster munitions victims have been civilian. Most of them, small farmers in developing nations forced by poverty to cultivate contaminated land, and children, often drawn to the bright colour and shape of the sub-munitions.

In the alleged name of “interoperability” with US forces and notwithstanding the total ban, the Harper government in 2011 passed legislation that permits the Canadian Forces to engage in a range of activities prohibited by the Treaty, including:

  • Authorizing the use of cluster munitions by a non-state party to the Treaty in a combined operation; and
  • Aiding and abetting non-state parties in their use of cluster munitions.

The article goes on to recount the “forceful opposition” to this legislation mounted by the Liberals, NDP and Green parties, including in particular Marc Garneau, Paul Dewar and Elizabeth May respectively. Turcotte comments:

Many expected that the Liberals would amend this flawed legislation when they regained power in 2015. This did not happen, despite repeated entreaties by the NDP, Greens and civil society.

He continues:

The International Committee to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions call it the worst legislation of any State Party to the Convention….

Perhaps our current Foreign Minister, a man of integrity who championed amending the legislation while in opposition, will finally make this right.

For those without a subscription to the Hill Times, the full article in pdf. format has been included here with the kind permission of the author.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Foreign Minister of Canada to bring our national legislation into line with the UK, France, Belgium and other states parties to the Treaty by introducing amendments to remove all illegal exceptions to the total ban on Cluster Munitions.

Photo credit: UN Mark Garten photo (Chinese peacekeeper demining team)

Tags: Andrew Rasiulis, Canada and Normandy format process, Canada and Ukraine peace talks for Donbas, Canada and Yemen peace process, Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia, Cluster munitions, Earl Turcotte, FM Marc Garneau, House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Crisis Group (ICG), interoperability, interoperability and Canada's Cluster Munitions legislation, Libya, Libya national unity government, Minsk agreements, Normandy Format process, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Ukraine, UN-mediated Yemen peace process, Yemen