Saudi humiliation, Iranian torment, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and weaning Canada off its arms dealer addiction

Important victory for Human Rights Council with non-election of Saudi Arabia

Let’s start with some good news — the failure of Saudi Arabia, despite all its money and power, to secure a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, even as Russia and China were each elected to three-year terms.

Saudi Arabia was the only country up for election that failed in its bid, mustering only 90 votes out of a possible 193. This result was hailed by human rights activists like Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the organisation founded by Jamal Khashoggi:

It is telling just how badly crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has damaged his country’s global standing for Saudi to lose its election to the UN human rights council while China and Russia managed to win seats.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars he has spent on public relations stunts to cover his grotesque abuses, the international community just isn’t buying it.

For an examination of underlying problems with the voting procedures and practices in the UN Human Rights Council, click here.

USA ratchets up medical terrorism against Iran

The Trump administration on 8 October announced sweeping new sanctions on Iran’s financial sector, targeting at least 18 banks in a move that effectively shuts Iran out of the global financial system and further imperils Iran’s ability to procure humanitarian aid in the midst of the pandemic.

Back in October 2018, the International Court of Justice ordered the US to lift sanctions that affect humanitarian trade with Iran. In response, the US withdrew from the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran that had opened the door for the ruling.

But, as we have reported before, the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has renewed calls — most notably from the UN Secretary-General — for Washington to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support.

Instead the Trump administration has repeatedly done the opposite.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a think-tank focused on Iran’s economy, told Aljazeera the Trump administration was:

seeking to weaponize the humanitarian impacts.

In an article in The Hill entitled: Trump’s new Iran sanctions raise alarm over humanitarian access (Laura Kelly, 8 October 2020), Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, describes these new sanctions as:

sadism masquerading as foreign policy….[that]… won’t bring the Iranian government to its knees but will hurt ordinary people….

The only silver lining in this bleak story of the continuing brutality of the Trump administration against the people of Iran is the growing prospect of a Trump defeat in the November elections.

Reducing the human cost of the new Nagorno-Karabakh war

The International Crisis Group issued a Statement on 14 October on the urgent steps needed by the combatants themselves and the international community to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians and to prepare for peace negotiations. They write:

Fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh is decimating towns and cities, displacing tens of thousands and killing scores. Combatants must cease attacks on populated areas and let humanitarian aid through. International actors, notably the UN and OSCE, should send monitors and push harder for a ceasefire.

For the full Crisis Group statement, click here. For the latest statement by the UN Secretary-General on Nagorno-Karabakh, click here.

For Canada’s part, CTV reports that Prime Minister Trudeau is “calling on all sides” to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, while Foreign Minister Champagne, in a separate written statement issued by Global Affairs Canada, emphasized:

Through dialogue and cooperation with our European partners, we can and must find lasting peaceful solutions to current challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean, Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh.

A reminder of the ugly Canadian dimension of this conflict

In our 9 October blog entitled An arms export control agency worthy of Canada, we referenced shocking evidence about Canadian drone technology exported to Turkey and then being used by Azerbaijan in this terrible conflict. As we discussed, this has led to a suspension of “all relevant” export permits pending further investigation.

For a new commentary on the dim prospects that this review will lead to meaningful compliance with Canada’s tougher-on-paper export control policy, see: Jaramillo: Nagorno-Karabakh a reminder of Canada;s role as a global arms dealer (, 16 October 2020).

Next steps toward an independent Canadian Arms Export Control Agency

We believe, for all the reasons outlined in last week’s blog, that the only way to ensure full compliance with Canada’s national and international legal obligations in relation to arms exports is to create an independent agency with the requisite legal and technical expertise to carry out the job.

In the meantime, however, there are two immediate steps that Global Affairs Canada (GAC) can take to help improve its current dismal record:

  • Begin consultations on the creation of an “arms-length advisory panel of experts” as promised in April 2020; and
  • Mandate an independent expert legal opinion on compliance with Canada’s international legal obligations as an integral part of the GAC export permit application process.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to move quickly on the creation of an arms length advisory panel on arms export control “best practices” and to include an independent legal opinion on compliance with Canada’s international legal obligations as an integral part of the GAC export permit application process.

Photo credit: courtesy

Tags: Armenia-Azertbaijan war, Barbara Slavin (Atlantic Council), Canadian Arms Export Control Agency, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of Bourse & Bazaar, International Crisis Group (ICG), October 2020 US banking sanctions on Iran, Project Ploughshares, Sarah Leah Whitson (DAWN), Saudi Arabia, UN Human Rights Council, WESCAM EO/IR sensors