Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, Iran nuclear deal, War Crimes and more


Against the backdrop of increasing tensions over the longstanding conflict between Russia and Ukraine, this week has seen Russia – USA talks at the Deputy Secretary level, Russia-NATO talks for the first time in two years and discussions on Ukraine within the context of the OSCE Permanent Council’s first meeting of 2022.

The Permanent Council meetings take place once a week in Vienna. They are convened and chaired by the Chairperson-in-Office or his/her representative. The Permanent Council is composed of delegates of the 57 participating States.” – OSCE website

Amid the general gloom and doom over the lacklustre results of all three meetings, we thank Rideau Institute Advisor and former Disarmament Ambassador Doug Roche for bringing us this Passblue insight into two key players at the above noted OSCE meeting – American Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and new OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, who just might make all the difference in the tense days and weeks to come.

The two highly experienced negotiators became close as they worked together on the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Sherman comments:

I didn’t go into the JCPOA negotiations expecting to make a real friend, but that’s what I found in Helga….

It’s rare for two women to play leadership roles in a major negotiation like the JCPOA at the same time, and it was such a gift….

Helga Schmidt becomes first female Secretary General of the OSCE

The [OSCE] is the world’s largest regional security entity, with 57 member states from North America, Europe and Central Asia. It was established during the Cold War to foster relations between the Soviet Union at the time and the West.

Schmidt was a negotiator for the European Union during the Iran negotiation. After a career with that organization, she was appointed Secretary General of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a regional arrangement under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, the first woman to head the OSCE.

Its broad mandate includes:

…election monitoring, human-rights protection, military confidence building and conflict mediation in eastern Ukraine as well as the breakaway regions of Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria.

With respect to Ukraine the OSCE has deployed a large civilian monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine that observes and reports on cease-fire violations and mediates local cease-fires.

One of the immediate challenges that Schmid faces is the dire financial situation of the organization, which has not had a budget increase in many years, despite its extremely important conflict monitoring tasks.

In her words:

We cannot sustain another year of zero nominal growth.

Can the OSCE help improve relations between Russia and the West?

The first regular meeting in 2022 of the OSCE Permanent Council was held on 13-14 Jan in  Vienna with both the USA and Russia participating.

In a 7 Jan telephone call, US Deputy Secretary Sherman and OSCE Secretary General Schmidt agreed that the OSCE Permanent Council meeting:

…will be an opportunity to call for de-escalation and diplomacy as well as discuss approaches to reduce regional tensions.

The OSCE is a forum where all participating States have an equal voice. It is a critical venue for multilateral dialogue on European security issues.

The new OSCE Secretary General brings to her job years of hands-on negotiating experience, through which she has built up a broad network of contacts, including a long-established relationship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as high-level officials in the U.S. State Department.

For her part, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the first woman to hold that position, brings a wealth of diplomatic experience and contacts from her role on the U.S. negotiating team for the Iran deal, her governmental work in relation to North Korea and policy work on non-proliferation.

Hawkish Poland in role of OSCE Chair for 2022

A possible impediment to the OSCE playing a constructive de-escalatory role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the fact that Poland – one of NATO’s most hawkish members on Russia – is the Chair of the OSCE for 2022.

Thus, while President Biden stressed diplomacy and the threat of “powerful sanctions” should Russia invade Ukraine, the Polish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chair, Zbigniew Rau, opined:

It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.

In the view of

We wish these two extraordinary women well in their respective vital efforts to constructively manage what will necessarily be extremely tough negotiations ahead.

For the full Passblue article, see: Helga Schmid, the Persistent European Negotiator (Stephanie Liechtenstein, 10 Jan 2022.

A de facto neutral Ukraine is at the heart of Minsk Peace Accords

In a CBC interview in late December 2021, Andrew Risiulis, a former official at National Defence and an expert on Ukraine, stated:

The Minsk peace accords, which were supposed to end the fighting, have not been fully implemented because they contain a provision that would grant special status to the breakaway regions; one that would give them an effective veto over NATO and European Union membership

…allowing the Donbas back in on the semi-autonomous status and respect for Russian language there, … almost guarantees that … Ukraine will be de facto that neutral state … the Russians want…

A neutral Ukraine found welcome – and pleasantly surprising – support in the form of a recent Globe and Mail editorial entitled: Russia and NATO are on a collision course over Ukraine. A Cold War deal from 1955 offers a way out (12 Jan 2022).

Citing the example of Austria, divided like Germany into four occupation zones (French, British, American and Soviet) in 1945, the Editorial states:

Austria was unified more than three decades before Germany, in 1955, under a democratic, Western government. Moscow was given a guarantee that Austria would remain militarily neutral; Moscow in turn agreed to respect Austria’s sovereignty.

In the view of

This successful Cold war example cited by the Globe and Mail editorial Board is one more reason why Canada should forthwith use it considerable influence with Ukraine to help that country start to take practical steps towards full implementation, in concert with Russia, of the Minsk peace accords.

Whither Canada?

We once again call on Canada to indicate its full and unequivocal support for the Minsk peace accords and to pledge practical assistance to Ukraine in support of that country’s implementation of its obligations under the agreement.  


Michael Lynk, Canadian law professor and UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, penned an article recently entitled: The International Community and Israel: Giving Permission to a Permanent Occupation (, 7 Jan 2022).

The name of the blog where this article appears is Just Security but the Palestinian reality that Professor Lynk vividly describes is one of manifestly unjust insecurity.

Read this summary and weep. It is our collective shame.

Articulating the problem

In the first section of the article, Lynk outlines the extent of the complicity of the international community in Israel’s 54-year, step by step entrenchment of permanent occupation.

He describes a 17 Nov 2021 meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which brings together 15 leading States and institutions, including the United States, the European Union, Russia, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, four Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia), with Norway acting as the Chair:

The updates were grim. The U.N. Special Coordinator reported that the fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority remained dire, international donations were substantially down, there was little hope for a renewed peace process in the foreseeable future, and humanitarian conditions on the ground – including the expansion of the illegal settlements, settler-related violence, and the demolitions of Palestinian homes – were steadily worsening.

The World Bank, he writes, was equally pessimistic in its report, describing a “multidecade deindustrialization” in Gaza,  resulting in a 45 % unemployment rate and a 50% poverty rate.

However, and this is where the insidious international complicity of silence is laid bare, the World Bank describes one of the principle sources of these calamitous conditions as:

…the external restrictions on Gaza [resulting] in a closed economy….

Lynk observes that this language is:

an exceptionally polite way of describing the suffocating 14 year-old Israeli blockade of the [Gaza] Strip.

He continues:

In one remarkable paragraph, the Bank report noted at some length that the main impediments to economic growth in the West Bank were the severe constraints on Palestinian movement, access, and trade, but without mentioning Israel’s extensive network of walls, checkpoints, road closures, settler-only highways, and forbidden zones as the source of these constraints. [emphasis added]

The complicity of silence continued in the statement by the Norwegian Chair where:

nothing was said about Israel’s failure to comply with the more than 30 U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted since 1973 declaring that its annexations and settlements are illegal, demanding that Israel comply in full with the Fourth Geneva Convention, and directing an end to the occupation.

The Bleak Reality: Vanishing Hopes for a Two-State Solution

Regarding the dangerously imperilled viability of a two-state solution, Lynk quotes a statement by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon from June 2021:

Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967, to the point where the prospect of a two-State solution has all but vanished.

Professor Lynk also quotes a 2021 statement by Jonas Gahr Stoere, then Norwegian foreign minister and chair of the AHLC, during an interview he gave to the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, which resulted in an article entitled: We Don’t Want Peace, but We Want the World to Keep Funding the Occupation:

Once it will be clear to everyone that the donors’ mechanism is perpetuating the status quo rather than contributing to peace, we will have to reconsider. We are not quite there yet.

That was nine years ago.

A Viable and Principled International Strategy to End the Occupation

The second part of UN Special Rapporteur Lynk’s article looks at five “foundational criteria” that should shape a “viable and principled international strategy to end the occupation”, initially outlined in his October 2021 UN report.

The five criteria are:

  • Active international intervention to counter the vast asymmetry in power between Israel and Palestine that otherwise would enable Israel to continue to dictate what happens on the ground and at the negotiating table
  • A framework for ending the occupation that is “rights-based”; that is, anchored in international law and human rights
  • The goal of a complete end of the occupation and the realization of Palestinian self-determination, centred on individual and collective equality rights for all those living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river
  • Recognition that Israel is a “bad-faith” occupier that has demonstrated over the past 54 years of its occupation its unwillingness to comply with its obligations under the law of occupation
  • Recognition that the occupation must end with all deliberate speed, in accordance with the unequivocally clear requirements of international law.

Michael Lynk concludes:

…the problem is not ignorance or lack of evidence – this is, after all, by far the best-documented conflict in the modern world – but the remarkable unwillingness of the international community to act upon its own comprehensive rules-based framework for peace and self-determination by imposing accountability on the offending party.

Some small rays of hope

For information on an inspiring and extremely hopeful civil society project, see: Reconstructionists Expanding our Conversation about Israel/Palestine: Speaker Series with Reconstructionist Rabbis (, January – May 2022.

The organizers, Shaarei Shamayim, describe the aim of the Speaker Series:

We oppose Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people in all its forms and hope to deepen our relationship with Jews and Palestinians seeking a future of justice and equality in Israel/Palestine.

We welcome those who consider themselves Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists, and those unsure about how they define themselves, even as we explore the meanings of these terms.

For more good news, this time on an important cultural change taking place in United States, see journalist Peter Beinart’s article entitled: 2021: The Year Palestinians Entered America’s Debate over Israel-Palestine (, 3 Jan 2022).

See also here the video of a recent candid conversation with Peter Beinart hosted by the Ottawa Forum for Israel-Palestine.

Whither Canada?

We call again on the Government of Canada to end its cynical selectivity in the defence and promotion of human rights and, therefore, to undertake meaningful steps to hold Israel to legal account for its ongoing grievous human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory.


Three years after America’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, there is a growing consensus in Washington and Tel Aviv that the decision to leave the deal, pushed by Iran hawks in the Trump administration, was a profound mistake with disastrous consequences.

So notes Bijan Ahmadi, Executive Director of the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy in a 13 Jan 2022 analysis for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Arguing there are no “viable coercive means” nor “Plan Bs” to compel Iran to halt its nuclear program fast enough to prevent its acquisition of a “threshold nuclear capability”, should it so choose, he concludes that the only possible “win-win” is reaffirmation of the Obama nuclear deal:

Renewed commitment to the framework of the JCPOA remains both a prudent step toward conflict prevention and a confidence-building measure toward future dialogue and engagement on other issues of contention between Tehran and Washington.

For the full commentary, see: There is no viable ‘Plan B’ if Iran talks fail, (


In our 17 Dec 2021 blog we included a section which highlighted the conviction, in a German court, of an ISIS member, for acts committed in Iraq against members of the Yazidi community, which were found to constitute the crime of genocide.  We wrote that this trial:

was the first in Germany based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, addressing crimes under international law committed abroad by a perpetrator who is not a German citizen and who was only extradited to Germany on the basis of an international arrest warrant. None of the crimes in this case were committed in Germany and neither the victims nor the suspect were German nationals.

In the course of our blog discussion we agreed with the view that:

…universal jurisdiction … has become an increasingly important tool for achieving accountability and justice for the survivors and victims of international crimes. Hundreds of investigations are ongoing and dozens of convictions have been obtained.

German court jails former Syrian intelligence officer for life for torture

We are gratified that the German court is continuing its landmark legal accountability efforts, with the trial, conviction and life sentencing of a former Syrian intelligence officer for “unspeakable crimes” including the murder of at least 27 prisoners and the torture of at least 4,000 more at a detention facility in Damascus. The Guardian reports:

It is the first case to find a senior official in the regime of Bashar al-Assad guilty of crimes against humanity.

The report notes that the same court, last February, sentenced a lower-ranking officer for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

In both cases, the accused were tried under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of very serious crimes in a country (in this case Germany) different from where the offences were committed (i.e. Syria).

In a statement on the “historic” crimes against humanity finding, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated inter alia:

Today’s verdict should serve to spur forward all efforts to widen the net of accountability for all perpetrators of the unspeakable crimes that have characterised this brutal conflict.

Bachelet also underlined that Syria’s failure to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court did not shield Syrian accused from prosecution due to the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Torture convention requires universal jurisdiction

Her statement also reminded the international community that states parties to the UN Convention Against Torture are required to establish jurisdiction over torture where the alleged offender is present on its territory.

See Article 5 (2):

Each State Party shall … take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him ….

This additional jurisdictional requirement for non-citizens only serves to underscore the fundamental requirement of states parties to the Torture Convention to bring appropriate legal proceedings against their own citizens implicated in the crime of torture.

Whither Canada?

In our 17 December blog we regretted the apparent lack of Canadian prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity despite a specialized unit within the Department of Justice. The issue of torture, however, brings even greater urgency to the need for Canada to step up its legal accountability efforts.

In the view of

We have often called on Canada to champion human rights through leading by example. Nowhere is this more important than with respect to accountability for alleged complicity in torture.

It is a continuing stain on Canada that our government has failed to launch a transparent and impartial judicial commission of inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials, military officers and Ministers of the Crown, in relation to the transfer of Afghan detainees to well-known conditions of torture.

See: Torture of Afghan Detainees: Canada’s Alleged Complicity and the Need for a Public Inquiry (Omar Sabry, RI and CCPA), Sept 2015.

See also our discussion of this issue in our 11 June 2021 blog entitled: Why is Canada failing when it comes to the laws of war?

We herewith reiterate our longstanding call on the Government of Canada to establish a public inquiry into the allegations of Canadian complicity in war crimes in Afghanistan.


On 18 January 2022 from 10:00 to 11:30 am EST, the Rideau Institute, in cooperation with the Human Rights Research and Education Center of the University of Ottawa and the Group of 78, will host a webinar to explore the legal and policy implications of non-UN-authorized economic sanctions, a policy instrument employed by Canada, other western states and regional organizations like the EU and the African Union.

Economic sanctions have become an increasingly favoured tool of international relations over the last several decades, but they have also become increasingly controversial.

Speakers: Professor Craig Martin, inaugural RI Senior Fellow and author of the RI report Economic Sanctions Under International Law, a Guide for Canadian Policy, and EU sanctions expert Professor Clara Portela will be joined by moderator and RI President Peggy Mason for this timely discussion.

Click here to register on Eventbrite for this free event.



Keep watch for further information on an upcoming iAffairs panel on Canada -China relations, on 26 Jan from 6-7:30 pm EST, that will feature:

Photo credit: OSCE (Sec Gen Schmidt)


Tags: economic sanctions, eputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, haaretz, JCPOA, Just Security, Minsk peace accords, NATO, OSCE, OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, Peter Beinart, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, Russia, Shaarei Shamayim, Ukraine, UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk