The United Nations and Canada’s Role

Recently, George Somerwill was invited to give the keynote address to the Canadian Future Model United Nations on behalf of the Vancouver Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada. The following is an excerpt from this March 8th address.

In the more-than-six decades since the founding of the United Nations (UN), Canada has had a long history of supporting the organization.  The UN needed Canada and was very happy for our support.  And I would certainly add that given the pace of change in the world and the issues the world faces  – Canada and individual Canadians need the UN.

Over the years since the UN was founded in 1946, Canada and Canadians  have played an important role in the organization. The UN Charter was partly drafted by a Canadian academic and Human Rights lawyer – John Peters Humphrey.  Dr. Humphrey headed the very first UN Human Rights body in 1947.

Former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester Pearson in1956 , even before he became prime minister, suggested to the UN Security Council that Canadian soldiers could form the backbone of a peacekeeping (PK)  force to stop a conflict which was then happening in the Middle East – the Suez Crisis. That was the first Canadian participation in peacekeeping (UNEF) – and it certainly wasn’t the last. Not long after that, Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for developing the concept of peacekeeping.

Today of course, peacekeeping missions still exist. Within six months PK missions may be in Mali  and Syria. These missions have become more sophisticated, but Lester Pearson’s original concept is still the basis of all PK.

Decades later, in 1994, Canadian Major-General, Romeo Dallaire led the UN PK force in Rwanda. As a PK Mission, Rwanda was a disaster. The UN was unable to stop the genocidal killing of 800,000 Rwandans. But that was not the fault of Major-General Dallaire who showed exemplary courage. You should read the book, “Shake Hands With the Devil” which now-Senator Dallaire has written, about those events.  He’s not very happy about the UN – which let him down – but maybe the organization has learned from its mistakes?

In 1997 the then-new Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan created the post of Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) of the UN.  Both he and his senior managers felt it was important to see a woman doing that job as DSG. And she had to be able to take responsibility for the day-to-day running of the organization. And it was to Canada that he looked for a candidate – Louise Frechette.

Another Canadian, Stephen Lewis, was the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF – the UN children’s agency.

Even more importantly, from the founding of the UN in 1946 up to 2010, roughly once each decade, Canada was voted by the GA to be one of the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. That started in 1948-1949. It was only in 2010 for the first time in 60+ years that we failed to gain a place in the Security Council.

To read the entire address, please go to March 19th post on the Vancouver Branch of the UN Association in Canada website.


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