Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan hosted the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference the last two days at the waterfront Vancouver Convention Centre overlooking the mountains in his home city of Vancouver. During an otherwise rainy and overcast week, the clouds opened up for the main plenary to give international guests a peak at the spectacular view that B.C. is so famous for.
The conference allowed for the adoption of the new “Vancouver Principles” on the scourge of child soldiers and children as weapons of war.
The other major development was a new commitment to increasing the number of women in peacekeeping. And it’s a lot more than a politically correct or vanity objective as some critics will say. It really makes sense to have more women involved, placing women in positions of power in the theatre of war, rather than as victims of rape and assault which is an age-old problem. Peacekeeping forces with many women can create a healthier environment when they move into regions, and can combat the growing problem of peacekeepers who have been assaulting the very women they are supposed to be protecting.
The objective of getting more women involved was raised by the feminist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the opening and then further endorsed in the highlight event, a speech by UN special envoy Angela Jolie.
The interesting thing about a peacekeeping conference is that, because peacekeeping is the purview of defence departments and armed forces in every country, the delegates were primarily defence ministers and senior defence officials. Plenty of uniforms. Primarily male. Not a seemingly receptive audience for the social and caring aspects of this humanitarian issue.
With Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, and some senior female armed forces personnel, we were looking a lot more equitable than most.
That being said, the conference was clearly humanitarian, with several countries making pledges to increase their female contingents to between 15 and 40 per cent—rather than the current 3 per cent.
In a world where the nature of war is changing so much, with clearly identified state actors to a variety of non-state antagonists, the nature of peacekeeping is becoming a lot more difficult.
The conference had Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel medal on display—awarded for his role in developing UN peacekeeping. A reminder that Canada has a role and responsibility to be on the forefront of the evolving world of peacekeeping, murky as it may be.
Andrew Cardozo is president of the Pearson Centre and an adjunct professor at Carleton University.
The Hill Times