By Solaye Snider, Blog Writer

While the United Nations (UN) celebrates ten years of formal commitment to the three pillars of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the people of Darfur enter the new year in the midst of an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has fallen off the international radar this past decade. 

Adopted officially by the UN in 2005, the R2P pillars affirm that although “the State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide,” the responsibility falls to the international community to “take collective action to protect populations” when a state fails to do so. Canada was instrumental in the creation of the R2P framework by calling for the commission in 2001 where this international guideline for humanitarian intervention was first established.

In Darfur, the State has neglected its primary responsibility to protect its people, as government military campaigns against rebel groups have already displaced nearly four million Sudanese and killed over 300 000. Correspondingly, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued several arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on counts of genocide.  In late January of this year, the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) confirmed that thousands more people have been displaced after recent fighting in North Darfur, and that the security climate generally continues to deteriorate.

The international community is well aware of this crisis, but has failed to act according to their R2P. At the expense of civilians, the UN is downsizing the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in the face of growing pressure from the Sudanese government. Furthermore, in December 2014 the International Criminal Court (ICC) suspended their investigation into war crimes in the Darfur region, a decision attributed to a lack of support from the UN Security Council.

Canada for its part, “has gone from being the most passionate and vocal supporter [of R2P]…to one of its meekest.” Indeed, the R2P has been dropped from Canadian foreign policy since the Conservative Party’s rise to power in 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quick to dissolve the Special Advisory Team on Darfur (of which esteemed Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire was a member), leaving management of the Sudan crisis to a small Sudan Task Force which was subsequently disbanded in 2013, transferring the responsibility to an even smaller team within the North Africa division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. More recently, the government has neglected to participate in the R2P Focal Points initiative, implemented in 2010 to make national governments accountable to R2P within the broader international R2P network. Between 1991-2013, Canada has fallen from a rank of 1st, to 61st, in its contribution to peacekeeping.

The other major political parties campaigning in the upcoming Canadian federal election are also worryingly ambiguous about their foreign policy approaches to humanitarian intervention. Some critics fear the Liberals would likely follow the Conservative approach to foreign policy despite being more moderate in rhetoric.  The New Democratic Party (NDP) policy at least notes the intention to protect refugees and victims of acts of genocide, but doesn’t mention Canada’s commitment to R2P specifically.  When the Conservative party first came to power, the Green party challenged the government to take a strong position in pressuring other UN members towards decisive action. Unfortunately, the Greens too, have been increasingly subdued on this issue in recent years.

In light of the election ahead, it is important for citizens to pressure politicians to re-commit to the R2P and put the prevention of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur back at the top of the national and international agenda.

For more specific details on what Canada could be doing to help civilians and end the crisis in Darfur, see click here.