The world has changed since June when the House of Commons rose for the summer. In response to the dramatic displacement crisis in Iraq, the UN declared its fourth level-three humanitarian crisis. The violence with which the Islamic State is terrorizing civilians is heart wrenching. The food security crisis in South Sudan has worsened and we continue to witness violent conflict, cultural and religious strife in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Syria. In addition, we are witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
MPs, who have spent the summer doing important constituency work, will need to devote some of their attention to these international issues as they return to Ottawa.
The United Nations warns that almost one million South Sudanese children under five years of age will require treatment for acute malnutrition in 2014. In fact, one out of every three people in the country, or the equivalent of 3.9 million people, is estimated to be dangerously food insecure. Close to 2 million people have fled their homes. The United Nations Security Council calls the catastrophic food insecurity situation in South Sudan the worst in the world, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls it the “most rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the world”.
MPs should demand to know whether the Government of Canada will provide a second round of humanitarian funding, particularly as it did not pledge additional funds at the May 2014 donor pledging conference, which raised more than $600 million.
MPs must not turn a blind eye to the suffering in South Sudan, nor can they ignore the conflicts of CAR, Iraq and Syria. MPs have a collective responsibility to protect, and it is urgent.
In CAR, violence against civilians is pervasive despite the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping mission, a European Union military operation, and French forces.
Six months ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights asked, “How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?”
By June 2014, over 140,000 people had been killed in CAR; 80 percent of the Muslim population has been driven from their homes or murdered. The fighting had left 2.5 million people, more than half of the total population, needing humanitarian aid. Less than half of the humanitarian response is funded.
MPs should ask whether the Government of Canada will provide additional, non-budgetary, assistance beyond its assessed and financial contributions, and whether it will contribute to the UN peacekeeping mission. Moreover, will the Harper Government send specialized military assets and will it help build the capacity of Francophone African peacekeepers?
MPs should also ask about the security situation in Iraq, which has dramatically deteriorated as a result of ongoing attacks by the Islamic State (IS), which operates on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, and has declared a caliphate spanning both countries.
IS has demonstrated “absolute and deliberate disregard for human rights”. In response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the international community to support the government and people of Iraq and “to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq”.
MPs should question the Government about details of its newly announced military mission, and what is being done to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs). MPs should understand that the Iraqi government must not only confront the security threat posed by IS and other armed groups, but also protect civilians and address the underlying sources of conflict among Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and minorities in Iraq.
And MPs must not forget Syria, where the civil war leaves populations facing mass atrocity crimes committed by state security forces and affiliated militias. Some armed opposition groups are also committing war crimes.
After more than three years of conflict in Syria, over 191,000 people have been killed. There are over 2.9 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and over 6.5 million IDPs. At least 10.8 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
With no end in sight, MPs should ask more forcefully what action the Government of Canada is taking to apply diplomatic pressure towards finding a political solution to the conflict and to increase humanitarian assistance. Moreover, they should ask the Government why it has agreed to resettle only 1,300 refugees.
And finally, MPs should ask about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, affecting five countries. In many areas of intense transmission, the actual number of cases may be two to four fold higher than that currently reported, and the aggregate case load of Ebola virus disease cases could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency.
MPs should ask what more the Government is considering to assist its international partners to provide aid in the affected regions, particularly as the international response has been inadequate, and the world is losing the battle to control Ebola. The reality is that we need to dramatically scale up the international response.
MPs must ask about conflicts which “shock the global conscience” and focus their attention and efforts on the most vulnerable, whether in CAR, Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, or Western Africa.
And MPs must ask: is the Government of Canada really doing all it can to help?