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Fourth Annual DFAIT Peacebuilding Consultations Ottawa, March 1 and 2

These Consultations arose from Lloyd Axworthy’s policies of pursuing “human security”. The program was organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee (CPCC) a group of NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations). Representatives of about 300 NGOs and a good number of independent consultants participated.

The opening Plenary Session was addressed by Lloyd Axworthy and by Maria Minna, Minister for International Cooperation. They both arrived late and left early, pleading urgent business – Axworthy’s excuse was the Cuban diplomat who was being hounded by the USA and had taken refuge in the Canadian Embassy! Axworthy spoke of Canada’s good deeds but left before any questions could be asked – the first, about Canada’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Harker Report on the Sudan, especially deserved a proper response.

There were five concurrent panels on Kosovo (the one I attended), East Timor, India/Pakistan, Colombia and Sierra Leone, but no plenary session where one could get a comprehensive view with discussion.

There was no discussion whatsoever of conflict prevention that would critique the role of Canada and its allies in the Kosovo panel, which spoke only of rebuilding, with no willingness to question the bombing or discuss ways of defusing tensions by diplomatic means and preventing future wars of the same nature. Representatives from NGOs in the peace movement who asked searching questions included Judith Berlyn of the Centre de Ressources sur la Non-violence and CPA, Hanna Newcombe of the Peace Research Institute Dundas, Mel Watkins of Science for Peace, and Barbara Burkett of Physicians for Global Survival, but they were frustrated by the failure to get satisfactory answers.

The mandate of a good number of NGOs who participated is development, and the large budget of CIDA for supporting overseas development (not to speak of the Export Development Corporation with an even larger budget, which if it was represented remained anonymous), as well as that of DFAIT for supporting peacebuilding and human security projects perhaps explains the generally uncritical views of the participants. The striking exception was the Plenary Session on “Youth Perspectives on Peacebuilding and Visions of the Future,” where young people showed promise of creating a less acquiescent community of NGOs in the future.

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