Seeking solutions for states under stress

Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Two girls play outside on the barren, hard-packed soil of a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq, surrounded by densely packed tents that are home to the refugees.

A UNHCR Syrian refugee camp in Erbil, northern Iraq. Photo: Mustafa Khayat.

By Mike Foster

Leading thinkers from Canada and around the world will gather at the University of Ottawa next week to discuss how to strengthen fragile nations and preserve a just society.

A former Canadian prime minister, the Right Honourable Paul Martin; a former Australian prime minister, the Right Honourable Kevin Rudd; UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova; and Canada’s foreign affairs minister, the Honourable Stéphane Dion, are among the speakers and delegates expected to attend Canada in Global Affairs: New challenges, new ways, an international conference taking place on campus on March 29 and 30, 2016.

Errol Mendes smiling, in front of a bookcase.

Faculty of Law professor Errol Mendes says the Canada in Global Affairs conference aims to identify concrete solutions for strengthening global institutions.

Faculty of Law professor Errol Mendes and colleagues David Petrasek, John Packer and Serge Blais began organizing the conference with uOttawa president, Allan Rock, more than six months ago, in partnership with The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

In an interview with the Gazette, Mendes said world institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations were showing signs of being unable to cope with “immense state fragility” and an increasingly interdependent global economy. Mendes, also president of the Canadian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, said experts are concerned that the rule of law is breaking down.

“If present national and international institutions are not capable of dealing with this new interdependence and new fragility, we are in deep trouble,” Mendes said. “I wouldn’t want to say [global institutions] are failing, but they are showing signs of an inability to cope with the increasing, rapid change that is happening in the world at so many different levels, from geopolitics to the global economy. Threats are no longer just from states—they are from terrorism, climate change and health pandemics.”

Mendes will moderate the panel on Global Community and Just Society. Panellists, including two former presidents of the Canadian International Development Agency, will discuss the dangers and opportunities of an increasingly interconnected global economy. Technological globalization, which has led to huge disparities in wealth and to new security threats, also has the potential to lift millions in the developing world out of poverty through tele-health and distance education.

The Insecurity and State Fragility panellists will discuss how the global community can better respond to violent conflicts that spill across borders. Adama Dieng, UN under secretary-general and special advisor on the prevention of genocide, and the Honourable Louise Arbour, a former UN high commissioner for human rights, together with other panellists will examine why the world seems to lack the ability to resolve contemporary conflicts.

The Reforming Global Institutions panel members will examine the need to reform key UN institutions, including the Security Council, as well as UN peacekeeping institutions. Panellists, including Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, UN assistant secretary-general for peacebuilding support, will share their views on how UN peacekeeping and peacemaking can be made fit-for-purpose. Other topics will include how the International Court of Justice could be better used to resolve disputes between countries and states.

Mendes says he hopes the conference will generate “deep thinking.”

“That is what universities are supposed to do—challenge the status quo and come up with potentially revolutionary ideas that lead to concrete solutions,” he said.

Other partners involved in the conference include the Canadian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, uOttawa’s Law and Social Sciences faculties and its Human Rights Research and Education Centre.

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