Managing international relations is not an easy thing but at what point does taking a stand for human rights trump trade?
This contribution was published on The Hill Times on February 24, 2020
THE HILL TIMES — I see that the Indian Minister for External Affairs, Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, paid an official visit to Canada the week before Christmas. As he outlined in a piece for the National Post, he argued for a ‘wider and deeper Indo-Canadian enterprise’, citing shared democratic values, pluralism, civil society and a market economy.
I carefully searched, in vain, for the Minister’s reflection on other things going on in his country that are not so nice. Things like the rise of Hindu violent extremism against Muslims (primarily) and Christians. Like the Modi government decision to remove citizenship from millions of (largely Muslim) residents in Assam. Like the recent crackdown and removal of civil liberties in Kashmir. Nary a peep.
Oh, the Minister did refer to a ‘shared history’ of ‘radicalisation and violent extremism’, although his comments did focus solely on what was happening in Afghanistan. Not on the Hindu extremist ‘cow vigilantes’ or those killing Muslims and non-Muslims who choose to marry (what they perversely call ‘love jihad’).
Human rights violations on a biblical scale
If we were to take the Indian Minister at face value Canada and his country should ‘display the commitment and energy to shape (the future) together’. Is this future one where the state at a minimum turns a blind eye to political violence by one group against another and at a maximum is behind such action?
As a Canadian I am increasingly dismayed at our government’s silence in the face of human rights violations by states on a biblical scale. The Trudeau government seems to want to pick and choose which atrocity to call out. We have rightly condemned Myanmar for its attempted genocide against Rohingya Muslims but that was easy: who cares about our bilateral relationship with Myanmar?
But what is the role of principle? What is the place for standing up for what is morally right? In the end, what do we, as Canadians, represent? How do we want to show ourselves to the rest of the world?
India and China are a different story. The latter is engaged in an ongoing campaign of violence, forced incarceration and the destruction of perhaps thousands of Islamic heritage sites in Xinjiang province and what do we hear? Crickets. Uyghur Canadians are harassed by Chinese agents here and abroad to keep quiet about the abuses or their families back home will suffer. Our response? I am still waiting.
Standing up for what is morally right
I was not born yesterday. I know that managing bilateral relations is hard. I realise that as a trading nation Canada needs outside markets and that India and China combined represent a quarter of the planet’s consumers. Ignoring that would constitute economic suicide.
But what is the role of principle? What is the place for standing up for what is morally right? In the end, what do we as Canadians represent? How do we want to show ourselves to the rest of the world?
I wish I had answers: I do not. Maybe I am getting older and, contrary to what many say, becoming more liberal and not more conservative. Maybe I am naive, although I see myself as a realist.
Am I to resign myself to continued Canadian reticence on these massive crimes? I hope not.
Phil Gurski is a retired senior strategic analyst at CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism, including the recent When Religion Kills.