“These crises and the way we choose to respond to them are testing our shared commitment to the United Nations. That’s why our decisions matter now more than ever,” Canada’s Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, told the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate on Monday.  

‘More multilateralism, not less’  

“We have a choice – either we respect and defend the rules that we collectively have developed for generations and that have given us the longest period of peace in modern history or we accept that rules can be broken by the powerful, bringing us back to darker times of constant tensions and conflicts, with massive displacements, suffering and losses of human lives.

“For Canada, the choice is clear: we’re convinced that we need more multilateralism, not less; we need more of the UN, not less; and we need a UN that is effective, efficient, relevant and accountable.”

On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ms. Joly said the 193-member General Assembly has spoken clearly and with conviction.

“Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine violate the UN Charter. It strikes at the heart of the commitment we all made in building this Organization from the dark tragedy of the Second World War. Rather than follow this Assembly’s decisions and a legally-binding order from the International Court of Justice, Russia had doubled down, including with a desperate effort to justify the unjustifiable.”

Noting that while the world gathered in New York, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will conscript more young people to the war.

“For Putin, this is a war to the death; for Ukraine, it is a war for life,” Ms. Joly stated.

The impacts of this “illegal” war are profoundly felt around the world, she continued. “We must address the global food security crisis and other consequences of the illegal invasion with imagination and determination.

“And those who break the law must be met with the force of the law. A permanent seat on the Security Council not a license to kill nor to silence anyone, and it should never guarantee impunity.”

No country left behind’

Turning to other major challenges, Ms. Joly highlighted the need to redouble efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and to reforming the international financial institutions to enable them to adapt to today’s crises.

“No country must be left behind,” she stressed, adding that Canada is working with partners for just and equitable reform of the international financial system, which is crucial for equity and for global peace and stability.

Canada, she went on, is committed to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as tackling HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Last week, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to investing $1.2 billion in these efforts.;

‘More urgency on climate’

On climate change, Ms. Joly said the world must act with the same urgency as during the COVID pandemic.

“From the Arctic to the small island States, climate change is an existential threat, and we are feeling its effects every day,” she said. “Canada has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and we have a credible plan to do so.”

There are no simple solutions to the challenges the world is facing, she noted. “But it is clear that to isolate ourselves, to disregard the rule of law and to force people into silence runs counter to progress. And yet, certain countries are restricting civil liberties, violating human rights and conducting widespread surveillance of their population.  

“This trend towards authoritarianism is extremely worrying,” she stated, drawing particular attention to the Xinjiang region of China.

On human rights, no ‘defending the indefensible’

Likewise, Canada is concerned about the repression of human rights seen in several countries. “We know that human rights are universal by nature. Therefore, we cannot hide behind the pretext of national sovereignty to violate them; there are limits to defending the indefensible.”

Ms. Joly also stressed the equality of women and girls as crucial for peace, justice and prosperity. Canada will repel increasing attacks on the rights and freedoms of women – from Afghanistan, where the Taliban are preventing women and girls from going to school, to Myanmar, where the women who are openly calling for a return to democracy are imprisoned by the military junta, tortured and subjected to “horrific” acts of sexual violence.

“In Iran,” she continued, “women protesting the death of Mahsa Amini are met with arrests and bullets. We salute their courage and join them in sending a strong message that women’s rights are human rights.

“Today, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada will sanction those responsible, including Iran’s so-called morality police and its leadership.”