Global Policy Forum

UN Reform Pushed by Martin at APEC

London Free Press
November 21, 2004

An animated Prime Minister Paul Martin seized every last second of an international summit yesterday to make a passionate pitch for his pet project of reforming world institutions. The prime minister literally had to be yanked away by his own handlers after describing in urgent tones the need for United Nations reform and for a new forum of world leaders that he wants to create.

In his ardour, he bemoaned Sudanese being slaughtered while the UN dithers, he interrupted several questions from reporters to elaborate further, and Saturday he waved off an aide who tried to cut off a news conference. Martin again had to be pulled away yesterday after wading in to chat with a crowd of journalists after a half-hour news conference to close the Asia-Pacific summit.

Martin pushed his ideas by arguing countries need a more functional forum to communicate with each other and that the UN needs an expanded mandate to protect people from violence. Several countries eagerly endorsed his concept of a new L-20 -- a group of existing and emerging economic powers. But U.S. President George W. Bush remained skeptical.

The prime minister used a baseball analogy to sum up his performance at the summit. "I think we probably scored a double -- maybe a triple -- but not a home run," Martin said. "Do I think we made progress on it? Yes, I think we did."

China, South Korea and Indonesia added their backing of the L-20 concept to the support Martin already has received from the leaders of France, Mexico, Russia and Britain. But Bush challenged Martin to prove his idea would be anything more than a talking-heads forum where world leaders gather to make speeches before the cameras -- which is why the prime minister now says he will pick one or two topics the L-20 could initially tackle, such as public health and security.

Martin said his proposed L-20 would make it easier for the world to move forward on urgent matters without getting caught up in interminable debates among 190 members at the United Nations. And it was on the question of UN reform that Martin became most animated. He's pushing for a new rule -- what he calls the "Responsibility to Protect" -- that would allow international troops to step in when a country fails to stop its citizens from being killed.

He has in the past raised the 1994 Rwandan massacre as an example and now cites the crisis in Sudan, which he will visit this week. Because current UN rules only allow international troops to intervene in sovereign countries where genocide is committed, Martin says the international community is stuck debating terminology while people are massacred. "You think about it!" Martin said. "The United Nations Security Council is prepared to debate for months whether what's happening in Darfur (Sudan) is a genocide. It just makes no sense and the people are not going to put up with it. "Four-hundred-year-old debates about sovereignty are not going to provide you with the answer when our common humanity is under threat…"

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