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Baird defends Israel, condemns China

October 5, 2011

Minister defends religious rights in UN speech
By Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia NewsSeptember 27, 2011
 
In a strident speech heavy with references to the Second World War and the Cold War, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird launched a full-on defence of Israel at the UN in New York on Monday before criticizing a number of countries for their treatment of religious minorities, including China.
Baird said that while fascism and communism were the biggest threats facing previous generations, terrorism is the greatest threat today.
"And far too often, the Jewish state is on the front line in our struggle and its people are the victims of terror," he said in reference to Israel.
"Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens. The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of going along just to get along."
During his address, the minister repeatedly warned against the dangers of appeasement and complacency in defending human rights, democracy and the rule of law, quoting such world leaders as former British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, and U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt.
In particular, Baird noted Roosevelt's assertion that democracy and religious freedom are linked. The minister said that is why the government is intent on establishing an office of religious freedom and making it a key part of Canadian foreign affairs.
"The long history of humanity has proven that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable," Baird said.
The minister said Canada has a duty to protect those who are persecuted, be they Christians in Iran, Iraq and Egypt, Muslims in Burma, or "Roman Catholic priests and other Christian clergy, and their laity, driven to worship underground in China."
The inclusion of China was unexpected, given Baird had described the Asian giant as a "strategic partner" as recently as July and Chinese officials have indicated they don't appreciate criticism of their internal policies.
Baird also singled out Uganda for its policies on gays and lesbians, Syria for its crackdown on pro-democracy activists, and Sri Lanka for trying to stop investigations into possible war crimes committed during the island nation's decades-long civil war.
The minister also blasted Palestine's request last week that the UN recognize it as a full member.
"We will not go along with the unilateral actions of the Palestinian Authority," Baird said. "Our government's position has been clear: That the only solution to this issue is one that is negotiated between the two parties themselves."
Baird also criticized the UN membership as a whole for allowing despotic regimes and flagrant human rights violators to chair important committees. He warned that such actions serve only to undermine the world body.
"The greatest enemies of the United Nations are those who quietly undermine its principles and, even worse, those who sit idly watching its slow decline," he said. "We cannot sit idly."
In a surprising turn, Baird warned Canada will not be held back by endless handwringing and consensusbuilding at the UN when it comes to defending human rights and democracy.
"In the defence of freedom and human rights, form cannot prevail over substance," he said. "While multilateral action should be preferred, failure to achieve consensus must not prevent the willing from acting to uphold human rights and the founding principles of the United Nations."
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