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“A dream come true”: U of T students participate in UN dialogue on Responsibility to Protect

Tina Park: freedom from fear and freedom from want are critical for a more secure and peaceful future

Sitting in the General Assembly hall of the United Nations building in New York was an awe-inspiring experience for third-year University of Toronto student Kelsey Wiseman.

“It was a dream come true," she said. "It was so surreal to be sitting in the room where so many key geopolitical decisions are deliberated and made.”

Wiseman and fellow students Michael Switzer and Misha Boutilier were at the UN last week for the General Assembly’s eighth Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect. All three are members of the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (CCR2P), which is based at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Also in attendance was U of T PhD candidate and the Canadian centre's co-founder Tina Park, who spoke at the UN event.

The Responsibility to Protect maintains that when sovereign states are unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the international community has the responsibility to do so. The principle has been adopted by more than 150 countries, including Canada.

Park advocated for UN states to promote freedom from fear and freedom from want. She talked about improved mechanisms for partnership and coordination at all levels of government. She recommended engaging with private sector, civil society and regional partners. And, she called for paying special attention to the protection of women and children.

“As the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi reminded us,” Park said, referring to the Syrian refugee child who drowned off the coast of Turkey last year, “too many children around the world are denied their right to life and education. We are deeply concerned as well about the rise of child soldiers and sexual violence. We must recognize that freedom from fear and freedom from want are critical for a more secure and peaceful future.”

Switzer, who is studying international relations and philosophy, said he joined CCR2P because of his experience growing up in Egypt. It was difficult to ignore the effects of the atrocities that were being committed in neighbouring countries, he said. “These crimes have horrific, destructive, and lingering implications on entire communities of nations.”

Wiseman, director of media relations for the CCR2P, said she was glad to see so many nation states taking part in the debate last week. 

Boutilier, a JD student in the Faculty of Law, was also impressed by the cooperation between the UN countries.

“As someone who has studied R2P for several years, it was a unique opportunity to witness states and civil society representatives debate the principle and its future,” he said. “I really enjoyed the interventions by past Special Advisors on the Responsibility to Protect, which were incisive and timely. I was impressed by the calls to formalize the dialogue and have the General Assembly debate and adopt a resolution on R2P.”

Left to right: Tina Park, Jennifer Welsh (former UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on R2P), Adama Dieng (UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on the Prevention of Genocide), Nouhaila Chelkhaoui (CCR2P director of administration), Michael Switzer, Kelsey Wiseman, Misha Boutilier, Ed Luck (former UN Secretary-General's Special Advisor on R2P)