Montreal, Canada - May 03, 2005

RCPL voices concerns to Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs

Montreal, April 16, 2005 — Members of human rights and democracy NGO Rassemblement canadien pour le Liban (RCPL) recently sat down with Mr. Michael Chesson, a Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) official specialising in Middle East policy. After painting an alarming picture of the state of human rights and democracy in Lebanon, the RCPL team presented Mr. Chesson with four points requiring urgent attention:


1- International observers for Lebanon’s upcoming elections

RCPL requested the DFAIT’s active support in ensuring Lebanon’s parliamentary elections (scheduled for late May) are fair and free, by lending Canada’s tested expertise in international monitoring of democratic elections. According to Mr. Chesson, “Canada would be very interested in providing observers if such involvement were requested by the Lebanese government or the United Nations.” In such a situation, RCPL is prepared to do its part by participating in the mission. RCPL believes the Lebanese elections’ legitimacy can only be guaranteed by the presence of international observers.


2- Lebanese detainees in Syria

For the fourth consecutive year, RCPL brought to DFAIT attention the tragic plight of over 200 Lebanese prisoners, deprived of their most basic rights, who continue to languish in Syria’s notorious prisons. Mr. Chesson promised to accord the matter its due attention. The DFAIT thus committed to using Canada’s diplomatic contacts in Beirut and Damascus to confirm the information supplied by RCPL, and to determine the role of Canadian diplomacy accordingly. The DFAIT prefers to move cautiously and discreetly on this issue, citing considerations of effectiveness and to avoid endangering the detainees. Repeating the customary evasion employed by DFAIT officials at previous consultations with RCPL in past years, Mr. Chesson argued that Canadian diplomatic involvement on behalf of non-Canadians is unfeasible. RCPL highlighted this argument’s lack of credibility, since Canada has in fact already successfully intervened in Syria itself, to secure the release of Jewish Syrians detained for their religious affiliation.


3- Judicial reform

RCPL asked for Canada to support judicial reform in Lebanon. Pointing to rampant corruption in the Lebanese judicial system, RCPL requested the use of all possible channels — Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, bilateral accords, inter-parliamentary contacts, etc. — to encourage and help Lebanon to effectively tackle this major obstacle to democratic reform. Mr. Chesson reacted favourably to the idea of contributing to reform efforts, recalling that Canada played a similar role in Tunisia.


4- The situation in Lebanon

On the issue of recent developments, Mr. Chesson affirmed that Canada views the Syrian withdrawal as a positive development. The DFAIT also supports the demand for an impartial international investigation of the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. RCPL welcomes these positions, although their clear articulation was long overdue. RCPL also noted with disappointment Canada’s earlier attempt to explain its official stance on the situation in Lebanon, when Prime Minister Paul Martin committed an embarrassing gaffe by mischaracterizing Canadian policy.


RCPL expressed disappointment that Canada is not taking a leadership position on questions pertaining to Lebanon. As an example, RCPL pointed to Canada’s silence in the face of the ongoing terrorist campaign targeting opposition strongholds in Beirut, in stark contrast to other Western nations who have loudly denounced the new violence. The criticism made by RCPL had prompt effect, as the DFAIT finally made an official statement (linked below) condemning the four explosions that took place in recent weeks.

RCPL is generally satisfied with this year’s DFAIT meeting and promises to closely follow the coming developments. RCPL will maintain pressure on the DFAIT to accord greater attention to human rights and democracy in Lebanon.

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