Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

The world could start spending the “tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians,” Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

“What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of “ill-gotten” assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of “Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis.”

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

“We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded,” Anderson said. “The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net.”

Source: Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

Why don’t we have more female judges? – Macleans.ca

Irwin Cotler’s efforts to get more information on judicial appointments (see earlier Tories chastised for lack of racial diversity in judicial appointmentsRacial Diversity Gap in the CourtroomForget MacKay, a woman’s place is on the bench):

The justice minister’s office explains that in the case of Cotler’s most recent question, there simply wasn’t enough time to do what would have had to have been done to answer Cotler’s questions.

In the order-paper question that Mr. Cotler tabled last December, Q-836, he was asking the department to go back through 21 years of information, a great deal of which would require a manual search of the paper records. The department only has 45 days to answer order-paper questions and there was just not enough time.

It does seem like a rather large project.

Cotler and Liberal MP Sean Casey today released a statement calling for greater diversity on the bench and the questions raised by last year’s controversy—whatever Peter MacKay said or didn’t say—still seem worthwhile. While Ontario publishes information on applicants for judicial publications, we have no such data for federal appointments. At what rate are women applying to be federal judges? How has that rate changed over time? And how has the rate of appointment of women changed over time? Those don’t seem like questions for which it would be unreasonable to expect answers to be somehow procured.

I don’t think this is true.

When I compiled a list of women and visible minorities in provincial legislatures, it only took me a week or so to go through names and photos of provincial legislature members. Going through judicial appointments should not be that time consuming (only an average 69 per year between 2006-12).

Why don’t we have more female judges? – Macleans.ca.

Direct link to the table for 2006-12 appointments:

breakdown (pdf)

Irwin Cotler’s principled abstention on Iraq

Thoughtful rationale:

“I have written ad nauseam almost on the responsibility to protect in general and in particular with regards to Syria … I was on record as, not only Canada joining an international coalition, but asking Canada to lead that coalition, to convene a UN security council urgent meeting, et cetera, et cetera.

Therefore, I would have generally supported a resolution of that kind,” Cotler told me this afternoon. “So why wouldn’t I support something that supports my position? Well the answer is because this does not support it, but turns R2P on its head. Harper took the astonishing position to say that … with regards to Syria, if we’re going to go into Syria then it’ll be contingent on Assad’s agreement.

As I said, this not only turns R2P on its head, it’s asking the criminal who should be in the docket or the accused for permission for us to engage in the very international military operation that he’s asking us to support.

To me that not only was the theatre of the absurd on Harper’s part, but in fact it evinced a lack of understanding of the whole initiative that he was speaking about. And then to invoke the UN security council resolution … when in fact there was no UN security council resolution showed, again, a lack of understanding.”

Irwin Cotler’s principled abstention on Iraq – Macleans.ca.

UNESCO Exhibition on Jewish History in Middle East

In addition to the meeting with Hollande, the UNESCO exhibit on Jewish history and presence in the Holy Land finally sees the light of day (Canada led campaign to save exhibition on Jewish history in Middle East after Arab coalition quashed it):

Meanwhile, Cotler was effusive in his description of the Wistrich exhibit, which he called “historic.”

“It is a remarkable dramatization of history and heritage, of people, book, land, memory and state,” he said.

In 24 panels, it traces Jewish history back to the patriarch Abraham, through Moses, King David and all the way through to the struggle for Soviet Jewry, the birth of Zionism and the reconstitution of the State of Israel.

The exhibit, which will run for nine days, had been scheduled to open last January. Pressure from 22 Arab countries, who argued it would prejudice the peace process, prompted UNESCO to cancel it.

Responding to that decision Rabbi Hier stated, “It is ironic, that while the Arab League was trying to kill this exhibition and all the attention was focused on Paris, the UN headquarters in New York is hosting an exhibit entitled, Palestine, based entirely on the Arab narrative, which was not criticized as an interference with Secretary [John] Kerry’s mission.”

Following public criticism from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and U.S envoy Samantha Power, the exhibit was rescheduled to open last week, but with the name “Israel” removed from the title and replaced with “Holy Land.” UNESCO also required the removal of an image of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had been part of the initial exhibit prepared by Wistrich, a professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Hollande’s stand on anti-Semitism impresses delegation | The Canadian Jewish News.

John Ivison: Ottawa will lose top human rights crusader when Liberal MP who fought for Mandela retires

Nice tribute to Irwin Cotler by John Ivison:

Yet Mr. Cotler has emerged intact and unspoiled by his 15 years in the House of Commons.

In the Tim Hortons in Mount Royal, he confided his motivation – the fundamental teaching handed down by his father, who used to tell him in Hebrew: “Justice, justice shall you pursue. This is the equal of all the other commandments combined.”

His father would surely be proud of the use to which his teaching has been put.

John Ivison: Ottawa will lose top human rights crusader when Liberal MP who fought for Mandela retires | National Post.

Universal lessons of the Holocaust | Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler on the universal lessons of the Holocaust:

The first lesson is the importance of zachor, of remembrance. For as we remember the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah – defamed, demonized and dehumanized, as prologue or justification for genocide – we have to understand that the mass murder of six million Jews, and millions of non-Jews, is not a matter of abstract statistics.

For unto each person there is a name, an identity; each person is a universe. As our sages tell us, “Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe.”

The second enduring lesson of the Holocaust is that the genocide of European Jewry succeeded not only because of the industry of death and the technology of terror, but because of the state-sanctioned ideology of hate. This teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other, this is where it all begins…

The third lesson is that these Holocaust crimes resulted not only from state-sanctioned incitement to hatred and genocide, but from crimes of indifference, from conspiracies of silence – from the international community as bystander….

The fourth enduring lesson of the Holocaust is that it was made possible not only because of the “bureaucratization of genocide,” as Robert Lifton put it, but because of the trahison des clercs – the complicity of the elites – including physicians, church leaders, judges, lawyers, engineers, architects and educators….

The fifth lesson concerns the vulnerability of the powerless and the powerlessness of the vulnerable – as found expression in the triad of Nazi racial hygiene: the Sterilization Laws, the Nuremberg Race Laws, and the Euthanasia Program – all of which targeted those “whose lives were not worth living.”…

Sixth is the tribute that must be paid to the rescuers, the righteous among the nations, of whom Raoul Wallenberg is metaphor and message. Wallenberg, a Swedish non-Jew, saved more Jews in four months in Hungary in 1944 than any single government or organization.

Universal lessons of the Holocaust | JPost | Israel News.

And a link to Canadian Holocaust activities:

Recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day