An evening in Ottawa on the protection of civilians in armed conflict
On Monday, December 4, Humanity & Inclusion Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Landmine Foundation and Mines Action Canada, paid tribute to the victims of bombing in populated areas at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
From left to right : Pierre Léonard, Chairman of Humanity & Inclusion Canada; Anne Delorme, Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion Canada; Nisreen Mustafa, Syrian refugee; Erin Hunt, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada; the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada; Nujeen Mustafa, Syrian refugee; Peter MacKay, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of National Defence of Canada; Jennifer Welsh, Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security at McGill University and Director of the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies; Yuliya Kovaliv, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada; Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Board member of the Canadian Landmine Foundation; and Dymphna Keogh, Deputy Head of Mission for the Embassy of Ireland in Canada. | © Jennifer Bernard/HI
A ceremony was held in the presence of the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of International Development, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Her Excellency Yuliya Kovaliv, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada, special guests, Humanitarian partners, members of the Diplomatic Corps and families of victims affected by armed conflict. All gathered around the Monument to the Unknown Civilian, a temporary memorial inspired by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honour the thousands of men, women and children unjustly killed and wounded by explosive weapons.
© Jennifer Bernard/HI
“This monument should serve as an important reminder of the need for strict and universal respect for international humanitarian law," said Anne Delorme, Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion Canada. Our organization has seen first-hand the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons. The ceremony was a moving demonstration of our collective commitment to support those who suffer, and I hope it can help stimulate concrete action to protect civilians."
The ceremony was highlighted by speeches and the poignant testimony of Nujeen Mustafa, a young Syrian refugee who, at the age of 16, had to flee with her family from the bombing in Aleppo, crossing 6,000 kilometers from Syria to Germany in a wheelchair. Those present then observed a minute's silence in tribute to the victims and laid flowers on the monument.
The Honourable Mélanie Joly approaches the monument to lay the flowers. © Jennifer Bernard / HI
“Today, more than ever, Canada's leadership is needed to ensure the protection of civilians in situations of armed conflict," said the Honourable Mélanie Joly. I believe that participating in meaningful conversations contribute directly to our commitment to addressing protection challenges. Canada is proud to support organizations like Humanity & Inclusion Canada, whose work is essential to protecting and improving the lives of the most vulnerable."
The evening continued with a panel on the evolution of Canadian leadership in civilian protection from the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines to the present day. The panel featured Lloyd Axworthy and Peter MacKay, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and National Defence over the past 30 years; Jennifer Welsh, Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security at McGill University; and Nujeen Mustafa, today an advocate for the rights of refugees and people with disabilities. They discussed current issues and challenges, past experiences and possible political approaches to ending violence against the victims of bombing and shelling, 90% of whom are civilians.
Anne Delorme and guest panelists in discussion. © Jennifer Bernard/HI
This event is more relevant than ever in the current context of escalating conflicts that are increasingly taking place in urban areas. More than 14,900 civilians were killed or injured by explosive violence worldwide between January and September 2023, according to monthly reports from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). More than 4,100 incidents involving explosive weapons occurred worldwide, says AOAV. These very high figures are due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the increasing use of explosive weapons in conflicts, notably in Myanmar, Somalia and Syria. Since October 7, the Gaza Strip has been the scene of clashes between Israel and Hamas, with more than 11,900 people killed and over 31,400 wounded on both sides.
One year ago, at an international conference in Dublin, Canada and 82 other states adopted an international declaration to protect civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas. They pledged to implement this declaration and to put an end to the use of destructive weapons in cities and other places where people live.
Humanity & Inclusion Canada and its partners, the Canadian Landmine Foundation and Mines Action Canada, call on the Canadian government to continue its leadership role in maintaining peace and security, and assisting civilians affected by conflict around the world.