Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird used Canada's turn at the podium before the United Nations General Assembly Monday to speak out on sexual violence against women and girls, including forced marriage and systemic rape.
"Forced marriage is rape, it is violence against women. Early marriage is child rape, and violence against young girls."
He was especially blunt about forced marriage, saying, " We condemn it. Even though some might prefer that we kept quiet," without naming any countries who wish for silence on the topic.
Baird drew attention to Canada's Muskoka initiative to improve women and children's health, in advocating for greater participation by women to help "build a stronger, more secure, more prosperous and more peaceful world."
'Our business is a shared humanity. Our interest is the dignity of humankind.' - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird
He pointed out, "Another way to protect the vulnerable is to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children so that we can reduce the number of deaths," without mentioning access to contraception.
Baird also denounced "the crime of terror" and paid tribute to a Canadian diplomat killed in an attack on a shopping mall in Kenya last week as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly Monday morning.
Annemarie Desloges, 29, was one of two Canadians who died in the attack by al-Qaeda-linked Somali fighters on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Vancouver-area businessman Naguib Damji also died in the attack.
In a multi-topic speech that included references to the ancient poet Homer and philosopher Cicero, as well as to a three-handled cup used 1,000 years ago in the part of Canada that became Newfoundland and Labrador, Baird made the "oneness of humankind" the theme of his address at the start of the second week of the world body's opening session. He noted that the United Nations' charter begins with the words, "We the peoples."
"Not, 'We the countries,' or 'we the governments.'" Baird said. "Not 'we the political leaders. We the peoples.'"
"Canada’s government doesn’t seek to have our values or our principled foreign policy validated by elites who would rather 'go along to get along,'" Baird said, echoing words he has used before.
And he seemed to defend Canada's recent criticism of events in events countries, including Russia's anti-gay propaganda law and the treatment of religious minorities in some Muslim countries, saying it is impossible to protect some human rights and freedoms while infringing others.
"All freedoms are rooted in the inherent dignity of human beings. Whether the issue is religious freedom, sexual freedom, political freedom or any other freedom, some people ask: What business is it of ours? What interest do we have in events outside our borders?
"Our business is a shared humanity. Our interest is the dignity of humankind," Baird said.
The wide-ranging speech, delivered to a largely empty assembly hall, also touched on Canada's participation in trade talks, on Syria and Iran and on peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In a clear shot at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech at the UN General Assembly last week, which many interpreted as a more conciliatory approach from Iran, Baird said, "Some observers see encouraging signs, but sound bites do not remove threats to global security. Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action."
Maintain sanctions against Iran
Baird called for "the global community to maintain tough sanctions against Iran in order that it take a different path on its nuclear program." He seemed to downplay the value of dialogue or negotiation, pointing out, as he has before, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) have had five rounds of negotiations with Iran.
"While everyone says the meetings have been productive," said Baird, "the fact remains we haven’t seen any change in Iran’s actions."
Reiterating Canada's unequivocal defence of Israel's right to exist, Baird added Canada wishes to see a "prosperous Palestinian state," but advised, "We sometimes have fundamental differences on how statehood is achieved."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in New York last week for a panel on child maternal health. He has addressed the General Assembly twice, most recently in 2010, and has faced criticism from the NDP and academics and former diplomats for not giving the address himself.
Harper has countered that Canada's prime minister has not traditionally appeared at the assembly year to year.