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Conflicting values ; "official" and "counter" meta-narratives on human rights in Canadian foreign policy - the case of East Timor Wolansky, Randall

Abstract

Belief in human rights is a value central to the Canadian self-image. Canadians view the development of Canada's international peacekeeping role and overseas development assistance program in the post-1945 era as the foreign policy manifestation of this belief. It has led to the national myth of the country as a "Humanitarian Middle Power". Canada's response to Indonesia's oppressive occupation of East Timor (1975 - 1999) contradicted this national myth. The concept of meta-narrative, of political mythmaking, is used to examine the reasons why the Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments in Ottawa during this period perceived Canada's national interest in maintaining a strong economic relationship with Jakarta over the protection of human rights in East Timor. These "Official" meta-narratives were countered by Canadian human rights activists, such as the East Timor Alert Network, who stressed the primacy of human rights in foreign-policy decision-making. Ultimately, this debate represents a conflict of values in Canadian society. The "Official" meta-narrative has developed since World War II in active support of the capitalist world-system dominated by the United States, whereas the "Counter" meta-narrative challenges the morality of that system. The "Humanitarian Middle Power" myth, which is at the core of the Canadian identity vis-a-vis the international community, is not completely invalid, but it is greatly limited by the firm adherence of Canadian governments to the world economic structure.

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