Repression, freedom, and minimal geography: human rights, humanitarian law, and Canadian involvement in El Salvador, 1977-1984

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Pries, Kari Mariska
International humanitarian law , El Salvador , Canadian foreign policy , Non-international armed conflict , Counter-consensus , Salvadoran Catholic Church
This thesis addresses the potential for third parties to apply or make use of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law to protect civilians caught in the midst of civil war. A case study is presented of El Salvador, where conflict in the 1970s and 1980s took the lives of an estimated 75,000 people and caused immense human suffering. Of particular interest is how organizations under the aegis of the Salvadoran Catholic Church provided data on human rights violations, gathered with credible precision, to the international community. The Canadian public responded to the situation in El Salvador in a markedly different way than the Canadian government, whose pronouncements were at first ill-informed and uncritically pro-American. The question thus arises: do counter-consensus or public-pressure groups exert any influence over a state’s foreign policy and, if so, does this phenomenon contribute to conflict resolution? While there is disagreement over the actual success that public groups and interested parties have over government decision-making, this thesis demonstrates that, in fact, the counter-consensus in Canada did have a discernable impact on foreign policy during the Salvadoran conflict. These actions have potential contributions to make to conflict resolution and the search for a negotiated end to civil strife, which in the case of El Salvador was generated in the first place not by an alleged international communist conspiracy but by crippling geographies of inequality.
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