Seventeen years ago, Tina J. Park came to Toronto from Seoul, South Korea, as a shy girl who barely spoke English. Today, she is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Toronto and writing the definitive history of Canadian-Korean relations in the 20th century. Her PhD marks one of the first attempts to chronicle various aspects of bilateral relations through the lenses of culture, defence, trade, immigration and political interactions. And she is the co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (CCR2P).
Park now speaks six languages and has travelled to over 30 countries to advise them on human rights policy. With MP Carolyn Bennett, she has also started an initiative called the U of T Women in House, which brings 50 female students from the University of Toronto for a job-shadowing on Parliament Hill every March.
Based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, the CCR2P is a non-profit, nonpartisan research organization which promotes scholarly engagement and political implementation of the R2P principle.
“When sovereign states are unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the international community has the responsibility to do so,” Park explains.
Coined in 2001 by the Government of Canada, R2P was unanimously adopted by 150 member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit. Based on the notion of sovereignty as a responsibility, R2P is deeply rooted in international law and provides a wide range of tools for protecting people in peril. “The idea is that all countries have a responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations,” Park says.
Park’s interest in human rights and social justice was sparked long before she came to the University of Toronto. As a kid, she read The Diary of Anne Frank and became horrified about the Holocaust and was moved by “the little girl who was so deprived yet had the courage to carry on,” says Park. In high school, she studied the Rwandan genocide. “That was a real turning point for me,” she says, “the fact that the entire international community watched in silence while 800,000 people were killed over the course of 100 days was so heartbreaking and so unfathomable.”
When the time came to apply to universities, Park serendipitously came across a brochure for the University of Toronto’s Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program, which provides first-year students the opportunity to explore major issues and ideas pertaining to world affairs while in a small-group environment. Having read Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919 “at least three times” during high school, Park immediately changed the course of her program and decided to apply to Trinity.
To study with a world-renowned historian who sparked her own interest in history was an unbelievable experience for Park. She joined the Trinity One inaugural cohort, which brought together 25 first-year students to study with four top professors, including Robert Bothwell, Louis Pauly and Arne Kislenko. Professor MacMillan, who served as the Provost of Trinity College, also taught the seminar courses.
Tina Park’s studies have been supported by the Jeanne Armour Graduate Scholarship in Canadian History, established by The Estate of Jeanne F.E. Armour.
“The strength of the University of Toronto’s undergraduate education, especially something like Trin One, is that our top faculty are fully engaged in the students’ academic experiences right from the beginning,” says Park. “Our Trin One classes were always so full of heated debates and ideas that challenged how I saw the world. People talk about how the University of Toronto is so big and impersonal, but my experience was exactly the opposite. Professor Bothwell, who was the Director of the International Relations Program, brought all sorts of interesting diplomats and politicians for dinner parties. I learned so much from organizing events at the IR society and interacting with these practitioners. The classmates I met through Trin One and IR have become my most trusted friends and colleagues. Looking back, the relationships I cultivated at the University of Toronto shaped so much of who I am today and I am so grateful.” In fact, Park’s PhD research is supervised by the very professors she met in Trin One, including Professor Bothwell and Professor MacMillan.
The CCR2P truly crystallized for Park following a fourth-year seminar taught by UN advisor Erin Mooney called Protecting People in Peril, and a graduate seminar taught by former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense Bill Graham on the evolution of Canadian foreign policy. Inspired by Canada’s historic commitment to promoting global humanitarianism, Park partnered with her classmate, Victor MacDiarmid, and co-founded the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect in February 2010.
Within days, they drafted a constitution and formed an advisory board. Within weeks, they had recruited 30 student analysts from international relations, political science and law. Within months, they had a website and a new search engine, R2Plive.org, which tracks R2Prelated news in real-time in six official UN languages. The free database currently has over 5,000 articles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean, with expansion to include Russian and Arabic in the works. Within a year, they organized the inaugural conference on the Responsibility to Protect, which has become an annual tradition, and have since hosted over two dozen events with the likes of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy. Many of the key architects and practitioners involved with R2P now serve on CCR2P’s international advisory board. Believing in the importance of youth engagement, CCR2P is setting up 50 high school chapters across the nation, in addition to a dozen university chapters from coast to coast.
Today, more than 500 people are directly involved in the centre, with over 200 CCR2P fellows worldwide in the R2P Scholars Network. Indeed, the CCR2P is one of the leaders in the global R2P movement. Park advised the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly’s historic resolution on R2P in Quebec and Quito, which brought together over 600 MPs from around the world. Since 2012, Park has contributed to the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on R2P and addressed the annual UN General Assembly’s dialogue on R2P at the UN headquarters in New York in 2015 and 2016.
“We have a vision to keep the dialogue on R2P alive at every level. Every discussion, every debate pushes the issue forward to mainstream human rights,” says Park. “Ultimately, we want to turn debates about R2P into policy, and policy into timely and decisive action.”
As Park points out, no one disagrees with the central premise of R2P—promoting human dignity and equality has been one of the most important ideals of the UN Charter. But Park also argues that there is no clear blueprint for implementing R2P and fighting the worst of human crimes will take patience and persistence. “We are still seeing gross human rights violations and innocent civilians suffering in Syria, Yemen, North Korea, South Sudan. And the UN alone will not be able to fix everything,” she says. “I feel a sense of urgency when there is a crisis and people have no capacity to protect themselves. When I look at the state of the world today, there is so much more work to be done to promote human dignity, equality and freedom, and we need everybody’s support for a more secure and peaceful future. Look at Syria—I’m not sure what the solution is there, but one thing is certain: nobody puts their child on a boat unless it’s safer than to be on land.”
Story by Barrett Hooper
UNITED WE STAND:
Tina Park prepares to address the UN General Assembly’s interactive dialogue on the R2P in New York in September 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Tina Park