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UN Office for Disarmament Affairs Pays Tribute to Canada’s Douglas Roche

On May 1, the United Nations Office payed homage to renown Canadian author, parliamentarian, and diplomat Douglas Roche. The occasion was held ahead of Roche’s 85th birthday next month to celebrate his lifelong dedication to peace and efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament.

Roche has long been involved with nuclear disarmament and was elected Chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Committee at the 43rd General Assembly in 1988. His work in the field is largely inspired by the late Polish scientist Joseph Rotblat, whom Roche cites as his mentor. Rotblat worked on the infamous Manhattan Project but resigned from the program after it became clear that the Germans would not be able to develop a nuclear bomb. He figured that if Germany was not going to have the bomb, the Allies didn’t need one either. His growing concern over the consequences the new weapon would unleash and the arms race that he rightfully predicted would follow, prompted him to leave the project on moral grounds — the only scientist to do so.

Douglas Roche

Over the following years, Rotblat and Roche worked together at the Pugwash Conferences, a key forum for scientists, scholars and public figures to address the threat of nuclear weapons. In 1995, Rotblat received the Nobel Prize for his work in arms control and continued his activity in the disarmament movement until his death in 2005 at the age of 97.

Born in 1929 in Montreal, Roche is a former Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament from 1972-1984 for Edmonton-Strathcona (‘72-‘79) and for Edmonton South (‘79- ’84). In 1984, he was appointed Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament by Brian Mulroney, a post which he held until 1989, and was later appointed to the Senate by Jean Chrétien on September 17, 1998 where he  served until June 13, 2004.

Roche is a founding Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative, founded in 1998 by eight international non-governmental organizations that work primarily with middle power governments to encourage states with nuclear arms to take steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons. He has also been active in a number of UN bodies pertaining to disarmament, serving as Chairmen of the UN Disarmament Commission, as President of the UN Association in Canada, and Honorary President of the World Federation of UN Associates. Roche, also served as Special Adviser on disarmament issues and security matters to the Vatican for which he received a Papal Medal in 1995 from Pope John Paul II. In 1998, the Holy See named him a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Roche lectures regularly on security and disarmament issues, he is a Visiting Professor at the University of Alberta and the author of some twenty books as well as scores of articles and several chapters in other books.

For all of his efforts, Roche has been the recipient of numerous awards. He received the Mahtama Gandhi Foundation for World Peace Award and the United Nations Association’s Medal of Honour. In 2003, he received the Peace Award of the Canadian Islamic Congress and the 2005 Luminosa Award for Unity from the Focolare Movement, North America. In 2005, he was given Lifetime Achievement awards from the Canadian Pugwash Group and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He has also been the recipient of eight honorary doctorates from Canadian and American universities.

High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane lionized Roche at the tribute: “The more people read his books and contemplate his career, the more likely such individuals will appear amongst us. He is and will always remain an inspiration to all of us, myself of course included.”

As an Officer of the Order of Canada, Roche continued in his work by organizing a project in which more than 700 members of the Order of Canada endorsed a call for Canada to commit to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention, as advocated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Roche’s latest and final book, Peacemakers: How people around the world are building a world free of war was released on April 12, 2014.

Alexander Liatsis
Alexander recently completed his MA in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University where he wrote a thesis on the evolution of Qatar’s foreign policy. Prior to studying in Tel Aviv, he completed a BA at Bishop’s University with honours in History and a major in Political Studies. He was also the News Editor for Bishop’s student-run newspaper, The Campus. His primary academic interests include the international relations and political economy of the Middle East, particularly in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Other areas of interest include Arab-Israeli relations, oil and politics, democratization in the Middle East, and Canada’s relations with Middle East states. Alexander is interested in pursuing a career as a political risk consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @_alexliatsis.