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Portait by Joseph Cartright

Robert “Bob” Fowler


“His name pops up again and again wherever significant decisions are required.”

Roméo Dallaire


Robert Fowler made important innovations in the field of human security. In February 1999, Fowler took charge of the United Nations committee overseeing sanctions to end the Angolan Civil War. For years, the insurgent National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) skirted around these sanctions to purchase weapons by selling blood diamonds. Fowler took some unprecedented steps, such as identifying individuals and organizations complicit in the violation of UN sanctions, and made comprehensive recommendations to strengthen measures preventing blood diamond exports out of, and arms imports into, Angola. This was a bold approach for the UN, because it exposed certain governments for their negligence or laxity in enforcing UN sanctions. Less than two years after Fowler took over the committee on sanctions, his approach to tightening sanctions in Angola began to show results. Curtailing the traffic of blood diamonds prevented UNITA from financing its insurgency and forced them to accept a cease-fire agreement. At a time when non-state actors were playing a greater role in perpetuating conflict, Robert Fowler innovated solutions to adapt old methods of global governance to the new challenges of human security.

Robert Fowler (right) with Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a meeting of the UN Security Council in February 1999. Photo ONU/Eskinder Debebe

Fowler was Canada’s longest-serving ambassador to the UN, leading the mission from 1995 to 2000, and his career in public service continued to build on these successes. He served as Ambassador to Italy, Albania, San Marino, the three Rome-based UN Food Agencies (FAO, WFP, and IFAD), and High Commissioner to Malta. In 2002, he chaired the creation of the G8 Africa Action plan while serving as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Sherpa for the G8 Summit in Kananaskis. From 2001 to 2006, he acted as personal representative to Africa for Prime Ministers Chrétien, Martin, and Harper, and led Prime Minister Martin’s Special Advisory Team on Sudan in 2005. In 2008, he served as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s special envoy to Niger and was taken hostage by Al Qaeda. He was released after spending 130 days in captivity.

Fowler was born in Ottawa in 1944. He studied at McGill University and completed a Bachelor of Arts at Queen’s University. He was made an officer of the Order of Canada for his contributions as a public servant and diplomat.

Further Reading:

Chapnick, Adam. Canada on the United Nations Security Council: A Small Power on a Large Stage. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2019.

Fowler, Robert R. A Season in Hell: My 130 days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda. Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2011.

von Riekhoff, Harald. “Canada and the United Nations Security Council, 1999–2000: A Reassessment.” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 10, no. 1 (2002): 71-106.

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