‘Because We’re More Human Than They Are’

Roméo Dallaire discusses international diplomacy at ConU

Roméo Dallaire wonders why Canada doesn’t have the will to prevent mass murders in areas like Darfur. Photo Riley Sparks

Canada’s political leaders need to be ready to take decisive action to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity, said Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire during a speech at Concordia last Thursday.

Peacekeeping has become far more complex since the end of the Cold War, argued Dallaire, and the international community needs to develop new strategies to prevent failures like the 1994 UN mission in Rwanda, which was headed by the retired Lieutenant-General.

“We need a whole new conceptual base for conflict resolution,” to replace “the old methods […], the old diplomacy, the old use of force,” said Dallaire.

The Will to Intervene Project, established by Dallaire and Dr. Frank Chalk, the director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, aims to develop these new methods and convince politicians to implement them.

Fundamental to the project is the idea of the “responsibility to protect,” a principle adopted by the UN in 2005, that suggests individual nations and the international community have a responsibility to protect civilians from human rights violations.

According to the principle, if a nation is failing to protect its citizens, the international community should intervene—with force if necessary.

To that end, suggested Dallaire, Canadians need to push their leaders to intervene and send in the troops when diplomacy fails, and to accept that saving lives abroad may be a costly but worthwhile endeavour.

“Why can’t we find troops to provide protection [in Darfur] and move people back into their area and stabilize it? It’s not because the resources cannot be made available,” said the General. “It [has to do with] whether or not we believe that is worthy of our willingness to invest in these human beings.”

Alluding to the interventions in Rwanda and Afghanistan, he noted sardonically that “we were willing to invest when it was our security, because we’re more human than they are. But when it’s their security, it’s a whole different set of parameters.”

Decrying the lack of concrete action to prevent human rights violations in Darfur, Dallaire called on students and youth to become more active in pressuring politicians to act.

“By joining NGOs, becoming activists, taking over the president’s office an hour a week, like the good old days in the sixties, they will change public opinion and political will.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.