Are we here simply to survive or to thrive? Senator and Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire (ret.) began his recent talk at Concordia's J. A. DeSève Cinema arguing that humanity has to think beyond survival, and that we must be willing to take risks and seize opportunities to improve our existence.
Even though we may not see immediate results, Dallaire said, he's optimistic that in the long term we will create a world in which we no longer have to resort to war. "We actually might need a couple of centuries (but) we will one day resolve the frictions of our differences by other means than conflict," he said.
Dallaire is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Concordia-based Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies (MIGS). He is also Co-Director of the MIGS Will to Intervene Project (W2I), and leads the Child Soldiers Initiative (CSI). He is best known for having served as Force Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, and for his role in trying to stop the genocide.
Dallaire was invited to speak to the Concordia Community about Canada's role in protecting human rights around the world. In his speech, he drew on his difficult experience during the mission in Rwanda to outline how economic or strategic priorities can hinder the will of powerful nations to intervene to prevent atrocities.
He recalled how UN observers told him the developing situation in Rwanda did not merit a large-scale military intervention. “When I asked why, they said: 'Well, there's nothing here,' " he recalled. “ 'There's no strategic resources of any value; the country's not even in a strategic location. The only thing that's here are human beings, and there's too many of them anyways. It's overpopulated.' The lowest factor was human beings, and it didn't carry the day."
The tragic result of inaction in Rwanda by the international community is well-known. And now, Dallaire pointed out, another simmering genocide is underway in Darfur. He argued that genocide is still allowed to occur because powerful nations, including Canada, are unwilling to protect all humans equally.
"There is no such thing as some human beings being more human than others," he said. "We are all human; equal. We are not in some sort of a pecking order. Even though, if you look at the last 20 years of how we've either responded or not to crises around the world, we've sort of de-facto created a pecking order in humanity. And I would argue that right now… the sub-Saharan Black African is on the lowest rung."
Dallaire said the end of the Cold War brought on the current era of uncertainty. The rules dictating when a nation or a league of nations should intervene are less clear. As well, the rules of engagement are often flouted by extremists, he said. When a nation such as Canada puts troops on the ground, how are they supposed to engage an opponent who doesn't play by the rules?
"Because of the enormous difference of scenarios that we've faced, and because we've been stumbling through how to respond to them, we have been fiddling extensively with our civil liberties," Dallaire said. It's a step backward, in his opinion; one that has undone a lot of the good work that has been done over the years to shore up fundamental human rights.
"We have reacted by going down the route the bad guys have gone down. And the question is, how far do we go? And what will we end up with? Has all the work we've done to establish those references been for nought. How do you thrive when you're actually regressing?"
Dallaire argues that we need to develop a multidisciplinary approach to intervention. "We need a whole new set of tools. And that's why we need innovation… to go from cooperating and coordinating and collaborating together… to actually creating something new," he said.
Dallaire insisted that the work of organizations such as MIGS and the W2I Project is to help create these new multidisciplinary tools, new frameworks, and even a new lexicon governing intervention. He said "the door is wide open" for the next generation of activists to help strengthen inconsistent international policies aimed at preventing atrocities and protecting human rights.
Finally, Dallaire implored the young people in the audience to hold Canada's politicians accountable, to band together and realize their own political power, and to not be afraid to intervene in global situations. "You are the generation without borders, because of your mastery of electronic communications systems," he said. "I expect you to become the most awakened activists of all time."
• Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS)
• Will to Intervene Project
• Romeo Dallaire