The retired lieutenant-general who witnessed the 1994 Rwandan genocide while leading a UN peacekeeping mission says the recently deployed UN-African Union mission in Darfur, Sudan is “going to fail” because countries like Canada aren’t throwing enough financial and military support behind it.
Speaking at an Engineers Without Borders conference in Calgary March 16, Roméo Dallaire said UN countries need to support the mission if it’s to have any chance of success. “Canada has abdicated its responsibilities there,” says Dallaire, who is now a federal Liberal senator. “In so doing, we are going to be held accountable.”
Dallaire wondered aloud why western countries like Canada don’t respond to the Darfur crisis with the same urgency they showed after the Asian tsunami in 2004. “We tend to feel that ‘oh, that’s beyond our ability’ — although we have much more control on what humans are doing to other humans than we do on what the planet is doing to humanity,” he says. “And so we have an extraordinary ability to respond.”
The UN-African Union force took over from an African Union mission late last year. The UN authorized 26,000 troops to be deployed to protect the people of Darfur, but fewer than 10,000 troops were on the ground at the end of January — largely because the mission is so under-resourced. Last August, Canada contributed $48 million to the African Union mission in the region, but hasn’t publicly committed to the new UN-African Union mission. Instead, the Conservative government has focused its foreign policy agenda and Canada’s military resources on Afghanistan. Dallaire says he supports the Afghanistan mission, but still wants to see Canadian troops going to Darfur.
The Darfur conflict has been ongoing since 2003, when Arab janjaweed militias backed by the Sudanese government started attacking villages in western Sudan. The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced more than two million, according to the UN.
Dallaire says Canadian citizens often have more depth and maturity than their political leaders, and should hold those politicians to account “for permitting genocide to go on in front of our faces.” He pointed out that the Canadian government developed the responsibility to protect (R2P) concept in 2001. According to R2P, if a state will not protect its own citizens, the broader international community needs to assume that responsibility. “So why aren’t we in Darfur?” says Dallaire. “We invented the solution and we don’t want to apply it.”
Dallaire says many countries like Canada are afraid of defending human rights abroad because they don’t want to face the potential cost. “The guy who started it was Bill Clinton,” Dallaire says, referring to the former U.S. president. After 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in a failed 1993 UN operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, Clinton pulled American troops from the country. That move, says Dallaire, “created a fear of casualties” that has spread to other nations, keeping them from engaging in military activity if it’s not in their self-interest. “Human rights is not based on self-interest,” Dallaire says. “It’s based on our humanity.”
After his tenure in Rwanda, Dallaire was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. His struggle to understand the world’s refusal to intervene in Rwanda has been well documented in his book Shaking Hands With the Devil, as well as several films. Throughout his speech in Calgary, Dallaire asked a question he’s publicly asked many times since he left Rwanda: “Are they human, too? Are they as human as us?” He answered his own question with an emphatic yes. “Not one of us is more human than the other.”