Published on
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Distant Genocides Demand Intervention, Report Urges

Paul Koring

The skulls of some of the victims of Rwanda's 1994 genocide are pictured in Nyamata. (AFP/File/Gian Luigi Guercia)

WASHINGTON - Far-away genocides - like Rwanda's in the 1990s and Darfur's today - pose grave national security threats that warrant robust intervention by countries like Canada and the United States, according to a report to be published today.

It argues that political leaders have failed to learn the lessons of inaction, despite the horrific consequences and decades of repeated "never-again" promises.

"Policy-makers continue to cling to an outdated and traditional view of the national interest that relegates the prevention of atrocities to a second- or third-tier foreign-policy priority," says the report, issued by the Will to Intervene Project at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.

The 160-page report to be released today sounds a clarion call for action. A copy was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The project's researchers interviewed scores of key officials and former politicians in an effort to dissect the political dynamic that left the world sitting on its hands while a million or more Tutsis were hacked to death in Rwanda in 1994, while - five years later - the West went to war pre-emptively to avert the mass killing of ethnic Albanians threatened by Serb ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

They document, in often painful but revealing detail, the woeful - almost willful - failure of political leaders to respond to the Rwandan genocide and conclude it is one of the latest in a long series of choosing to turn a blind eye to massive atrocities.

"We are struck not by the absence of the will to intervene to prevent genocide, but by the presence of the will not to intervene, a negative thrust evident among the leaders of Canada, the United States and other democracies when confronting the great mass atrocities of the 20th and 21st centuries," say the project's co-directors, Frank Chalk and Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian general commanding the small UN force in Rwanda whose increasingly dire warnings and urgent pleas for reinforcements were ignored in Ottawa, Washington and at the United Nations.

The report provides separate sets of recommendations for the Canadian and U.S. power structures, being keenly aware that the role of the world's sole remaining superpower is far different from a medium-sized Western power with a public increasingly unwilling to countenance the use of military force overseas.

One recommendation urges Ottawa to create a rapid-reaction force of bureaucrats - a seemingly odd suggestion, but one that fits well with the project's central theme that active, early intervention, across a range of fronts, including so-called "soft power," might avert crises sliding into genocidal nightmares.

"A Canadian Prevention Corps would enable the Government of Canada to deploy a team of dedicated civil servants from anywhere in the government," the report says, adding the group "would provide a critical mass of multidisciplinary experts to work with high-level special envoys for preventive diplomacy and fact-finding missions."

The report suggests that the costs and dangers - from global pandemics and the sort of piracy thriving off Somalia to the massive aid requirements needed in Rwanda - make averting genocide by early intervention, including but not limited to military intervention, far less risky than indecision and delay.

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