By Senator Art Eggleton
As the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine turns 10 years old, I think it is time we take stock, reflect and decide where we want to go. R2P asserts that if a particular government is unwilling or unable to do everything possible to protect its citizens from the most horrific human rights abuses — genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities — then the international community must take quick and decisive action to fill the protection void.
A few years after the genocide in Rwanda, I became minister of defence and had the opportunity to work with Gen. Roméo Dallaire, who as UN Force Commander saw first-hand the horrors of international inaction in that country. At the time, he spoke passionately about not repeating the mistakes of Rwanda and about the duty to intervene if necessary to save innocent lives. He made a convincing case that we must not avert our eyes but instead engage our resources, not ignore the truth but embrace reality.
In 1999, Dallaire’s urgings turned into action. In Kosovo, the situation that had developed was one that could be not be tolerated. More than 470,000 people had been driven from their homes and the campaign of terror, which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had facilitated, showed no signs of halting. Of course, we would have much rather avoided conflict, so we explored every avenue of diplomacy. But when a peaceful solution failed, military action became necessary. We had a responsibility to protect, and that is what we did.
Our actions in Kosovo stated that mass killing and ethnic cleansing are acts of moral abhorrence, not the privilege of a state. And we declared that certain basic rights are not the privilege of citizenship, but the birthright of humanity.
Since then, a great deal of debate and discussion has taken place around the legitimacy of R2P, and how to put it into practice. And some action has been taken most recently in Libya. However, I believe that intervening at the precipice of a crisis is no longer enough, that we must make prevention a primary objective to avoid military intervention as much as possible.
Dallaire’s searing experience in Rwanda led him not to merely curse the darkness but to light a candle. Together with Frank Chalk, Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Dallaire led a research project and published a book entitled Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership and Action to Prevent Mass Atrocities.
In it, they said: “If we continue to deal with looming genocides and other mass atrocities in a reactive manner, we will confront more than just the moral failure to save lives; inevitably, Canada and the U.S. will face threats to their own national security and prosperity.” Instead of being reactive we must deal with the “underlying structural factors,” such as poverty, inequality, rapid demographic growth, nationalism and climate change, which increase the risks of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Our response will often be civil in nature where we work to build peace and prevent atrocities by supporting development, increasing economic capacity, building democratic institutions, and supporting better governance in fragile states; in essence building the foundation for peace and advancing democracy. And as a last resort and when all else fails, we can mobilize military intervention.
Building preventative capacities like this through the United Nations or within states will not be an easy job, far from it. But I suggest that it’s not only necessary, but an essential and more cost effective way to prevent mass slaughter.
The United States, to its credit, has recently stepped up to the plate and announced, through a presidential directive, that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” It has created the Atrocities Prevention Board, which brings together senior officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, USAID and other agencies to coordinate a whole of government approach to engage “early, proactively and decisively” to prevent and interdict mass atrocities. And just days ago it sent 100 U.S. military advisers to Uganda to support central African allies pursuing Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who has committed many crimes against humanity.
I urge our government to implement a plan similar to that of the United States. And we also need to do a lot more on the world stage to promote Responsibility to Protect and prevention, as the world works to operationalize it.
R2P was devised under Canadian leadership and we shouldn’t back off now. The issue is ours. The cause is right. And the time is now.
Art Eggleton is an Ontario senator and former Minister of National Defence.