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Grant Mitchell

The Hon. Grant  Mitchell, B.A., M.A., C.F.A. Senator Grant Mitchell has had careers in the public service, business and politics in Alberta. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in March, 2005.

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Prevention and Elimination of Mass Atrocities—Inquiry

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Statement made on 10 May 2012 by Senator Art Eggleton

Hon. Art Eggleton:

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Dallaire on the prevention and elimination of mass atrocity crimes.

General Roméo Dallaire, as he was known then, was the UN Force Commander during the genocide in Rwanda. At that time, as he does now, General Dallaire spoke passionately about the duty to intervene and the necessity to save innocent lives. He made the convincing case that we must not avert our eyes but instead engage our resources, not ignore the truth but embrace reality.

In 1999, when I was Canada's Minister of Defence, General Dallaire's urgings turned into action. In Kosovo, the situation that had developed was one that could be neither tolerated nor condoned. More than 470,000 people had been displaced from their homes, and the campaign of terror that then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had started showed no signs of slowing down. Of course, we would much rather have avoided conflict altogether, and we explored every corridor of diplomacy. Indeed, we were sometimes criticized for giving Milosevic too many chances, but when our hope for a peaceful solution failed, force became necessary.

Canada's Prime Minister at the time, Jean Chrétien, together with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, agreed when much of the world did not. Canada played a fundamental role in Kosovo because the wounds from Rwanda were still fresh and letting thousands more die was simply not an option. We had a responsibility to protect, and that is what we did.

Our actions in Kosovo declared, in no uncertain terms, that mass murder is an act of moral repugnance, not the prerogative of a sovereign state. An important step was taken toward a world in which certain fundamental rights are not the privilege of citizenship, but the birthright of humanity. That is why in 2005 Canada's then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, led the charge in the United Nations to enshrine the concept of the responsibility to protect into UN doctrine. Canada demonstrated that while respect for state sovereignty is important, the protection of the innocent is paramount.

Since then, a great deal of debate and discussion has taken place around the legitimacy of the responsibility to protect and how to put it into practice. However, I believe that intervening at the precipice of a crisis is no longer enough. We must make prevention, and not only military intervention, a primary objective. The question, though, is "how?"

General Dallaire's searing experience in Rwanda led him not to merely curse the darkness, but to light a candle. Together with Frank Chalk, General 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 set out a number of recommendations that would cement the responsibility to protect into Canadian and American foreign policy.

The United States, to its credit, has recently stepped up to the plate under the leadership of President Obama on this issue and announced:

Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.

They have created the Atrocities Prevention Board, which will bring together senior officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and a myriad of other agencies to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to engage "early, proactively and decisively" to prevent and interdict mass atrocities. The board will identify the economic, diplomatic and other tools to intervene.

In Canada, I hope our government moves to implement a plan similar to that of the United States. Our voices here in the Senate, if together, can go a long way to influence the government to act.

General Dallaire's emphasis on prevention is key. The ideas he laid out in his speech are necessary because building international capacity and prevention, through the UN or within individual states, is more cost-effective and would save lives. The capacity would identify fragile states and design appropriate prevention measures. At the core, we must see humanitarian intervention as a part of a continuum, one with both civil and military dimensions, and allocate our resources appropriately. 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, safety and security for the people of these fragile states. As a last resort, when all else fails, we may need to mobilize military intervention.

Building capacity like this would not be an easy job — far from it — but I argue that it is not only necessary but essential in the fight to prevent mass atrocities. I believe that we, as senators, can move this idea forward within our country and internationally. Together we can work to ensure that this becomes a reality. Together we can ensure that Rwanda, Kosovo, Darfur, Libya, Syria and all too many others are never forgotten but also never repeated.

I recognize that for those who believe that state sovereignty should still trump human rights, responsibility to protect is perhaps a step too far for them. However, I believe that this is precisely the time that Senate voices must be heard, that Canada's values must prevail and that human dignity must be paramount. We can argue over definitions of genocide or quibble over the hierarchy of rights, but, as former Prime Minister Martin said so eloquently, "We must not let debates about definitions become obstacles to action."

I say to you, honourable senators: The cause is right. The time is now.

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