Romeo Dallaire’s last Senate speech criticized Harper’s foreign policy
Romeo Dallaire, the retired Canadian general who led a UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the African country’s 1993 genocide, used his last Senate speech to criticize Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign policy and neglect of Canadian veterans of overseas military engagements.
“Our responsibilities do not end with the missions abroad,” Dallaire said. “If Canada were to send troops and other personnel into conflict zones, such as the Central African Republic, we would have to ensure absolutely that we provide them and their families with the proper care after they return home, for you cannot return from those conflicts without being affected. This includes care not only of the physical injuries but those of the psychological variety, which have a lasting and potentially deadly impact. PTSD can be a terminal injury.”
Dallaire, who has strongly objected to the Conservatives’ closure of veterans offices across Canada, resigned from the Red Chamber in June.
As recorded in Hansard on June 5, 2014, the full text of Dallaire’s speech:
Honourable senators, may I first say a few words? I would like to use a reference from a book I have been referring to every now and again. It is a book called The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill. I would like to start by reading a couple of passages rapidly to set the tone for what I am about to speak of in this motion.
The first ditty is:
When, in 1960, a reporter from the London Evening Standard asked Churchill what he thought about the recent prediction that by the year 2000 women would be ruling the world, he muttered gloomily in reply, “They still will, will they?”
A second question at a dinner was:
The question “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” was making the round of the dinner table; eventually it was Churchill’s turn, and everybody waited expectantly to hear what the great former wartime prime minister would say. “If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be . . .” he paused for effect, then, turning to [his wife] Clementine: “Mrs. Churchill’s second husband.”
The last one, if I may, is for entertainment at eleven o’clock at night — I am sure that is what you are looking for. Considering the world and its occupants, Churchill once mused:
I wonder what God thinks of the things His creatures have invented. Really, it is surprising He has allowed it — but then I suppose He has so many things to think of, not only us, but all His worlds. I wouldn’t have His job for anything. Mine is hard enough, but His is much more difficult. And He can’t even resign.
Colleagues, this is my last speech as I resign from this august body. I thank you for your patience as I would like to bring a link and use this moment speaking to a inquiry that I hope will attract your attention and even, I hope, debate.
Before I do that, I would like to indicate that earlier on I thanked you and my staff for the work they have done. My chief of staff — who I have known now for nearly 40 years as she was at the military college and was my secretary then — has been instrumental in me being able to produce a lot of work. However, I would also like to thank some people who I consider to have been mentors in this institution. If I omit others, I hope you will forgive me, but let me mention just a few.
The first one is Senator Joyal, who has been very helpful in guiding me, providing me with input. I must say that reading his book was instrumental in me trying to understand the complexities of our role. I would argue that even after nine years, there are certain areas where I think I am still very much an apprentice. Although he doesn’t like the term, without this “Bible” I think it is very difficult to even have the debate on the future of the Senate.
I would like to thank Senator Nolin, as an honorary colonel and a colleague with whom I have exchanged information over numerous discussions in committee, the Defence Committee in particular.
I would like to thank the Speaker, Senator Kinsella, who has been generous in guiding me and responding to some of my requests, and particularly for helping us commemorate the 11 officers who went through the genocide and receiving us in his quarters in April — the twentieth anniversary. Many of us were finally able to bring closure for having lived that experience.
I thank Senator Colin Kenny for telling me that I had a lot to learn and reminding me of that regularly. He is not here to receive that. I watched how he created the committee and what he had been doing. I realized that times had been difficult. When I was asked originally to join the Defence Committee while he was chair, I said “No, the committee can’t handle two generals.” I opted to wait out, and I did so.
I would like to thank Senator Plett, who was not always easy, but he was honest, committed and wanted the best possible. He expected a strong debate in order to achieve it, and what this institution looks for is a strong, intellectually rigorous debate between opponents — not enemies — in order to make us produce the best possible legislation for the people.
I would like to thank Senator Lang also for assuming the chair, guiding us and moving things along, and turning into quite a friend on the other side. I also wish to thank Senator White for giving me some insights into the police world as we looked at the RCMP.
I would like, if I may, not only to thank my leader and deputy leaders over the years but I want to thank my senior at military college, a year ahead of me, who harassed me and nearly got me booted out. He didn’t succeed and so I decided to follow him in here. That is Senator Joe Day.
The five years of college did provide some positive results, one of which is that you are still here and I am leaving.
Colleagues, I am abusing your time; forgive me for that, but I thought I would mention these few words to some of my colleagues.
I wanted to bring to your attention a subject that I consider a reality. Some consider it simply a news item. It is another one amongst some of the sadder news items that go on, but those of us who have been in the field and have been in the midst of some of these conflicts, these are not news items; these are reality. We relive them. We can hear the women screaming as they are raped. We can hear the kids screaming for having lost their parents and dying of hunger. We can hear the projectiles — the rounds, the artillery, the mortars. We can hear the sound of machetes going into the flesh of human beings and listening to people as they attempt to survive if not at least die with dignity in the field. We smell what is out there. We still smell it. What goes on in these conflict zones is not foreign and should never be foreign to a great nation like ours.
We are one of the 11 most powerful nations in the world. We are not sixty-ninth or seventieth. There are 193 nations in the world and we are part of the 11 most powerful. We didn’t necessarily want it. We gained it by creating a democracy that is one of the most stable in the world, and soon we will be commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of it. We won it because the youth of this nation, the young people of this nation, crossed the pond nearly 100 years ago and fought, bled and died and won victory that permitted us to be recognized not as a colonial cousin, which is one of the most comments ever brought to me, but as a nation state. We paid it in blood as was required in that concept. That was Vimy Ridge.
Three years from now, we will have that incredible year with the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the country and the hundredth anniversary of us becoming not only a democracy but a nation state. It will be upon us and my question is: What is the plan? What are we going to provide Canadians? What is the vision for us in this very complex and ambiguous era in which we’ve stumbled into? So far, I think that all I am seeing is commemorating with big chocolate cakes and maybe a few centennial rinks, but we are worthy of far more than that. I do hope we will produce something that will give that intellectual guidance and focus for this great nation to maximize its potential, which it has not done since World War II. We have not shot above our strength since World War II. We have pushed the limits of a nation like ours as a middle power — and that’s fine — but we haven’t overstepped it. We haven’t pushed all of our potential.
The last time we did was in World War II. That was 70 years ago, when we had a million women and men in uniform. Even then, as we were pushing that, not one Canadian general or admiral sat at any of the strategic decision bodies of World War II — not one. We were considered a tactical military capability, with a million in the field. So we were tactical.
Since then, we have been building our ability to be not only operational but strategic. That is the arena in which we should be playing. We are a leading middle power in the world, and we have a responsibility to be strategic, to commit strategically and to consider the visions, options and risks, strategically, as a grand nation of the world and a nation to which some look up to. They look up to us because of our work ethic, because we master technology, because we believe in human rights — it is in our fundamental laws — and they look up to us because we don’t seek to subjugate anybody else.
That said, we are still on a horrible learning curve with our First Nations, and there are areas of enormous risk. More and more of those disenfranchised native youth will become, ultimately, a potential security risk in our nation if we don’t attempt to diffuse that potential proactively.
So, if we are thinking strategically, then we should be moving in a strategic sense.
Some have asked me why I chose June 17 as my date of departure. I wish to bring that up today by going back farther than CNN, and that is 20 years ago. I will read, if I may, from the text that we prepared:
In June 1994, exactly 20 years ago, the Rwandan genocide was finally winding down. The Rwandan Patriotic Front was clamping down even harder on the interim Hutu government, which was allocating most of its resources to killing civilians instead of defending them. The perpetrators of the genocide were losing their determination. However, just when it seemed as though the massacres would stop, they started up again, as a result of outside intervention.
It was June 17, 1994. I have told this story before. A French politician named Bernard Kouchner came to visit my office at UNAMIR headquarters. Many honourable senators will recall that he was one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders and, more recently, he was France’s foreign affairs minister. At the time, he was accompanied by an emissary from President Mitterrand. That afternoon, the two envoys told me that, in the interests of humanity, France would head a Franco-African coalition to intervene in Rwanda under UN chapter 7, to put an end to the genocide and provide humanitarian assistance. In order to do so, they planned on creating a safe zone in the western part of the country. The genocide had been going on for over two and a half months. At that point, we estimated that over 500,000 people had been killed, nearly 800,000 had been injured, and there were 3.9 million displaced persons and refugees. They were a bit late.
Mr. Kouchner wanted my support but, without hesitation, I told him that was out of the question. How could he not see how wrong this plan was? Was he forgetting that France had been a colonial power in the region and that this history had huge implications? After all, their francophone allies in the Habyarimana regime were the architects of the massacre.
I believed that France, under the guise of humanitarian aid, actually wanted the Hutu government forces to hold part of the country, which was in France’s interests. Whatever the country’s intentions, there is no doubt that what was called Operation Turquoise was catastrophically ineffective.
First, when the media controlled by the Rwandan government began to announce that France would send soldiers, genocide perpetrators from Kigali thought that the French troops were coming to save them. Feeling comforted by that news, they resumed their killing with a vengeance, going so far as to follow survivors into churches and public buildings. Who knows how many innocent people were killed.
The announcement that the French were going to intervene also motivated the government forces to speed up their retreat to the west, where they followed some 2.5 million Rwandans. This huge group of people who were fleeing on foot were frequently attacked by Interahamwe militia, young people between the ages of 15 and 20, who killed not only Tutsis but anyone who did not have an ID card, because people’s ethnicity was indicated on their ID. Let us hope that we never have this type of government ID card in our country because one never knows what they can be used for in times of crisis.
The most disastrous consequence of Operation Turquoise may have been the protection afforded to many of the people responsible for the genocide. It allowed them to take refuge in neighbouring countries, including the Congo, in the Kivu province. The result was the militarization of refugee camps in what is now known as the Congo. That started the war that is still going on today in the African Great Lakes region.
I cannot imagine a greater tragedy than the Rwandan genocide, but this conflict, which has resulted in over 5.5 million deaths in the Congo, continues to worsen. That is because of our ineffectiveness in Rwanda. The conflict that occurred in one country destabilized a region.
Now that all of that has been said, let’s get back to the interesting part: why June 17? Why end this chapter of my life, my career as senator, on this day in particular? The decision that France made during the Rwandan genocide, a decision that was shared with me 20 years ago today, is still, for me — and for others here and in the other chamber, I hope — proof that middle powers, like Canada, have a role to play in resolving conflicts and preventing atrocities.
Far too often, former colonial powers or superpowers like the United States are the ones leading the interventions. However, we know from experience that their history makes the missions less effective. They have strategic interests in the region or patronage ties with the regimes and opposition groups, not to mention that their history has usually been heavily marked by interference in the country’s domestic affairs.
That was certainly the case with France and Rwanda, but it is definitely not the only example. That is why Canada still has a role to play; it simply needs to reclaim its position as a leader in resolving international conflicts and preventing atrocities. Canada is not currently fulfilling that role.
What we do have, however, is a proud tradition of championing human rights and peace around the world. Indeed, Canadians played a key role in the creation of the Charter of the United Nations; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Criminal Court; the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction; and the Responsibility to Protect. We more or less invented modern peacekeeping.
We have exceptional armed forces, made up of bright and courageous young men and women — veterans nearly to the man and woman. We have a talented and dedicated diplomatic corps. We have development people and other whole-of-government agencies prepared to deploy and whose ingenuity is invaluable in today’s increasingly complex and ambiguous operations.
We have a vibrant civil society that won’t stop banging at the door even after we’ve changed the locks. Indeed, we have many tools we can deploy in our engagement with the world. We most definitely have a citizenry that takes pride in all of the above.
In recent years, however, things have changed. Today we have 43 peacekeepers deployed out of a possible 110,000 peacekeepers worldwide. Today we have to dance around the words “responsibility to protect” and the International Criminal Court, and even the term “child soldiers” to protect out of fear of having to actually maybe turn our alleged principled foreign policy into principled action.
Today we point to the humanitarian aid dollars we’ve given, which are never enough, and proclaim we’ve done our part. Today we have more sabre-rattling and less credibility; more expressions of concern and less contingency planning; more endless consultation with allies, or so we are told, and less real action being taken; and more empty calls for respect for human rights and less actual engagement with the violators.
I have said this before, but I cannot stress it enough: If we are to overcome the challenges facing the world today, we need transcendent leadership with the deepest conviction and the most honourable of intentions. In other words, we need statesmanship. There is a dearth of statesmanship, of taking risk, demonstrating flexibility, innovation and humility. The question is: When will Canada finally answer the call again?
In my view, there is no more pressing and more appropriate place to start than with the Central African Republic. As has been well documented in the media and spoken to in this chamber, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the CAR that bears a strong resemblance to the catastrophe that played out in Rwanda 20 years ago. Thousands have been targeted and killed by roaming gangs on the basis of their religious identity. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, many of whom fled beyond borders as refugees. Entire families have been wiped out, with women repeatedly victims of sexual violence. Rape is an instrument of war.
The primary weapon in that conflict are thousands of children, some as young as 11, forcibly recruited as child soldiers and indoctrinated to fuel the cycle of violence. It was reported by the outgoing High Commissioner on Human Rights that the situation is as gruesome and horrific as any in the world today.
Again, in this case, we have a scenario where the former colonial power is leading the international response. That’s the worst gang to have in the field within that context. However, in September a UN peacekeeping mission is set to be deployed, which represents a significant opportunity for new leadership to come forward.
Simply put, Canada needs to be there on the ground, standing side by side with courageous African troops already deployed, notably, in fact, the Rwandans, who are putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives and who are taking casualties at times. What’s more, our troops, police and civilian personnel can make the difference. They know the languages, they know the place, they know the people, and they know the culture; and there are several reasons why we should be there, as called upon by so many countries asking why we are not there.
First, the interim president has already specifically identified Canada as a country that can make a significant contribution toward peace and reconciliation, given our proud tradition of multiculturalism.
Second, our troops are well trained, experienced and professional, not to mention bilingual, so they can make a significant contribution both in terms of direct operations and through the training of others in the mission-critical issues. We have, thanks to this government, the strategic lift to sustain forces in the middle of Africa where there are no ports. We have the logistic capability to provide the assets needed so they don’t run out of ammunition, food or medical supplies. We have the command and control capability that other nations do not have to bring a force together and make it effective. We have the planning skills to do the contingency planning and to be able to use the forces effectively on the ground. We have the leadership in our general officer corps that has acquired the ability to work within that complexity and ambiguity over the years and is prepared to serve.
Of vital importance in that regard is training specific to the challenge posed by the massive presence of child soldiers in the CAR. Where our troops go in, they would not only need to know how to face and neutralize child soldiers, but also how to ensure that the kids are not recruited by armed groups to begin with, and that we don’t use lethal force because they are considered in the doctrines of the military as simply belligerents.
We have skills that we can use and train others in to avoid the destruction of these youths and, in fact, to neutralize their capability. This expertise, part of it is part of the work I’m doing, is being deployed in Somalia, Mali and Libya. We are looking at deploying capabilities and training in the CAR; but we’re alone.
Third, with religious freedom being the stated whole-of- government priority for our government, Canada should be among the first nations to line up to contribute ground forces and other support in the U.S. peacekeeping effort. In the CAR, Muslims and Christians are being targeted regularly on the basis of their religion; and there have been multiple warnings of mass ethno-religious cleansing and genocide.
Yes, the recruitment of child soldiers is a warning that those who do that are prepared to go to any length of exactions in order to achieve their aims, including mass destruction of human life and, ultimately, even genocide.
We haven’t asked the office of religious freedom to provide the funding and expertise to local groups and religious leaders who are seeking to promote inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation on the ground.
This past April at the International Conference on Genocide Prevention in Brussels, I saw our foreign minister. I also saw him last week in London at an international conference on the sexual abuse of women in conflict, where he was the only minister out of 132 ministers there who had the guts to chair a meeting of 90 minutes with other ministers to provide a free-wheeling innovative debate. I applaud him for that and he did it very well. However, he said in Brussels:
As leaders, this is our time. Let us not look back when it’s too late, and wonder if we really did enough
I certainly agree with that. However, the only way we can avoid such an outcome is if Canada and other nations proceed to implement all relevant aspects of the responsibility to protect doctrine in the Central African Republic. Let me be clear: This does not just refer to the UN Peacekeeping Mission under Chapter VII. Indeed, we should consider reinforcing the African Union under Chapter VIII: sanctions to those supporting the armed group; apply the optional protocol on child rights, which holds us accountable to those who recruit and use child soldiers as weapons of war; give us the authority to intervene; and provide extensive development support to help the country rebuild its security sector, its schools, its economy and its judicial system.
Honourable senators, it is only through comprehensive action that we will have a chance to look back and say that we did enough to reverse this one, because the last time we didn’t. However, our responsibilities do not end with the missions abroad. Indeed, we have related duties at home that we must carry out to the fullest extent. If Canada were to send troops and other personnel into conflict zones, such as the Central African Republic, we would have to ensure absolutely that we provide them and their families with the proper care after they return home, for you cannot return from those conflicts without being affected. This includes care not only of the physical injuries but those of the psychological variety, which have a lasting and potentially deadly impact. PTSD can be a terminal injury.
Honourable senators, as you can see, all these issues are interconnected. As I transition into the next phase of my life, I will be devoting considerable attention to each in my ongoing work and I look forward to meeting you on whatever occasion you’re prepared to have me as a witness.
Thank you very much.
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