Senator Romeo Dallaire is not one to keep his opinions to himself, not after the world ignored the former UN Commander in Rwanda's warnings of impending genocide in 1994. After a bloody November in Syria that saw 950 protestors killed — bringing the death toll of the eight-month uprising to over 4000 — and Arab Spring unrest continuing elsewhere, the retired general is speaking out against world leaders' "self-interested" interventions.
"The humanitarian side of the argument, just like in Rwanda, isn't priority one. It's down there after 'Is there any oil?' 'What's in it for us?' and 'What are the risks?' So because you still have that inverse in prioritization, you've got elective conflicts: 'Well, we'll go in this one but we won't do that one,' " Dallaire told Huffington Post Canada in an interview last month.
"We went into Libya, (but) not forcefully enough," he added. "When Gaddafi said 'I am going to crush these cockroaches and stay in power,' those were exactly the words that the genociders in Rwanda used. That was the day the boots should have been on the ground, protecting the moderates so they didn't have to fight, let them in a more serene way sort out how they wanted to structure themselves, and isolate Gaddafi militarily as well as we did economically and politically."
While the dictator of oil-rich Libya was eventually overthrown with the assistance of a NATO bombing campaign, there's been little progress in protecting protesters in places such as Syria, Yemen or Iran, the latter of which arguably lit the Arab Spring's fuse with the Green Revolution that erupted after the 2009 elections.
"In Iran, we didn't engage (at that time) because we don't have the capacity to engage. If we think that Iraq and Afghanistan were difficult, Iran is far more significant. And remember, they had one hell of an evil war in the nineties where they even used biological gas against their own people. So these guys are playing by none of the rules.
"So that one was difficult. (But) what's going on in Iran now is the genocide of the Baha'is. They're literally wiping out other religions in order to purify. Well, that's a cause that can be amplified and we can use that. Not only the nuclear argument, but also the fundamental human rights argument of ethnic cleansing and genocide."
On November 29, Dallaire spoke at a Senate inquiry into the repression of the Baha'i in Iran, warning "The similarities with what I saw in Rwanda are absolutely unquestionable, equal and, in fact, applied with seemingly the same verve. We are witnessing a slow-motion rehearsal for genocide."
These sort of mass atrocities now fall under the auspices of the UN's Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which emerged in the aftermath of Rwanda and was adopted unanimously in 2005. Yet it has not specifically been invoked to deal with Syria, despite an independent UN inquiry finding "that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations" and repeated censures by the UN Human Rights Council.
This is perhaps due to Security Council veto threats from Russia, which now regrets abstaining from the resolution on Libya. Consequently, only sanctions have been used so far. Syria is currently claiming a deal to allow in Arab League monitors is coming, though it's dependent on an Arab League declaration opposing foreign "interference."
Dallaire said a UN-backed military solution is "a matter of whether we have the guts or not. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya started to operationalize the Responsibility to Protect and although they didn't call it that — even Obama didn't call it (that) — that's what they did."
Since the night Dallaire left Rwanda, he promised to never let the genocide die. But while he's had considerable success on that front, situations such as Syria show him how much further he still has to fight.
"I find a great disappointment in trying to move the yardsticks of the political elite of nations to shift gears from self-interest to humanity," he said, adding that the decisions we make now will continue to reverberate. "It's the tip of the iceberg (and) the lessons we're learning now on how we're handling Syria, Yemen and Libya are going to be very useful in the years to come."