Report: Munk Debate on Humanitarian Intervention

December 12, 2008

imaging-logoGlobal Pundit Operation Itch Contributor
Toronto, Canada – Christiane Amanpour’s
 CNN special tonight Scream Bloody Murder on genocide was quite timely after this week’s Munk Debate on Humanitarian Intervention.  Both events hinged on the question of whether the international community has an obligation to intervene in situations of genocide and other man-made crises when a country is unable to protect  itself.  The most immediate example that comes to mind is that of Rwanda in the early 1990s. For one hundred days in 1994, a bloody genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremistsresulted in the deaths of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda.  Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda, provided the United Nations with ample evidence that this massacre was coming, yet the UN refused to send him the troops and resources he requested. Weeks before the killing began Dallaire had been tipped off by a Hutu informant that weapons caches were hidden all around the capital city of Kigali and that the names of Tutsis were being compiled into lists in preparation for the slaughter.  All this information was presented to the United Nations numerous times, but to no avail.   Today we can look back and ask ourselves, if Dallaire had been given the 4500 troops he asked for, would the situation have been different?  How many lives would have been saved?  Is it safe to say that the international community, specifically the United Nations, failed General Dalliare, and most importantly, the people of Rwanda?  Asked tonight by Amanpour if he thinks he did enough to stop the genocide, he regretfully says no, he could have done more. 

In 1948, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide  was passed by the United Nations, requiring nations to act to stop genocide.    The word genocide, which literally means race/group killing, was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, a man who had lost 40 members of his family in the most horrific genocide the world has ever seen, the Holocaust.  Lemkin was instrumental in creating  The Convention on Genocide and hoped it would stop future massacres. Yet since the law officially came into effect in January 1951, we have witnessed the killing of millions of people around the world as a result of genocide.  (WITH VIDEO BELOW THE BREAK)
 The examples used in the CNN special tonight were as follows:

– Over two million people were killed in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s (WATCH)The Khmer Rouge, led by dictator Pol Pot, were a communist rebel group who overthrew the US-backed Cambodian government in 1975 and proceeded to transition the country into a tradition, agrarian-based society. People were forced from the city into the countryside, put into work camps, starved, tortured and executed. 

 – Tens of thousands of Kurdish people during the al-Anfal campaign in Iraq underSaddam Hussein between 1986 and 1989 (WATCH). Supported financially by the United States during the Iran/Iraq war, Saddam used chemical warfareagainst the Kurds, dropping mustard gas and deadly nerve agents on their villages. According to Human Rights Watch, 90% of Kurdish villages were wiped out in target areas. 

– Nearly 100,000 died in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, mostly Muslims killed byChristian Serbs. After Bosnia-Herzegovina declared sovereignty fromYugoslavia  in 1991 and was formally declared an independent country in 1992, Christian Serbs embarked  on  an ethnic cleansing mission against the country’s Muslim population involving mass rape, torture,  starvation, and execution.  InSrebrenica, 8000 boys and men were executed by Serb forces in July of 1995 after Serb forces overtook the UN occupied “safe area” and gained control of thethousands of Bosnian Muslims who had sought refuge there.
 – 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were killed in Rwanda by Hutu extremists in 1994 . During Belgian colonial rule of Rwanda in the early twentieth century, the tall, lighter-skinned Tutsis were favoured over the shorter, darker-skinned Hutus because they were seen as being more European-like.   Since Rwanda achieved independence in 1962  the Hutus  have sought to take revenge on the Tutsis through political corruption, displacement  and murder.  It was this conflict that ultimately played out during the 1994 massacre. 

– Thousands of African tribes are being killed today by the Arab government inDarfur (watch Vice TV’s fantastic work covering Darfur below).  Government-backed Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, are killing non-Arab African tribes in an effort to make Darfur free of black people.  The Janjaweed  have raped women, burned down villages, and murdered thousands in an effort to drive these people from the land.  After a peacekeeping force of 26,000 was finally put into the region in 2007, after Sudan finally gave its permission, by July 2008, the force had dwindled to half its size and the region erupted into anarchy.  While the international response from the United Nations and other countries has been dismal, some say the grassroots movement that has grown up around the genocide in Darfur is keeping this issue on the agenda and forcing people to pay attention.  Save Darfur , 24 hours for Darfur and Eyes on Darfur are  three such organizations and all are easily accessible online. 

 In all these situations there has been delayed, insufficient, or virtually no international response.  This has had dire consequences for the people of these countries and as a result millions have died.  So What should happen in these situations?  Do countries like Canada and the United States have an obligation to step in and stop these atrocities from happening?   If so, will this involve diplomacy and sanctions or will it involve military force and violence?  During the recent Munk Debate in Toronto, participants debated the following resolution “Be it resolved that if countries like Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar (formerly Burma) will not end their man-made humanitarian crises, the international community should.”  Actorand activist Mia Farrow  and Gareth Evans, President of International Crisis Group were in support of humanitarian intervention and advocated for a multi-dimensional approach including both non-violent and military means.  Evans said that we should be cautious of coercive military force and should use it only  in the most extreme circumstances like Rwanda and Bosnia, when it is too late fordiplomacy.  Farrow noted that the core of a truly effective approach is to go in and deescalate situations by non-violent means so that they don’t get to the point where military intervention is needed.  Both argued military solutions should not be the only solutions.  General Rick Hillier , retired soldier and former Canadian Chief of Defence staff said that if diplomacy worked, we wouldn’t be having a debate on humanitarian intervention because it would never get to the controversial military stage.  He went on to say that intervention can be successful when  those who seek to intervene have the support of the government in power, but when dealing with a corrupt government for example in Darfur today, intervention may be less successful.  When asked if leaders today feel any pressure to stop committing atrocities, John Bolton  , former US Ambassador to the UN cited the example of the recent bombings in Pakistan and the spike in terrorist attacks globally post9/11 as examples that leaders, official or otherwise, actually aren’t that scared. Evans countered that the International Criminal Process is deterring some leaders, and that a recent study out of the University of British Columbiareported an 80% decrease in the number of serious conflicts in the world in the past 18 years.  Hillier and Bolton remained unconvinced. 

               A prominent theme brought up in both these discussions about crisis and intervention is the question of morality.  What is the right thing to do in these situations?  One could argue that the relative ignorance of the international community on these atrocities may have had something to do with their desire to not have to think about the horrors happening halfway across the world.  Elie Wiesel, Holoucaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author, when asked by Christiane Amanpour why people don’t pay closer attention to genocide noted that it would interfere with their ability to sleep at night, or enjoy a glass of red wine.  Who among us, living in relative peace in Canada would be able to go on day to day knowing of all the horrors that really go on in the world?  Many of us know little of the resilience and strength summoned by those who actually have to live these atrocities and we are grateful that we don’t have to. 

               Mia Farrow has been to Darfur ten times and she came to the debate to speak for those people whom do not command the attention of the spotlight as she does.  Farrow was adamant that we must respond to international crises because every life is a life worth saving and we are all part of a larger global community.  If we don’t have a leader in power who can stomach the sacrifices necessary to do this, than they should step aside for someone who does.   Gareth Evan urged the audience to understand that there is always a national interest in international humanitarian crises because failed states and corrupt regimes have been known to quickly deteriorate into global threats and terrorist harbours.  Even situations that at first do not seem of direct concern to us can become dangerous further down the road, but more than national interest, we all have a common obligation to humanity to keep each other safe.   Rick Hillier, conversely was not as interested in moralityand actually took a swipe at Farrow saying that if you come at intervention from the heart, you are going to fail.  He said that intervention should never be justified on the basis of values alone.  According to Hillier interventions should only be carried out if long-term, sustainable success can be guaranteed and all necessary resources are available. Generals are very pragmatic, Hillier said, and they want to do missions that have the support of Canadians, but won’t commit without the proper capacities and capability.  Hillier suggested Canada double to size of their army if they want to get serious about being more involved.  John Bolton was the most conservative of the participants and argued that morality does not only run in one direction, namely in the direction that promotes intervention.   If the President of the United Statesdoesn’t want to send his soldiers out to die in a foreign land, then that should be considered a moral decision too.  Bolton was adamant that we should not be casual with other people’s blood and challenged those in the audience who favour intervention to send out their own sons and daughters, but not his.

               Before the debate 72% of the audience was in favour of humanitarian intervention and in the post-debate poll, 68% agreed that humanitarian intervention is necessary.

               In our increasingly global and integrated world, it seems neither practical, nor possible to only be concerned with what is going on outside our front door.  Here in North America, we’ve gladly welcomed the connections forged by technology, the economy and the media that have made it possible for us to become global citizens.  There has probably never been a time in all of history that we’ve been able to take so much from other parts of the world into our own homes.  Yet, where does that end?  If we gladly welcome oil from Iraq or coltan from the Congo, is it fair or right for us to choose not to take on the conflicts, deaths and horrors going on in those exact same regions?


~report by GP correspondent Jenna

To contact Jenna, comment, or reach www.GlobalPundit.Org eMagazine, emaileditor@GlobalPundit.Org


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