Canada must accept 'responsibility to protect' in Darfur

  • October 13, 2006
TORONTO - Canada can and should use its military to ensure the safety of civilian refugees in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region before a Dec. 31 deadline could see African peacekeepers removed from the area, according to Canada’s largest churches.

Church agencies are lobbying hard to persuade Ottawa to invoke the Canadian-authored "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine of the United Nations. They're trying to convince MPs Canada has enough soldiers to take a leading role in Darfur without compromising its commitment in Afghanistan.

KAIROS, the social justice agency sponsored by 11 church organizations, three of them Catholic, along with Project Ploughshares, an ecumenical think tank sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches, is mounting an education effort on Darfur aimed at Conservative members of Parliament. The church groups fear the Canadian government may back off committing Canadian troops, and ultimately betray the responsibility to protect doctrine, which was Canada's response to genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

"This is  a classic case where that intervention aspect of R2P (diplomatic shorthand for responsibility to protect) is really there," said KAIROS human rights expert John Lewis. "There's a risk of the doctrine just not being taken seriously."

During a take-note debate on Darfur in the House of Commons Oct. 3, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai said Canada's responsibility to protect in Darfur went no further than diplomatic support for the African Union mission in the region and perhaps targeted sanctions aimed at the government of Sudan.

The church groups, along with a host of non-governmental organizations, predict genocide on a massive scale without a United Nations intervention in Sudan. They also believe Obhrai and his fellow Conservative MPs don't understand the responsibility to protect doctrine.

"It's a Canadian doctrine, we helped write the darn thing. If you watched the (House of Commons) debate, the debate was all about how intervening in Sudan is some kind of provocation of war," said Students Taking Action Now: Darfur executive director Ben Fine. 

"This is a classic instance of R2P, where the R2P doctrine should be applied," said KAIROS's Lewis. "We have enormous loss of life. We have, at the very least we have, ethnic cleansing going on, if not genocide. We have a government in Khartoum that is not only unable, but is unwilling to disarm the militias." 

A breakdown in Darfur would risk the $520,000 Canadian Catholics have sent since 2003 through the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace to Caritas Internationalis and Terre des Hommes, two Catholic agencies working with Darfurian refugees.

There is no question Canada has enough troops and the right kind of troops to help out in Darfur, Walter Dorn, Canadian consultant to the United Nations' department of peacekeeping operations, told The Catholic Register.

"We have forces now of 55,000. That's taking out people who are sick and that sort of thing. If the most we can deploy is two-and-a-half thousand (in Afghanistan), that's a pretty sad commentary on the state of the forces," Dorn said.

A secret briefing document prepared for Minister of National Defence Gordon O'Connor and obtained by The Catholic Register states that of 63,000 personnel on the military's payroll, the Canadian Forces have an effective strength of approximately 53,000 — a number that will increase by 5,000 regular and 3,000 reserve soldiers over the next five years. The pool available for deployment is 26,000. This means Canada's army could maintain two land task forces in two different theatres of operation. A second task force of 1,200 personnel is available now for future missions, according to the secret briefing note.

The church groups, Senator Romeo Dallaire and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur are asking for 600 soldiers to help with logistics, aerial surveillance and transportation in support of African soldiers now patrolling outside of the massive refugee camps near the border with Chad. Logistics means the planning capacity to ensure the right soldiers and equipment are in the right place at the right time.

More than two million Darfurians have been displaced by the conflict in their region, and research published in the journal Science in September estimates that "no fewer than 200,000" have died in the last three years.

According to Dorn, who teaches peacekeeping and related issues to senior officers at the Royal Military College's campus in Toronto, Canada could make a big impact in Darfur simply by taking some of the 190 logistics personnel removed from peacekeeping in the Golan Heights in March and sending them to Sudan.

A report Dorn is preparing for United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan will include Canada in a list of five or six countries the technical ability to contribute to a Darfur mission, and who have the international prestige to persuade the Sudanese government to accept the mission.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in defence of the responsibility to protect doctrine at the United Nations and again in Bucharest at the Francophonie meetings. The churches want to make sure Harper's government follows through on that commitment, said Project Ploughshares executive director John Siebert.

"Surely, here in Darfur, we would listen to the voices of the All Africa Council of Churches and others who have said, 'International community, intervene and save civilian suffering,' "said Siebert. "We know already that it's a genocide. (The question is) when is this going to be stopped, and how?"

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