Dallaire to deliver Human Rights lecture

By Adela Talbot
November 22, 2012

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Romeo Dallaire



Senator Roméo Dallaire will deliver the Claude and Elaine Pensa Lecture in Human Rights, entitled The Will to Intervene, at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23 in the Faculty of Law, Room 38.

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Almost two decades have passed since the world unknowingly turned its back on Rwanda. Much has changed, too.

The wide availability of the Internet, smartphones and the emergence of social media have, among other things, made for a better-connected world.

Generally speaking, the public is more engaged and responds, even when politicians don’t, to social injustices around the world. Consider, for instance, the recent KONY 2012 frenzy.

But just because a well-meaning, cleverly crafted marketing campaign – like Invisible Children’s recent video and social media push – has the potential to mobilize change, it doesn’t mean it can yield positive results.

Just ask Sen. Roméo Dallaire, former force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda.

The West’s methods of intervention in civil wars, imploding nations and failing states, Dallaire explained, have evolved from not knowing what to do (in cases like the Rwanda genocides) to reacting because of a new responsibility to protect civilians. New technologies and means of communicating have an increasingly present role in connecting what is happening at home and abroad, he added.

“We’ve introduced and applied a responsibility to protect and its linking back with a new phenomenon, which is the social communications and revolutions existing now. We are now in an era where we can react because of a responsibility to protect civilians, like in Libya. There’s an incredible effort going on now in regards to Syria. None of that existed in the 90s,” Dallaire said.

But while new communication technologies can increase both public awareness and engagement – encouraging private citizens to push government officials to send military support – it doesn’t mean the work is done, Dallaire explained.

Using social media to spread awareness and mobilize change through the KONY 2012 campaign was an effective tool, Dallaire said, but not one without its flaws.

“It seems to me like an uncoordinated effort of the use of an extraordinary tool of engagement, building advocacy and even raising funds. But I’m not sure it was being coordinated with the efforts being done on the ground. And that, I think, is not an insignificant disconnect,” he explained.

“We should be going in by reinforcing the regional powers. There has been considerable effort in building up regional capabilities in a region like Africa – through the African Union and the African Standby Force – to its own peace-keeping and security capabilities,” he said.

“There is a lot of movement that needs even more sustained efforts from countries like ours to help build that capacity for them.”

But something like the KONY 2012 campaign, while powerfully approached with good intentions, hasn’t superficially addressed this need. That lack in itself can be detrimental, Dallaire noted.

“Not reinforcing a regional power is absolutely going against all the fundamental efforts of this new era of building regional capacity versus waiting for a ‘white knight’ to appear.”

And that’s not his only reservation about campaigns such as KONY 2012 and similar approaches to intervention, both of which have generated a list of questions for Dallaire: Has this been focused properly? What will be the result of it in the field? Is it going to provide assets in the field to stop Kony? How much of IC’s effort is actually going to go in the field versus simply raising awareness? Is this awareness able to sustain itself? Was the campaign aimed at the right time? Are the facts right? Is the information in the video blown up in order to achieve a specific aim?

“There’s an ethical dimension in regards to NGO efforts out there that is not necessarily well defined. And that can rebound against us,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the March 22 edition of Western News. It is reprinted here in advance of the rescheduled Western Law lecture.


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