Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rule of law and human rights -- only when convenient?


On my way home last night I heard on CBC Radio One that Senator Romeo Dallaire, famous in Canada as the commander of the failed UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda and ever since a strong proponent of human rights and international enforcement, bravely criticized the Canadian government for not insisting that Omar Khadar, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, be treated as the child soldier he is by international agreement. Khader, the son of an undoubted Al Qaeda supporter, was 15 years old when he was captured by American forces. Since then, he has been tortured and interrogated at Guantánamo Bay and is still held there. Although he is a Canadian citizen, and nothing has been proved against him in a court of law, and he falls into the child soldier category, a category recognized by Canada in its operations in Afghanistan, neither this government nor its predecessor has lifted a finger to obtain lawful treatment for Omar Khader. Once again, human rights we as Canadians supposedly stand for -- and claim to be fighting for in Afghanistan -- are tossed out the window when they are inconvenient, or may prove offensive to some powerful interest.

I've known this for a while and have been quite angry about Canada's unwillingness to stand up for decent treatment for all Canadians. What really offended me this time was the fact that the Liberal party leadership in parliament seems reluctant to stand up for Dallaire, a widely-admired man who knows from personal experience how the young and powerless are kicked around in places like Rwanda and Afghanistan. (Indeed, if they are only kicked around in such places...) . Dallaire said:

"The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties, in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against those rights and conventions, you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all.''
This comparison between Canadian delinquency and terrorist practice offended the Tory MP Jason Kenney. I'm not surprised; but I am disappointed that the Liberal leader in the House of Commons, Stéphane Dion, allowed the Tories to make Dallaire the issue. According to CTV, Dion said, "he disagreed with Dallaire's choice of words, and hinted the senator could be disciplined."

The Vanity Press has the appropriate response to Dion's remarks. He should have spoken harder truths: Canada is disgraced by this unprincipled behavior. And it doesn't matter who did it first (the Liberals did), it should stop now. Just because someone has a "dangerous sounding" Islamic name doesn't mean the rule of law does not apply in his or her case. And what is outside the rule of law? Lawlessness.

Image: the world's most dangerous Canadian teenager, before he was imprisoned and tortured.

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