On September 24, the Canadian capital of Ottawa announced its endorsement of the “Will to Intervene” Project. It is the fourth Canadian city to endorse external military intervention on human rights grounds. Discussion at September 24th’s event centred on the present civil conflict in Syria. Given Canada’s recent rupture of diplomatic ties with Iran, the prospect of intervention in Syria holds clear geo-strategic implications. "Genocide" discourse, however, masks a selectively humanitarian foreign policy whose inconsistency demonstrates Canada’s political interests in conflict situations. The divergence between Canada’s approaches toward Syria and Sri Lanka is instructive and Tamil activists allege that Canada does not want the “Responsibility to Protect” Eezham Tamils, and harbours no moral “Will to Intervene” against Sri Lanka.
Brainchild of Concordia University human-rights intellectual Frank Chalk and Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire, the Will to Intervene project is organized through the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia. September 24th’s panel highlighted the Canadian-led “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine at the United Nations.
The R2P doctrine elicits an instructive comparison with the rhetoric and the reality of America’s 1823 Monroe doctrine – and, in particular, its 1904 Roosevelt corollary. This precept gave the USA the mandate to intervene militarily in foreign countries in case of atrocity. As American power grew, the Roosevelt corollary often justified the militarily-backed replacement of unfriendly governments within the US sphere of influence.
Invoking R2P toward Syria has serious consequences. It provides a responsibility, "should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," for military intervention under UN mandate. International observers such as Genocide Watch have labelled Syrian military operations against its insurgent population "genocide and mass atrocity.
Sen. Dallaire’s moral weight as former UN commander during the Rwandan genocide, and Prof. Chalk’s juridical human-rights expertise, inform the admixture of honest intentions and geo-political interests that underpin the Will to Intervene project. It is good public relations to call genocide by its name, to express horror, and to call for military intervention against it.
However, expressing the “Will to Intervene” against genocide means more than simply to protect the innocent from slaughter. To call an act “genocide,” post-Rwanda, is to call for military action by the international community. Such action does not follow from moral, but from strategic consideration. Just as the Roosevelt Corollary invoked the word “atrocity,” the word “genocide” today functions to morally justify and conceal military advancement of financial and strategic interests.
Thus, professed allies in Canada and elsewhere have discouraged Eezham Tamils from using this simple, clear, and accurate word to describe what they have suffered. Military intervention or oversight of the post-conflict phase would disrupt orderly relations with the unitary Sri Lankan state. Those very relations, from the perspective of powerful geo-political interests, made 2009’s mass slaughter necessary.
Far from showing a will to intervene, Canada facilitated and helped lay the groundwork for genocide against Eezham Tamils.
Harmonizing its "anti-terror" policy with that of the United States, Canada’s Conservative administration reversed the political neutrality of previous decades by proscribing the LTTE and the World Tamil Movement. In the country home to the largest Tamil Diaspora in the world, such action in concert with the US and EU tilted the global balance of forces in favour of the Sri Lankan Army, making a military rather than diplomatic resolution inevitable.
When genocidal military operations caused refugees to flee for their lives, by any means of transport available to them, this same Conservative administration then took the election-time opportunity to accuse these victims of being terrorists. Now, to court the Eezham Tamil vote, Ottawa threatens to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Colombo over "alleged human rights abuses." But, as Commonwealth Secretary-General Sharma noted recently, communication between the two parties continues.
So while “human rights abuses” took place and “both sides are responsible” (despite the casualties being massively one-sided), and although the Sri Lankan Army killed more people than Assad’s forces have to date, Canada refuses to acknowledge genocide in the first case, proclaiming it loudly in the latter.