Finding the Will to Intervene 

MIGS report to urge government action to prevent genocide

By Russ Cooper

Two years in the making, the Will To Intervene (W2I) report from Concordia's Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) is ready to challenge U.S. and Canadian governments to take direct action to prevent future genocides.

On Sept. 21, the MIGS research team, led by Kyle Matthews, will release the first recommendations of its 160-page report aimed at the American government in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Institute of Peace. On Sept. 22, they'll release the second set of recommendations focused on the Canadian government at the National Press Gallery in Ottawa.

MIGS will also hold a panel discussion on Oct. 1 on Parliament Hill, challenging MPs and senators to implement the report's policy recommendations. MIGS has invited all leaders of Canada’s major political parties, including PM Stephen Harper, to endorse the report’s recommendations.

The W2I report examines Canadian and American involvement in the '94 Rwandan genocide and the '99 Kosovo crimes against humanity, as well as subsequent atrocities in such conflicts as the wars in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"It is clear now there was a strong will not to intervene in Rwanda. [The governments'] fingers were so badly burned by the political fallout over the killing of the American Rangers in Somalia, no one wanted to touch it," says MIGS Director Frank Chalk. "But there was no serious integration of the lessons learned either in Rwanda or Kosovo. Our report proposes specific institutional changes that will equip governments to prevent future genocides, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and serious war crimes."

While there have been accounts of on-the-ground experiences – such the '03 book by MIGS Senior Fellow (see Journal, Sept. 14, 2006) Senator and LGen Roméo Dallaire (ret) Shake Hands with the Devil – not until the W2I report has there been an examination of what happened in Ottawa and Washington on a policy level.

The involvement of Montreal-native Dallaire, "has been of incalculable benefit," according to Matthews. "Besides his first-hand experience, he's been able to open up doors that we wouldn't otherwise have had access to."

Dallaire will be a key figure at all three events.

Over the course of the last two years, the team has interviewed over 80 prominent American and Canadian figures, all of whom have extensive background knowledge of war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. They include current Liberal leader and former director of Harvard's Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy Michael Ignatieff, former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, and former Canadian Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Fowler (who will be at the podium Sept. 22 and moderate the Oct. 1 event).

"What we've found is that neither the U.S. nor the Canadian governments have updated [their procedures and institutions for] the prevention of mass atrocities," says Matthews. "We're going to argue to decision makers there are a number of long term consequences for Canadians and Americans of not taking this issue seriously."

Matthews states the recommendations are as much in the national interest of Canada and the U.S. as they are for the countries directly affected. For example, densely-packed refugee camps have become petri-dishes for drug-resistant diseases with the potential to spawn worldwide pandemics; preventing piracy and terrorism could eliminate the enormous military costs associated with large-scale interventions; and protecting commercial prosperity by avoiding economic disruptions generated by mass atrocities affecting worldwide markets.

For Concordia, a project of this depth and scope – funded in part with the accumulated interest from a $1.3 million gift (see Journal, March 20, 2008) – has served it well in obtaining positive international recognition. "Many of the people we've interviewed have been very surprised Concordia is doing this groundbreaking research," says Matthews. "It's widening the understanding of both what MIGS does, as well as Concordia as a whole."

The project will continue its research, focusing next on South Africa and either Britain or Germany. Chalk and his colleagues are currently investigating NGOs and research centres with which to collaborate and writing grant applications to fund stage two of W2I.


Concordia University