May 14, 2008
For immediate release
Statement by Senator Roméo Dallaire on Canada’s inaction on the case of Omar Khadr
It is my firm belief that nations like Canada must act to protect and enforce international law and codes of behaviour that we have ratified through the United Nations over decades. These laws have been established to safeguard human rights, to protect human beings caught up in wars and conflict and to give us the serenity that the rule of law prevails.
It is my strongly-held view that the continued, illegal incarceration and prosecution of Omar Khadr – who was a 15-year-old child soldier at the time of his arrest in 2002 – puts the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict into jeopardy. Further, our acquiescence with his continued incarceration and prosecution puts in question Canada’s standing as a nation that respects global human rights and international law. More than ever before, the new global challenges we face in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, require nations like Canada to protect and enforce international law.
Frankly, I think it is a distraction from the issue at hand to engage in a debate over the semantics of my response to a loaded question raised by a Conservative MP at the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, who asked whether I was equating the Canadian and the American governments as equal to Al-Qaeda in terms of terrorism. Suffice it to say that I in no way intended to equate Canadian or U.S. authorities with the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. But we cannot avoid the point that if we violate international law in our pursuit of the war on terror, we risk reducing ourselves, collectively, to the same level as those we oppose.
I stand by my views about the descent into uncertainty and the risk that our nation faces when we fiddle with basic tenants of human rights, international law and conventions and do so in the name of protecting our security.
The more we permit our political leaders to act outside of these same rules, the more we expose ourselves to potential abuses and loss of freedom and individual rights.
What is clear to me is that we, Canada, have no legal basis on which to justify our inaction in allowing a Canadian citizen and the first ever child soldier to be prosecuted for war-crimes in an illegal process in Guantanamo Bay.
As more facts surrounding Khadr’s detention and this illegal process have become available, the issue is clear as well as the risks. UN officials have said that this prosecution will set a dangerous precedent that will put at risk the future of thousands of children we pledged to protect and to assist with disarmament and reintegration into society.