Omar Khadr at a hearing at the  U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base,  in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in a court sketch.CALGARY — Canada’s treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr reflects this country’s move away from its traditional role in advancing human rights internationally, retired general Romeo Dallaire said this week.

The senator and former commander of the United Nations assistance mission to Rwanda was in Calgary Wednesday to share his account of child soldiers and the Rwandan genocide with more than 1,000 Father Lacombe High School students.

When asked how he would describe Canada’s stance on child soldiers, Dallaire pointed to this country’s treatment of Omar Khadr.

“Canada was a leader. Canada is not a leader in human rights anymore,” he said of the Harper government’s refusal to repatriate Khadr, Guantanamo Bay’s lone Western detainee.

Khadr was 15 years old when he was picked up by the U.S. army in Afghanistan in July 2002 accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. But the Harper government doesn’t consider him a “child soldier” and has blocked moves for Khadr’s return to Canada.

Dallaire described these actions as part of this country’s moving away from the “fundamentals of advancing human rights.”

“Canada led the optional protocol on child rights regarding child soldiers . . . Canada was a big player in a number of different departments in the UN, not only peacekeeping, and we’ve abandoned it,” Dallaire said.

Globally, 300,000 boys and girls as young as nine years old are abducted, raped, drugged and controlled by adults who use them as weapons, Dallaire said.  The use of child soldiers creates serious ethical issues for military forces who encounter them.   Dallaire, who penned the book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, recounted a UN peacekeeper’s experience trying to protect Rwandan villagers when they were surrounded by dozens of children firing at them.

When the bullets are flying, “do you kill a child who kills?” Dallaire asked.  Images of children crying in muddy streets, piles of decomposing bodies and rows of stacked human skulls flashed on a projector screen as Dallaire described the ethnic cleansing of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.

It wasn’t the UN, but its member countries who ultimately failed to protect the hundreds of thousands killed because nations refused to commit troops or resources to stop it, Dallaire said.   “All the skulls and the bodies. I didn’t realize the magnitude,” said Grade 11 student Jacqueline Fleischer.  Tin Nguyen questioned how anyone could ignore such suffering.

“I feel I have the responsibility to go out and do something,” the Grade 11 student said. “Throwing cash at it won’t get the job done.”  That’s exactly the reaction Dallaire hoped to get.  Disenfranchised and disinterested young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 are throwing away their power and should be lobbying politicians to address key issues, he said.  “They hold the balance of power once they become 18,” said Dallaire. “If they voted, they could change the face of the government in one election.”

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