The winning entry for Journalists for Human Rights and The Walrus’s Write the Wrong 2010 student essay contest
Canada is defined by the maple leaf, the beaver, hockey, and our peace-keeping military, of which Canadians are especially proud of. We justify our missions through jus in bello, a set of criteria that describes a just war as one that has a just cause, legitimate authority, the right intentions, reasonable hope of success, and necessity. We are guardians of peace, democracy, and freedom — an image so ingrained in our national identity that the 1993 Somali scandal came as a big shock. Instead of learning from the affair however, we have yet to address the human rights issues that are deeply intertwined with war and prisoners of war.
When the United Nations resolved to launch Operation “Restore Hope” in war-torn Somalia in 1992, 900 soldiers from the Canadian Airborne Regiment joined the mission. Canada’s most elite unit [landed] in Belet Huen, which was just one of the many towns ripped apart by civil war, anarchy, and thieving gangs. Many Somalis were hungry, homeless, and mourning the loss of loved ones. In the face of such a crisis, troops from all around the world participated to secure major relief centers and important transportation routes, stop terrorizing forces as was necessary, and provide food for the innocent civilians. Because the gangs could no longer intercept food packages while the troops were around, the situation was initially ameliorated.
However, after a few months, Canadians began to engage in violent practices that included beatings, torture, public humiliation, rape, and murder. At first, Canadian soldiers often punished Somalis who attempted or were accused of stealing food by tying a group of them to a pole and erecting “thief” signs beside them. Sadly, the victims of these acts were primarily children, who were impoverished and desperate. In the February of 1993, a considerable increase in the number of thefts on the Canadian camp exacerbated the tension between the Somali civilians and the troops. In response, soldiers were now authorized to shoot anyone seen trespassing. (more…)