Omar Khadr is free at last on bail. The treatment of Omar Khadr as a terrorist and not as a child soldier was wrong. Despite the efforts of many concerned Canadians, human rights advocates and child protection experts, Omar continued to languish in prison cell after prison cell. Yesterday, the upholding of Omar’s bail decision is a reminder of the importance of the judicial branch of our government, which upheld the rule of law.
It is crucial to keep in mind that Omar Khadr is a victim in all of this. Recruited at 13 years old, then shot and taken prisoner two years later, the story of Omar Khadr has been nothing if not infuriating. As a child, Khadr was forced to move to Afghanistan and join al-Qaeda by his father. It is believed that during a raid on Khadr’s compound, the 15-year-old threw a grenade, killing Sergeant Christopher Speer, a Delta Force strategic forces soldier and medic. Eight years later, he pleaded guilty under duress.
But over the past decade, Khadr’s rights have been violated time and again. From the very beginning, he has been denied the right to due process and a fair trial, the right to protection from torture and — perhaps most appallingly — the rights stemming from the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
International law and norms, which Canada is signatory to, are put in place so as to protect those children who are unscrupulously used as weapons of war and to hold those who recruit and use them to account. It is not Omar who was the threat, but those who recruit young girls and boys to fight their wars for them who are the greatest threat. Omar deserves the chance to be educated, to be loved, and to be forgiven, just as hundreds of thousands of other child soldiers around the world who have received rehabilitation funded by the Canadian government.
Yesterday, despite the horrific treatment exacted upon Omar for the past 13 years, he walked out and declared, “there is nothing I can do about the past, but there is something I can do about the future.” Yes Omar, there is so much you can do to shape your future positively and let us hope that you are “free at last”.
LGen, the Hon. Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d), Founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Dr. Shelly Whitman, Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative