Lessons learned from Somalia affair

The death of Shidane Arone at the hands of Canadian soldiers 20 years ago is often remembered as one of the darkest moments in Canadian military history.

But as the tragic, shocking story of Arone, a Somali teen who was tortured and killed after he was caught sneaking into a Canadian compound, fades further into the past, military historians fear Canada runs the risk of forgetting the lessons of a catalytic event in the history of the Canadian Forces.

Arone was just 16 years old when he was captured by Canadian troops outside the town of Belet Huen. What followed, his torture and death, the widely circulated images of soldiers smiling and posing alongside his bloodied body, and the attempted cover-up, proved a transformative event in the course of Canadian military history.

Stuart Hendin, an expert in the law of war who represented now-retired Brig.-Gen. Serge Labbe, one of the senior officers who became caught up in what came to be known as the Somalia Affair, currently teaches a course on morality, ethics and leadership at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of Arone's death, "a senseless, brutal act" that Hendin said "reflected a failure of discipline ... and a failure of command responsibility" within the Canadian Forces.

Although much has been done to overhaul the Forces in the two decades since the disgraced 1993 Somalia peacekeeping mission, Hendin said remembering the tragedy is key to ensuring it never happens again.

"When we forget the lessons of history," he said, "we're bound to repeat them."

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