The horrors of Rwanda

By Chris Beauchamp

The commander of the United Nations mission in Rwanda during the 1994 Rwandan genocide is on a new mission.

Lieutenant-General (retired) Romeo Dallaire is speaking to the public about his experiences to increase awareness of the impact of war on children.

Interested Calgarians packed the auditorium of the W.R. Castell Central Library to capacity Wed., Mar. 10, with supporters sitting on the floor for a chance to hear Lt.-Gen. Dallaire speak. His presentation began with a standing ovation.

"We have entered an era of insecurity that is at times worse than the nuclear era," said Lt.-Gen. Dallaire. "That insecurity comes from the fact that 20 per cent of humanity is taking off to conquer Mars while the other 80 per cent is still stuck in the mud, the blood and the suffering."

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire has been an outspoken critic of the UN since its member states’ unwillingness to commit troops led to the massacre of over 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. His inability to stop the genocide left him grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"Abandoning Rwandans was a crime against humanity by the big powers and the little powers," he accused "[Former United States Ambassador to the UN] Madeleine Albright walked into the [UN] Security Council and said straight out that America has no strategic interest in helping Rwanda."

He stated the U.S. government would only accept the public outrage that involvement in Rwanda would entail if "for every one of our soldiers killed, there are 85,000 dead Rwandans."

"Are all humans human?" he asked. "Or are some more human than others?"

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire repeatedly emphasized the responsibility for the plight of all humans, regardless of race or economic well-being.

Detailing some of the disturbing acts he witnessed during the 100-day massacre, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire stressed the impact of war on children. He described the groups of young boys forced by Hutu extremists to march away from their homes. The extremists would murder half the boys and threaten the remaining with death if they did not take up arms. These boys would then be marched back to their villages and forced to murder their own families, according to Lt.-Gen. Dallaire, "to make sure they had nothing left to go back to."

"Girls are used as expendable instruments of war," explained Lt.-Gen. Dallaire, describing their use as human mine detectors. "The girls are sent in first to clear a path for the boy soldiers.

"Children are used to kill, under duress. However, do we kill children?" Lt.-Gen. Dallaire asked. "Our whole moral, ethical society is at odds about that problem."

In light of these problems he supports alternatives such as preventative deployment, peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention. He sees Canada and Canadians potentially playing a central role.

"When I talk to high schools and undergrads, they are screaming for a mission," said Lt.-Gen. Dallaire.

He suggests all young people join a non-governmental organization and "get their boots dirty."

"This nation is going to be held responsible in history," he declared. "Will we in fact grasp this opportunity, this responsibility, and be the leading middle power in the world to advocate human rights and the rights of the individual? Or will we just withdraw into ourself?"

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