Review: Roméo Dallaire talk

Image: Andrew Rusk

Image: Andrew Rusk

On February 18, the University of York welcomed Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire in a series of public talks organized by PRDU Department. Mr. Dallaire is a world renowned humanitarian, having served as Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) before and during, the 1994 genocide and having since then become a renowned humanitarian campaigner for the protection of human rights and genocide prevention, particularly in his capacity as a member of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention. Mr. Dallaire focused on his most recent project of The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier initiative, which aims to progressively end the recruitment and use of child soldiers in battle by utilising a security sector perspective.

He started by explaining to the audience that the world that we witness today is a product of the post-Cold War era, during which the character of the international conflict has changed dramatically. The central feature of this world order is a regular occurrence of tragic civil conflicts, which often result in mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing, failed states and genocide.

Unfortunately, such cases often take the international community by surprise, which seriously constrains our efforts to prevent and react to such atrocities. As Mr. Dallaire explained further, this world view is product of his personal experience as a Force Commander during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, when one ethnic group was so power-desperate that it decided to eliminate completely another group in order to avoid power sharing settlements.

He emphasised that despite his personal willingness, enthusiasm and desire to help people on  a regular basis, the international community as a whole had largely ignored the conflict, abandoning the people of Rwanda and giving a clear signal to perpetrators that they are free to do whatever they like. Mr Dallaire emphasised that we need to remember that humanity failed dramatically in Rwanda and instead of using a common phrase the “UN failed again”, we need to understand that the UN is often a victim of states, who failed to respond by providing a timely and effective response during the genocide. Furthermore, Dallaire added that he had witnessed a considerable number of child soldiers in the conflict, which for him signified a moral, ethical and military dilemma during the combat situation. Indeed, the problem remains a very serious one; today just over 100,000 child soldiers are used in conflict as a weapon system. Furthermore, as Dallaire acknowledged by drawing from his experience in UN operations, the fundamental problem is that international community often tries to find the solutions after the problem by focusing on the post-conflict, instead of preventing conflict.

This means that there is a room for a different strategy, which could tackle the use of child soldiers both before the conflict and during the battlefield experience. Thus, instead of focusing on conflict resolution, we must direct our efforts at conflict prevention, which the Dallaire  Child Initiative advances in three ways. Firstly, the focus of his work is on training of military and peacekeeping units regarding the use of child soldiers and how to tackle this problem in conflict situation. Secondly, professional and regular academic research on the topic advances organisational knowledge of the problem and strengthens its ability to assist peacekeeping units. Finally, advocacy of the problem through regular “public awareness’” campaigns help organisations to educate our society about the issue of child-soldiers in attempts to resolve this problem at practical level.

Mr. Dallaire concluded by emphasising that his work is centred on two fundamental principles. The first is the importance of “progressive elimination”, which means that instead of addressing use of child soldiers sporadically, the problem is addressed regularly through a cohesive and consistent set of measures in order to enable the gradual elimination of the problem in the long run. Secondly, it is the importance of fundamental human rights and individual life, which is often forgotten by international community.

Yet, beyond this, Mr. Dallaire gave us all a vital idea, which often gets lost in our daily hassles: we are all living in one world, where problems of our fellow human beings do immediately become our problems too, and unless we actually do something together, putting our personal differences aside to help those in need, we are not likely to see the bright, fresh and peaceful new world that we all want to see.

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