A statement from the the Dallaire Initiative on keeping children at the forefront of Canada’s response to COVID-19 | March 2020
We are reaching out today to communicate with our friends, supporters, partners, and community with a plea to keep children front and centre during this unprecedented and troubling time.
Many messages have been sent in the past few weeks helping us understand what we as individuals must do to protect ourselves and our families from the spread COVID-19. As an organization, we have adhered to and aligned with global and local guidance to protect our staff and their families. However, our collective responsibility toward the vulnerable children around the world remains critical, especially at times like these.
We continue to think of the children – many of whom are facing new challenges. The implications of these challenges should not be overlooked: potential for increased exposure to domestic abuse; children being orphaned by parents who succumb to COVID-19; increased instances of teen pregnancy and school drop-outs; and, less obvious, increased screen time and the risk of exploitation for online recruitment into violence, just to name a few. As PM Trudeau stated yesterday, “For far too many people, home is not a safe place to be and some have no place to go. Tough times fall the hardest on the most vulnerable”. Other more localized crises have shown how children’s vulnerabilities increase in times of emergency, and we anticipate that will apply on a larger scale in this pandemic.
So we ask today, how do children fit into our planning for a public health crisis? How are we preparing for the unique vulnerabilities of children and youth? How are Canadian law enforcement officers preparing to protect children and youth? Even for those children where home is a safe place to be, the Dallaire Initiative understands that children and youth have an underdeveloped sense of risk and long- term consequences until they reach their early 20s and may not truly understand all the risks of the pandemic. We believe this is the moment to start broadening the conversation, and to consider the wider societal impacts that need our attention in order to reduce the long-term effects of COVID-19.
At this time, based on years of working with children and the security sector in complex contexts, the Dallaire Initiative continues to provide guidance and scenarios that may help. We are continuing our important research work, planning for our operations post COVID-19, analyzing the impact of our training and programming to date in our countries of focus, and refining our pedagogical tools and processes. We hope to use this opportunity to augment our Building Connections Project in Canada and distance learning offerings that both can assist communities and those in law enforcement to enhance their understanding of children and at-risk youth during this time. Moreover, we believe that understanding the mental health considerations of these front-line personnel is also critical to the protection of children’s rights and our ability to thrive post-COVID-19.
Now is not the time for us to lose focus on the prioritization of children’s rights and their protection. In this globalized world, we will see the impacts of deep economic strain for years to come due to COVID- 19, which will serve to increase the vulnerability of children on numerous fronts. Children are too often burdened by these impacts yet are rarely considered in the solutions. The Dallaire Initiative understands that your support for our work will be even more crucial to building a world where the recruitment and use of children into violence becomes “unthinkable” if we are to achieve global peace and security.
We wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement of the Dallaire Initiative – with your help we will progressively end the recruitment and use of children into violence.
We wish you continued health and peace.
TORONTO (MARCH 3, 2020) – To mark International Women’s Day, The Slaight Family Foundation is donating $15 million to 15 international organizations working to improve human rights and opportunities for women and girls.
The recipient organizations – working mainly in impoverished, fragile or conflict-affected areas – each focus on different issues facing women and girls, including human rights abuses, child marriages, sex trafficking, legal support, HIV and AIDS and education.
“The aim of this gift is to improve conditions for women and girls living in difficult circumstances, who represent some of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Gary Slaight of The Slaight Family Foundation. “The projects we are funding will leverage the expertise of these vital organizations to protect women and girls in the most fragile countries from direct harm, rebuild the lives of those who have been unjustly affected by conflict, deprivation and disease and give them the tools and support they need to survive and thrive.”
“This investment in international NGOs is unprecedented and the projects being supported will directly assist more than one million women and girls in some of the world’s most fragile regions,” said Dr. Samantha Nutt, President of War Child Canada. “It’s such an important time to be highlighting this issue. For The Slaight Family Foundation to recognize the threats faced by women and girls, and acknowledge that their concerns matter with such an historic gift, is a profound message to send. On behalf of the entire group we extend our sincerest gratitude to The Slaight Family Foundation for their incredible support of our collective work.”
Since 2013, The Slaight Family Foundation has funded several strategic initiatives to multiple organizations. These initiatives started with gifts to five Toronto hospitals to support priority healthcare issues, followed by programs to address global humanitarianism, healthy development of children and youth across Canada, support for Indigenous issues and, last year, a seniors’ initiative to help keep seniors in their homes and communities, including the Allan Slaight Seniors’ Fund at the United Way Greater Toronto.
Sub-Saharan African countries with UN peacekeeping missions and high rates of HIV in women
Develop and roll out a smartphone app to tap young women’s unique knowledge of and solutions to living under the threat of sexual violence. Women in remote areas who answer open-ended, recorded questions orally, in private, as easily as leaving a voicemail message, will be transformed from victims with lived experiences to experts helping to end sexual violence against women.
Canadian Feed the Children
Creation of a new ‘Livelihood & Gender Equality Fund’ championing the human rights of girls and women in Ethiopia. We will focus on reducing the forced migration of girls and women by helping them finish their education and improve future prospects including starting new, sustainable businesses through an agribusiness hub to develop female entrepreneurship. The initiative includes a sexual and reproductive health and rights campaign, strengthening community police, legal and healthcare systems, and a new research study on child migration.
Canadian Red Cross
South Sudan/Central Africa Republic
The Canadian Red Cross is launching an innovative program that brings health solutions directly into crisis and conflict areas, reaching women and girls who are cut off from health facilities due to violence. Essential health care and supplies delivered by local Red Cross responders will increase safe pregnancies, improve nutrition, and provide access to clean water and lifesaving treatments for disease.
Innovate and improve menstrual hygiene management for school-age girls with female genital mutilation – develop and test new solutions with established women and girls’ groups, train women to produce hygiene products locally, improve school sanitation facilities and increase community awareness.
The program will increase access to gender-responsive heath services and launch a youth-led awareness campaign for sexual and reproductive health rights among adolescent girls and boys at risk of child trafficking, forced prostitution, child labour and sexual violence in Kedougou, Senegal.
Human Rights Watch
Middle East/N Africa
End discrimination of women and girls by documenting the abuses of male guardianship system in the Middle East and North Africa. Year 1 will focus on documenting male guardianship in Qatar; how lack of domestic violence legislation and discriminatory laws leaves women exposed to domestic violence in Kuwait; and the start of mapping how and where male guardianship exists in the region.
Partners In Health Canada
Malawi & Sierra Leone
Improved access to sexual and reproductive health services especially for adolescents, strengthened care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and increased availability of high-quality obstetric care. Activities include health worker training, resourcing and delivery of clinical care, educational initiatives for young people, and community-based work to raise awareness about women’s and girls’ rights and promote health seeking behaviour.
Right To Play
Transform the lives of more than 50,000 girls across Mozambique through a gender-responsive education program that removes barriers to access, builds teacher capacity, and positively impacts national programs and policies. The result will be higher literacy rates, lower drop-out rates, and a generation of girls who are better supported to succeed.
Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Helping reduce child soldier recruitment and conflict-based sexual violence through capacity building of national military and police forces, with a focus on female force members; enhance the Dallaire Initiative’s cadre of female international trainers and global champions; raise awareness amongst the global community on the critical role of women in preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Save the Children
Improve knowledge and skills of adolescent girls and boys to be aware of and exercise their rights around sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, to be able to make their own informed decisions related to marriage and pregnancy. This action will transform harmful practices and attitudes that reinforce gender inequalities and gender-based violence and strengthen the institutional and policy environment to prevent child early and forced marriage.
Stephen Lewis Foundation
Expand holistic programmes that address gender inequalities to improve access to HIV prevention services, and support treatment adherence for women and girls living with HIV. Expand the global grandmothers movement through Grandmother Gatherings. Empower grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS to claim their human rights and lead their communities, through peer support, healthcare, skills training, economic empowerment and advocacy.
In Somalia, only 30 per cent of children attend primary school with girls accounting for less than half of the total enrollment. This project will focus on girls and children with disabilities to improve their access to early childhood education (ECE) services. Community based and alternative ECE programs will be established in rural areas and provide appropriate curriculum that caters to the children’s different needs. It will also include education for parents and communities so that they can better support their children’s education.
Empower women and girls to seek justice and tackle impunity within their communities by providing critical legal support for those affected by or at risk of gender-based violence; through targeted educational programming, ensure that girls can uphold their rights, have greater self-determination, and move out of poverty over the long-term.
Sierra Leone (Kono District)
Focus on advancing the rights of vulnerable women and girls by empowering them with the tools, support and skills to bring an end to inter-generational cycles of poverty and injustice. The three-part program will implement training to address human rights abuses and threats affecting them. Part one will deliver community-wide training to create greater awareness about women’s rights and human rights abuses. Part two will provide vulnerable women and girls education on their rights, referral support and life skills to increase their opportunities. Part three will offer the highest-risk women and girls vocational training and accelerated learning opportunities.
Implement the DREAM program – Dedicated to Reducing Early Marriage in Mali – to address the root cause of child marriage; will include sexual and reproductive health services, education and economic livelihood training; upgrading schools with girls washrooms, training parents, teachers, and faith leaders on the consequences of child marriage; train mothers and girls in financial literacy, life skills and income generating activities to increase household income.
HALIFAX, NS – On February 10th, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (Dallaire Initiative), in partnership with Dalhousie University’s Open Dialogue Series, is hosting a public discourse to mark the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.
The discussion will be moderated by award-winning CBC journalist, Nahlah Ayed, and feature two speakers who experienced and understand the impacts of war on children, Omar Khadr and celebrated author and human rights activist Ishmael Beah. The event will also feature the organization’s Founder, LGen the Hon. Roméo Dallaire (ret’d) and Executive Director, Dr. Shelly Whitman.
The event aims to nurture improved understanding of how children around the world are recruited and used by adults into conflict and violence. By examining the issue from multiple perspectives, the Dallaire Initiative hopes to provide deep and meaningful insights into how children are vulnerable to being recruited and used in violence, that takes many different forms, but ultimately have the same long-term and psycho-social impacts on the children and their communities.
“As the global organization at the forefront of preventing children from being recruited and used in conflict, we have an obligation to foster public dialogue on this issue, with the aim to break cycles of endemic violence around the world, and even here in Canada,” says Dr. Whitman. “We understand this is a highly complex issue, but one that deserves serious attention if we are to achieve peace and security. The Dallaire Initiative is proud to be able to continue to convene timely and critical discussions that bring together diverse groups here at our institutional home in Halifax – Dalhousie University.”
The discussion is part of Dalhousie University’s Open Dialogue series which brings the community together for thought-provoking conversations focused on timely and relevant topics. The series also supports the university’s vital role in sparking dialogue around important issues.
The event will also mark the Dallaire Initiative’s 10th anniversary at Dalhousie University. It will be hosted at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium and recorded for possible use in an episode of CBC Ideas.
What: The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in partnership with Dalhousie University’s Open Dialogue Series, public discourse with Omar Khadr, Ishmael Beah, and LGen the Hon. Roméo Dallaire
When: Monday, February 10, 2020. Registration starts at 5:30, doors open at 6, event 7-9
Where: Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Dalhousie Arts Centre, 6101 University Ave, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Note: For security reasons, all coats will need to be checked and no large bags will be allowed into the auditorium.
We anticipate a high level of media interest in this event. There will be limited space for media.
All media-related inquiries in advance of this event will be solely handled by the Executive Director of the Dallaire Initiative, Dr. Shelly Whitman. Omar Khadr will not be speaking to the media.
- Media organizations wishing to attend the event must apply for accreditation by emailing: [email protected] with their name and media outlet.
- If accepted, media must present media and personal identification upon arrival to the media reception desk.
- There will be an area for media reserved in the Rebecca Cohn and media must remain in this area during the event.
- Photography, video and audio recordings of the event are not permitted.
Aimee White, Chief of Staff
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
About the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Founded by retired Lieutenant-General and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a global partnership committed to ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.
By: Mark Townsend
Original Article Link: bit.ly/21QkKt6
A new generation of Isis recruits is being developed in the Islamic State’s “caliphate”, indoctrinated with religious concepts from birth, and viewed by its fighters as better and purer than themselves, according to the first study of the exploitation and abuse of children as a means of securing the group’s future.
Researchers for Quilliam, a London counter-extremism thinktank, have investigated the way Isis recruits children and indoctrinates and trains them for jihad. As many as 50 children from the UK are growing up in Islamic State-controlled territory, with an estimated 30,000 foreign recruits, including more than 800 Britons, believed to have gone to Syria to fight.
The report, Children of Islamic State, has been endorsed by the UN and will be published on Wednesday in parliament. It was compiled through a study of propaganda released by Isis featuring children and liaising with trusted sources within the caliphate. The portrait painted is of a terrorist group eager to enlist children to help safeguard its future. Many are being trained as spies, preachers, soldiers, “executioners” and suicide bombers.
The authors state: “The organisation … focuses a large number of its efforts on indoctrinating children through an extremism-based education curriculum, and fostering them to become future terrorists. The current generation of fighters sees these children as better and more lethal fighters than themselves, because rather than being converted into radical ideologies they have been indoctrinated into these extreme values from birth, or a very young age.”
Not having been corrupted by living according to secular values, they are considered purer than adult fighters. “These children are saved from corruption,” states the study, “making them stronger than the current mujahideen [fighters] because they have a superior understanding of Islam from youth and from school curriculum and are better and more brutal fighters as they are trained in violence from a very young age”.
The foreign recruits represent a potentially significant strengthening of the group’s cohort of around 80,000 militants, 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq. An estimated 6 million men, women and children are said to be living within its self-styled Isis caliphate.
“The aim is to prepare a new, stronger, second generation of mujahideen, conditioned and taught to be a future resource for the group,” the report adds. “The area of most concern is that Islamic State is preparing its army by indoctrinating young children in its schools and normalising them to violence through witnessing public executions, watching Islamic State videos in media centres and giving children toy weapons to play with.”
The focus on youth bears similarities, according to the report, to the forced recruitment of child soldiers in Liberia in the 1990s, when Charles Taylor seized power in 1997 with a rebel army filled with children.
The authors conclude that Isis also appears to have studied the Nazi regime, which created the Hitler Youth to indoctrinate children. The UN has received credible but unverified reports about an Isis youth wing, Fityan al-Islam, meaning boys of Islam.
The authors also point to the precedent of the Baathist regime in Iraq, which in the late 1970s established the Futuwah (Youth Vanguard) movement with the most important Iraqi child soldier units known as Ashbal Saddam, or Saddam’s Lion Cubs, made up of boys aged 10 to 15.
Researchers for Quilliam found that children were used extensively in Isis propaganda – between 1 August last year and 9 February this year they identified a total of 254 events or statements featuring images of children – to help project the impression of state-building.
Isis also uses children to try to normalise brutality, with the group encouraging children to hold up decapitated heads or play football with them. In the past six months Islamic State propaganda has depicted 12 child killers. A macabre recent video showed a four-year-old British boy apparently detonating a car bomb, killing four alleged spies trapped in the vehicle.
Recruitment of children into Isis frequently involves coercion, according to the report, with abduction being a favoured method. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq estimates that Isis has abducted between 800 and 900 children between the ages of nine and 15. From August 2014 to June 2015, hundreds of boys, including Yazidis and Turkmens, were forcibly taken from their families in Nineveh and sent to training centres, where boys as young as eight were taught the Qur’an, the use of weapons and combat tactics.
The organisation also uses fear as a recruitment tool, with media outlets within the caliphate issuing statements warning that children who refuse to conform with Isis orders will be flogged, tortured or raped.
Isis has been quick to seize control of the education system in Syria and Iraq, with indoctrination beginning in schools and intensifying in training camps. In the camps, children between the ages of 10 and 15 are instructed in sharia, desensitised to violence, and taught specific skills needed to serve the state and take up jihad.
Boys learn a rigid Islamic State curriculum, from which drawing, philosophy and social studies – described as the “methodology of atheism” – have been removed.
Children memorise verses of the Qur’an and attend jihadi training, which includes shooting, weaponry and martial arts. Girls, known as the “pearls of the caliphate”, are veiled, hidden, confined to the home and taught to look after the men.
The report’s authors recommend the creation of a commission to protect future generations from radical violence and to help monitor and reintegrate children within the EU who are at risk. According to a spokesperson for the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which co-wrote the report, life under Isis is “one of the gravest situations for children on Earth. It is hoped that this report will provide a critical perspective on the plight of these children, that will then create essential reflections for policymakers, child protection agencies, governments, multilateral organisations, and those concerned with ending conflict in Iraq and Syria.”
By: Nick Logan
If there’s a war crime to be committed, it appears ISIS is more than willing to carry it out. And, that includes indoctrinating young children and making them witnesses and accomplices to some of the militant group’s most gruesome acts.
The United Nations and human rights groups have been warning for months ISIS is using child soldiers in its battle to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But, the number of young recruits — lured or taken from already vulnerable situations, manipulated and forced into conflict — could be an even greater cause for international concern in years to come.
“They’ve deliberately been talking about a generational war and preparing the next generation,” Dr. Shelly Whitman, the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, told Global News.
“I haven’t seen that come out so strongly in any other previous use of children as I’ve seen in this instance.”
She said sources she’s spoken with suggest the number of child soldiers in ISIS-controlled areas could be in the “couple hundreds of thousands.”
To clarify, that doesn’t mean a fleet of hundreds of thousands of children on the front lines in the Islamic State — how ISIS refers to itself and its self-proclaimed caliphate — rather all of the children being used to further the militant groups advances.
“With the children, they could be undertaking multiple roles,” she said.
According to various reports, including from the United Nations, children have been forced to do everything from carting weaponry to acting as human shields, and in some cases carrying out suicide bombings.
There are accounts of children being made to witness beheadings as a part of their training to become jihadis.
Some children are said to be used as human blood banks — a source for transfusions to treat wounded adult fighters.
“They might not be accounted by others, who look at them as official fighters, but according to the definition of child soldiers, that makes them a child soldier,” Whitman explained.
The situation in ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria is far too dangerous for many international aid agencies and non-government organizations to get access to children and intervene in recruitment.
Preventing children from being recruited or forcibly indoctrinated is one thing, but having a plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society is crucial, say experts.
“When the war stops, it doesn’t go straight from war to jolly old peace. It’s an incredibly fragile situation,” said James Topham, director of communications for War Child.
In a situation like this, the “sheer number” of children affected and the lack of any support or infrastructure can leave child soldiers, especially those who have been exposed to such horrific violence, with little chance of going back to the lives they once had.
“Sometimes the best option is to go back into an armed group,” Topham said.
“It is possible to work with young people [who] have been through this kind of indoctrination and it is possible to be able to see change. But, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Whitman said. “[But] if you wait to deal with these problems… you’re always going to be dealing with the long-term, cyclical impacts.”
The international community needs to come up with a plan to address this situation, Whitman warned.
Whitman briefed officials at NATO last month on the use children in warfare.
“They admit they’re not well prepared or trained [to deal with] it,” she said.
“I’m very worried that the level of effort we’ve put into addressing this is not one where we’ve put children at the top of the agenda.”
Global News reached out to NATO’s press office for comment, but a spokesperson said a response would not be possible in time for publication.
By: Lynn Curwin
Atlantic Women in Law Enforcement conference held in Truro
TRURO – Women in law enforcement face different challenges than men and bring to the job different strengths. These factors play a large role during the Atlantic Women in Law Enforcement Conference.
Held over four days at the Holiday Inn, the theme of the conference was “Staying Strong and Carrying On.”
“The committee chose the theme last year,” said Sgt. Carolyn Nichols, AWLE president and member of the Halifax Regional Police. “Catherine Campbell was on the committee and with what happened to her the theme took on a whole new meaning to all of us. We had worked quite closely with her so the theme became even more relevant.”
Campbell, a Truro police officer, was murdered in September while off duty. A Halifax man has been charged with second-degree murder and faces another charge of indecently interfering with a dead body.
Topics discussed at the conference included social media, forensic psychology, criminal investigations and intelligence gathering and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The keynote speaker was Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire.
“He is a very captivating speaker, very personable and honest,” said Nichols. “I think everyone hung on every word. He talked about his child soldier initiative and about PTSD. He stressed the importance of asking for help when you need it.”
After retiring Dallaire founded The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in an effort to help end the recruitment and use of child soldiers globally. He also helped reform assistance for Canadian Forces’ veterans affected by PTSD, from which he suffered.
About 95 women from various law enforcement agencies across Atlantic Canada gathered for the conference. The event began with only police but grew to include other agencies.
“The greatest thing about coming to this is the feeling of connection with other women in law enforcement,” said Nichols. “We talk about the issues and there’s networking. It provides a forum for woman to come together and talk about making changes in the work place.”
Nichols’ aunt is a retired police officer who expressed the importance of women supporting women. Nichols became a police officer in 1999 and attended her first conference in 2000.
AWLE became an affiliate of the International Association of Women Police in 2003 and last year two Nova Scotia officers won international awards. Cpl. Charla Keddy, RCMP H Division, won officer of the year and Sgt Nancy Rudback, Halifax Regional Police, was presented with the mentoring award.
The 23rd annual AWLE conference was co-hosted by the Truro Police Service, Colchester County District RCMP, Nova Institution for Women and Correctional Service of Canada.
Original Article Link
By: Wendy Elliot
GREENWICH – Romeo Dallaire wants us to consider the meaning of humanity.
Citing an example from his time in Rwanda as Head of United Nations troops in during the 1994 genocide, the former senator shared his belief humans from all continents are equal when speaking Oct. 21 at Horton High School.
Dallaire described stopping a convoy to pick up a little boy, about seven years old, standing not far from a pile of massacred bodies. His stomach was bloated, he was dressed in tatters and filthy dirty, but, looking into the boys’ eyes, Dallaire found they were identical to the eyes of his own seven-year-old son back home.
In Greenwich, he began his speech to more than 500 people by talking about rape. Dallaire said not every child soldier carries a gun.
“It’s from porters to carrying ammunition, to carrying water to ultimately being sex slaves and bush wives,” he said.
Dallaire’s consuming passion these days is fighting the use of children as weapons of war.
These are not the patriotic 16-year-olds who lied about their age to join the army in World War II, he pointed out. These are children, often in refugee camps without schooling, who find themselves recruited by adults into cheap, plentiful soldiers.
Why do we respond to amber alerts for missing children when the world is full of amber alert? he asked.
Warfare today, he said, cannot be sustained if a conflict employs only adult soldiers. Some 50 groups in seven countries are employing child soldiers,” Dallaire said.
“We are stumbling into a new era,” he said. The Geneva Convention world of the Cold War has turned into an era of internal wars and terrorist actions perpetrated by individuals who have no humanitarian considerations, he said.
Is it any wonder, he said, that post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is on the rise among military personnel who have endured such conditions ?
Dallaire saw this for himself in Rwanda, where Hutu plans to eradicate the Tutsis were drawn up by soldiers but executed by youth. They killed more than 800,000 in the 100 days of the genocide, he said.
Another powerful story Dallaire recalled, concerned a Canadian unit in Rwanda of men no more than 18 to 20 years of age. They came upon a pile of the bodies of women and girls who had been raped, mutilated and massacred. The soldiers realized that a few remained alive.
They probably would have died anyway, Dallaire said, and – with a 30 per cent risk of contracting the HIV virus – even attempting to ease their pain was dangerous. Nevertheless, while their leaders debated, the soldiers instinctively reached out to offer what comfort they could to the dying women.
Prevention seems the wisest course to solve the problem of child soldiers, Dallarie said.
Supporting education is imperative, Dallaire added, and all actions must be undertaken with an attitude of respect.
“When I look at the younger generation in across our country, I see they’re already global. They have already mastered that technology,” he said.
Go start a non-governmental organization, Dallaire told his youthful audience, then describing a visit he had from three members of Clowns Without Borders, an NGO that works in refugee camps to teach children to laugh and have hope.
Dallaire put PTSD on the map. During the genocide, he refused to flee, placing the lives of 32,000 people foremost. He acknowledged his many years of psychiatric treatment, attempted suicide and said what nurtures him is reaching out to a “generation without borders, the under 25-year-olds who are engaged in in the world.
“I want to nurture the belief in human rights. We’re all equal.”
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative, which will receive the proceeds from Dallaire’s talk, works with Dalhousie University to battle the abuse of human beings.
Film critics are enthralled by Idris Elba’s new film, Beasts of No Nation, which gives a vivid account of the life of child soldiers. But those who work in the field are not so thrilled
By: Harriet Alexander
It wasn’t the 14-year-old’s capacity to kill which most depressed the Lieutenant-General. Not was it the harrowing scenes of senseless violence, with children used by warlords as weapons of war, killing their kin to order.
What most saddened him was that he had seen it all before.
“It was the classic scenario of a failing nation – an imploding state,” he said, talking about the Idris Elba-led film Beasts of No Nation, which is released on Friday. “But it just felt a bit simplistic.”
And Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire knows more than most about child soldiers. And real life collapsing states.
The Canadian senator, now 69, was commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1994 – and his inability to secure UN intervention to stop the genocide which killed 800,000 people has haunted him ever since. He was medically discharged from the army with PTSD and in 2007 he launched The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, with a mission to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide.
And so, last month, the retired soldier was invited to attend a Toronto Film Festival screening of the film, which tells a story so close to his heart.
“It’s the classic Blood Diamond story of disaster in Africa,” he said, having seen the film. “But it doesn’t give an analysis of the situation. There was a lot missing.”
It is however, he willingly admits, a gripping tale.
Directed by Cary Fukunaga, whose previous work includes Jane Eyre, season one of True Detective, and intense Central American migrant drama Sin Nombre, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of Agu, the 14-year-old boy whose life is turned upside down when he loses his family in tribal violence, and is recruited to become a child soldier.
It is based on the 2005 book of the same name by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, and set in a nameless West African country.
“What drew me to it was the perspective; seeing it from a child’s point of view,” said Mandela star Elba, a Londoner whose mother Eve was born in Ghana. “The whole concept of child soldiers – people know about it, but not in detail.”
The film was shot on location in the jungles of Ghana during monsoon season, where Elba had to call in all the favours he had to find props and loan vehicles. Resources were scarce, floodwaters wreaked havoc with the sets, cars were ambushed and extras imprisoned. The director caught malaria and Elba fell off a cliff, only surviving by clinging onto a tree overhanging the waterfall.
The film is made by Netflix, which will for the first time show the movie in cinemas and offer it online. It is being seen as a watershed moment for the film industry, which could transform our attitudes towards cinemas and home viewing.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Elba, speaking at the film festival. “I’m so proud of what it’s done, and how it’s been received.”
He produced the film and dominates the screen as Commandant – the warlord who controls the boys. It is a role which is already generating Oscar buzz, and garnering rave reviews.
Even more talk has been of Abraham Attah, a first-time actor who was chosen to play the lead role at an open audition, and stars as Agu.
The critics have been falling over themselves to praise the vivid, intense and atmospheric drama.
Lt Gen Dallaire is somewhat more reserved, however.
“I’m not against the film,” he said. “Cinema is an extraordinary tool. But it really didn’t tell the whole story.”
So what is the whole story?
The charity War Child estimates that there are around 250,000 child soldiers worldwide – a child being under 18.
The assumption remains that it is an African problem, but Lt Gen Dallaire is at pains to point out that India, Colombia, Thailand and Burma are just some of the countries known to have problems with rebel groups using children.
“We were working in Sierra Leone, alongside some British soldiers,” he said. “And when they heard us deliver our training to the Sierra Leonean army on how to handle a situation involving child soldiers, one turned to me and said: ‘Where the hell were you when we were facing this in Afghanistan?’”
Military man that he is, Lt Gen Dallaire approaches the issue on several fronts: training troops in how to deal with children on the battlefield, carrying out research into the scale of the problem, and working to raise awareness of the fact that having children among your ranks is not an asset.
“You have to explain how to handle it,” he said, with classic military mentality. “If you attack them, you are committing a crime against a child. And if you turn and flee, you are not achieving your mission.”
This year he and his team have been working extensively in Uganda, training 20 generals and other senior military commanders in how to cope with child soldiers. They then returned, so that those they had trained could pass on the training to 100 more. Later this year they will travel to Ethiopia to rewrite the constitution of the African Union, as they did with Nato, to include measures for dealing with child combatants.
And he has recently returned from Jordan, where, he said, the refugee camps can become ripe recruiting grounds for Islamists to pluck child soldiers.
“I think there is a dearth of information in particular about Islamist extremists and the use of child soldiers,” he said. “People are edgy about bringing it to the floor. They worry about going into something so complex.”
But groups such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram were making extensive use of child soldiers, he said. And it is not something that Western forces can shrug off, saying it is something they will never come into contact with.
Photo: Netflix via AP
South Sudan – to where Britain is poised to send 300 peacekeepers – is one of the countries in which he works.
“I think the film could certainly have done more to show how most peacekeepers are really not trained,” he said. “That’s at the heart of our work.
“I think the film could have done more to show the indoctrination of the children, and the psychological battles. It needs to be more nuanced than just African kids with AK47s.”
Helen Morton, director of advocacy for War Child, agreed.
“Forty per cent of child soldiers are girls, and few films ever portray that,” she said. “Girls are combatants – and in growing numbers. They are forced to do things that are beyond even a child’s imagination, and often recruited as sex slaves.”
Just a few weeks ago, 163 child soldiers were released in the Central African Republic, she said, and War Child is working to reintegrate them, and a further 3,000, back into their communities.
The UN is making real progress on the issue, she said, but more must be done.
“If the film shines a light on the issue then it’s certainly useful. But it’s important that audiences realise it’s not fiction – it’s fact. And as horrifying as some of the scenes are, they are more muted than the reality facing 250,000 child soldiers on a daily basis.”
Has any film ever got it right?
He paused. “American Sniper was getting there,” said Lt Gen Dallaire. “It did deal with the dilemmas of children becoming Islamist extremists. But there was no mention of how the kids were indoctrinated and nurtured over years.
“There’s a good film called Hyena Road, set in Afghanistan, which does well. And documentaries are getting there. People tend to forget that it is through the recruitment of child soldiers that conflict itself is sustained.
“But look – it is crucial to talk about genocide prevention, and mass atrocities. So regardless of my concerns, I do think people should go and see it.”