How to teach children about child soldiers

Michel Chikwanine’s real-life graphic story is aimed at middle-school readers

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By: Brian Bethune

Michel Chikwanine is 27 now, a student in the University of Toronto’s African studies program. He’s smart, engaging, charismatic, even. His present-day life makes his past path here even more unfathomable. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, five-year-old Chikwanine was playing soccer with his best friend, Kevin, and other children when rebel soldiers kidnapped them. As depicted in a real-life graphic story aimed at middle-school readers, a rebel cut open Michel’s arm and inserted Brown Brown—a mix of cocaine and gunpowder—into the wound. Blindfolded and reeling from the drug, he was initiated into the life of a child soldier by being forced to shoot and kill Kevin.

Although Michel soon escaped and miraculously made his way home, the violence of the Great War of Africa—a wide-ranging conflict that killed six million people between 1998 and 2003—eventually followed him there. At age 10, beaten, sliced across the cheek and held immobile, he watched as soldiers raped his mother and sisters. Later, when the entire family was together in a Ugandan refugee camp, his father, a vocal human-rights advocate, was murdered. It was only then that Michel, his mother and youngest sister were fast-tracked as refugees to Canada. His older sisters, as adults, had to apply on their own. One disappeared, never to be seen again. The other did make it to Canada, bringing six children, her own and her sister’s.

Michel was 16 when he arrived in Canada, into cold he’d never dreamed of—Ottawa in January—and into a teenage milieu even more disorienting, where the biggest source of adolescent angst seemed to be having the wrong cellphone. “In my head, I was thinking first, ‘I want that phone, because I can’t afford it,’ ” Chikwanine wryly recalls in an interview. “And two, the girl complaining about the colour of her model didn’t know her cellphone was causing the war in the Congo, a war over minerals. That’s when I realized people need to know what’s causing conflict and atrocities across the world. They have no idea what being a refugee means. It means you’re a nobody—because you have no papers, you have no say in your life.”

It was easier said than done, of course, for a traumatized Chikwanine to recall his painful story for Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, one of Kids Can Press’s CitizenKid books. The opportunity to do so arose when retired general and ex-senator Roméo Dallaire, now a full-time advocate for child soldiers, was unable to find the time to write such a book himself.

Dallaire and Chikwanine, two survivors of the dark places, physical and psychological, evoked by Child Soldier, have a high regard for one another. Michel’s “lived experience, coupled with his powerful advocacy work, makes him a critical member” of the advisory council for Dallaire’s Child Soldiers Initiative, says the former general, while Chikwanine simply calls Dallaire “one of my greatest heroes.” On Oct. 6, when Michel formally launches his book at the Toronto Reference Library, Dallaire will introduce him.

Chikwanine had to sit down with co-author Jessica Dee Humphreys and, “day after day, go through my feelings back then,” then do it all over again with illustrator Claudia Davila. He’s rightly proud of the results. “Claudia portrayed the emotions that came out in a way younger children can take in.” Rather than depicting violence, Davila uses a palette that darkens when horrible events near, and a perspective that is always that of tiny Michel looking up at his larger tormentors.

Humphreys and Davila together handle the sexual assault at the Chikwanine home with an age-appropriate sensitivity. Chikwanine, though, is particularly pleased with the treatment of the years between the kidnapping and the attack on his family, the years of his “stripped-away” childhood. “Claudia does an incredible job of portraying my attempts to be a normal child again. I couldn’t play, I couldn’t pretend. I thought about Kevin every night.” Whatever children make of the rest of Michel’s story, that sadness will remain with them.


Roméo Dallaire says ISIS recruiting child soldiers younger

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By: CBC News

A retired Canadian Armed Forces lieutenant-general and humanitarian is in Halifax to talk about the dangers of child soldier recruitment near war-torn Syria.

Roméo Dallaire, who is also the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative and a former Liberal senator, recently returned from visiting Syrian refugee camps on the Jordanian border.

“It’s hot — 42, 45 degrees — desolate. There’s 85,000 people squished into an area with no water, only what’s brought in. There’s next to nothing to do except sit there and waste away,” Dallaire told CBC’s Information Morning.

He said it’s a particularly difficult situation for young people.

“The fight in Syria, as in Iraq, has continued to the extent that now they’re not only recruiting child soldiers — as they’ve been from the start, including ISIS and so on — but they’re recruiting them younger,” said Dallaire.

“Trying to talk to young people who have absolutely no hope, no school, just aimlessly waiting in very difficult living conditions … when people get through to them and say, ‘You might as well cross the border and come and fight.’ Even 13-year-olds are attracted by that.”

Making refugees wait against one’s ‘sense of humanity’

Dallaire said Canada could accept between 80,000 and 90,000 refugees over the next six months.

“We’re one of the 11 most powerful nations in the world and we’ve got 12 million people out there — Jordan has 1.3 million refugees. Sweden … is taking on 100,000. We’re getting stories about taking on 11,000 Syrian and Iraqi [refugees] … over four years, Dallaire said.

Roméo Dallaire was at the Jordanian-Syrian border in July, hoping to prevent Syrian children from being recruited as child soldiers. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

“Just the mere fact of saying four years, that means we actually want people to sit in a refugee camp for three years, at least. … That, in itself, is against your sense of humanity, your sense of giving people hope.”

Military bases in Canada are equipped to act as a staging area to get people out of refugee camps, said Dallaire. .

“This conflict, because we haven’t engaged as we should have four years ago … with boots on the ground, supporting the regional capabilities — we have a civil war that’s degenerated into the most catastrophic type.”

Dallaire also said most of the Syrian people displaced are in the middle class and bring “significant assets,” to whatever country accepts them.

“We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada,” Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said.

However, Dallaire said that concern should not prevent Canada from acting now.

“We brought in nearly 25,000 Iraqis and nobody was screaming from the rooftops that this was going to be a security problem,” he said.

Canada able to ‘fly the whole damn lot of them out’

He said Canada is equipped to assess any potential risks of people coming into this country as refugees.

“There is a risk of that but we do have capabilities here in this country to discern this. We’ve been spending billions building up the public safety capability. I certainly wouldn’t want to be an ISIS infiltrator among that population and be found out,” he said.

“One of the camps we went to, where there are 85,000 of them. They’re all documented … and we could go there with a bunch of trucks, load ’em up, bring them to the airport in Oman and we’ve got the aircraft to fly the whole damn lot of them out within a reasonable time.”

He said there’s infrastructure capacity on the Canadian military bases to accept that volume of people.

“It’s getting at the kids to stop these conflicts, which is the critical path, not just families but the young people. Stop them from being used as weapons of war and stop them from being disenfranchised to sustain these wars,” said Dallaire.

Dallaire will speak at a Dalhousie University’s lecture “Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers,” Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Dalhousie Arts Centre.

Dallaire: Canada must do more to help Syrian children

Former senator says country could take 90,000 displaced persons

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By: Clare Mellor

Romeo Dallaire has seen first-hand the desperation of Syrian children living in refugee camps.

“They can’t get to school. They are sitting around in the middle of a hot desert with (nothing) whatsoever, ” said the retired lieutenant-general and former senator, who was in Jordan in July and visited refugee camps along the Syria border.

“The young people are totally disenfranchised. It is not surprising that they are being easily recruited by the Free Syrian Army to go and fight.”

Dallaire, who will be in Halifax this week, has recently said that Canada has the capacity to take as many as 90,000 Syrian refugees. He reiterated those numbers in an interview with The Chronicle Herald on Friday.

“We ought to be talking in the numbers of 80,000 to 90,000, ” he said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

Dallaire, who was the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force during the Rwandan genocide, said the Syrian conflict reminds him of Rwanda, with millions of people being displaced and children being exposed to horrors of war.

“I’m brought back to Rwanda,” he said. “I see an abandonment of those people, particularly the abandonment of the children.

“It has been quite difficult to watch because when we’ve experienced things like that, we feel it. It is not just watching it.”

Dallaire, founder of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Dalhousie University, and Stephen Lewis, co-director of AIDS Free World, will be speaking about child soldiers and sexual violence as weapons of war at a sold-out event Thursday at Dal.

“Child soldiers, right now, are the primary weapon system used by all sides in Syria, as they are being used in Iraq the same,” Dallaire said.

“What is getting worse is that they are recruiting them younger and younger.”

Syria was a well-educated, middle-class society, and its citizens have many skills to offer, however, a whole generation will soon be lost, Dallaire said.

He has spoken with young Syrians, some of whom have now spent three years in camps with precarious living conditions.

“Young people are seeing their their lives go by,” he said. “They are not getting the skills they need.

“We seem to be quite prepared to let people rot away in camps or, if they are able to get through, give them such a horrible, hard time in trying to find safety and a place to live.

Dallaire said Canada has an important history of helping refugees and the government should not be using security concerns as an excuse not to act.

Canada needs to act immediately and could utilize military bases to temporarily house arriving refugees, he said.

“We’ve got enough strategic lift to move thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “We’ve got a great capability in moving populations, so we can get them out (of camps) soon. So I’m talking six months, seven months, at most,” he said.

Dallaire spoke about the recent outpouring of concern for refugees following the circulation of the image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, who drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach after his family fled Syria.

“They were killing and slaughtering thousands and thousands of children in the fighting and in the mutilations and mass atrocities in Syria, well before that one child,” Dallaire said. “Where were we? Where was the media? Where was everybody. This has been going on for four years.”

Dallaire: Syrian crisis repeat of Rwandan mass slaughter

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By Michael Knigge

The head of the ill-fated UN peacekeeping force that couldn’t prevent the Rwandan genocide, Romeo Dallaire, tells DW why Syria’s crisis is reminiscent of events back then. He also explains what Germany has done right.

DW: Does the continuing carnage in Syria which has led to the exodus of millions of people and the international community’s reaction remind you of what happened in Rwanda 21 years ago?

Romeo Dallaire: What reminds me is not only the scale – I ended up with more than 4 million people, refugees and internally displaced persons in less than 100 days – but also in the incredible apathy we have had from the internationally community apart from pure survival and humanitarian efforts in the periphery. So it was like a repeat performance in a way.

What do you make of the fact that Bavaria’s capital Munich alone has taken in more Syrian refugees in one week than the United States and Canada have pledged to accept over the next few years?

There is a paranoia which we have seen governments successfully instill in our societies in regard to the Muslim community. And it is coming so much to the fore as in previous atrocities and movements of mass populations where it wasn’t the case of Muslims we have seen extraordinary efforts done by governments to ease the trauma and to assist these people. But because of the last years and what we seem to perceive as overriding security factors we have completely subjugated the human dimension to that even though the threat is to be proven within those refugees. I would not like to be an ISIS person caught up among Syrian refugees. I truly don’t think that would be a safe place to be.

What’s your reaction then to the stance of countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden, who are exceptions and have taken in large numbers of Syrian refugees?

I think they have done a much more realistic assessment of the situation. Of course one could argue that these are still drops in the bucket when you consider that we are talking about 12 million people. But it is absolutely incredible that only a few countries have recognized that the Syrian population is an educated middle-class population. These are assets to our nations. Yes, there is a transitional period, but that transition can be supported by governments and with community structures. But that is a temporary set of circumstances. These people can become effective members of our society. So I think they have got it right and we have got it dead wrong.

How many Syrian refugees should Canada and the US accept?

We have been bouncing around a lot of different numbers. My comment is I don’t know what the upper limit can be because we have not done a real assessment of what we can absorb and how much we really want to commit to this humanitarian crisis. We are talking about millions of people and a nation like ours of 35 million people with an incredible infrastructure and a desire for growth. So it is moot to put limits on these numbers. It is far more sensible to say ‘yes we want them to come in’, phase it in and then see when this thing ends. That makes more sense than to say 11,000 in four years and that’s it, even if the number of Syrians displaced keeps growing.

The current US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, long before she joined the Obama administration not only wrote the landmark book on the Rwanda genocide, but also the foreword to “Handshake with the Devil”, your own account of what happened there. Are you satisfied with her response to the Syrian crisis?

To be quite honest, I haven’t seen it. What has her response been? All I have seen is the American position that has come out of the White House and the internal strife that is going in the United States in regard to the whole election process. It’s as if they have cut themselves off from this problem. So I don’t know what her position is specifically .

Taking in refugees is one thing, but that does not solve the underlying Syrian conflict. What should be done to end the civil war in Syria?

We are four years too late to try to bring it under control as we could have as it started under the auspices of the responsibility to protect and the argument of the massive abuses of human rights by the Assad regime. We could have intervened then in a way of protecting the population which means very clearly that it is not just air power and no-fly zones, but it means boots on the ground by regional capabilities first and reinforcing them by training and equipping them and in extremis – if they want reinforcements under Chapter 8 – then we provide boots by training, logistics or even forward troops. That is what we could have done and it would have taken reasonable numbers, 10,000 to 20,000 troops to implement that.

Now four years later with these forces completely intertwined, with the scale of weaponry and the number of fighters amongst millions of refugees that are caught in the middle of this fire, we have a catastrophic breakdown of a region. So my position is that the region must come in to implement a process of assistance on the ground to stabilize Syria in a very progressive way. That does mean training up the regional powers, giving them capabilities and, if necessary, providing certain assets, including ultimately – if they want and support it – troops on the ground.

Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian lieutenant-general, was commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda (UNAMIR) between 1993 and 1994 where he witnessed the country descend into chaos and genocide, leading to the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans. He also served as a Canadian senator from 2004 to 2014 and is the founder of The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.

Voices for global change

Fighting injustice, abuse and inequality is often part of the democratic experience. And one of the many things that unite Canadian humanitarians LGen Roméo Dalliare, (Ret.) and Stephen Lewis is a passion to advance human rights by protecting those who can’t protect themselves.

Next Thursday, September 24, Dalhousie will welcome LGen Dallaire and Lewis to campus for a special event hosted by the Roméo Dalliare Child Soldiers Initiative, which is housed within Dalhousie’s Department of Political Science. The event, “Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers,” will feature conversation between the two advocates about two important global issues and their connections with armed conflicts around the globe. Halifax MP Megan Leslie will serve as moderator.

“It is our hope that this lecture creates critical dialogue in our community on two issues that plague vulnerable people in conflict zones around the world,” says Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Dallaire Initiative. “When like minds such as General Dallaire and Stephen Lewis, share their insights on global issues it can inspire people, change misconceptions and compel people to act towards change.”

Modern weapons of war

Sexual violence against children and the recruitment and use of child soldiers are heinous abuses that are two of the Six Grave Violations against children in armed conflict that was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1612, a monitoring and reporting mechanism.

Sexual violence in armed conflict is widespread, and distressingly strategic: it’s a systematic tool of war that affects girls, boys, women and men. Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, and forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group. In situations like the Rwandan genocide and ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this has gone so far to include “willful” transmission of HIV, causing devastating long-term security and humanitarian issues in post-conflict societies.

At the same time, 2014 was the worst year ever for the world’s children, as documented by UNICEF. A recent report published by the U.N. Human Rights estimated 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the State of Palestine, Syria and Ukraine — including those internally displaced or living as refugees. And UNICEF reported that 2.3 million children are affected by the conflict and up to 10,000 children are believed to have been recruited by armed groups during 2014.

Coming together for change

Both Lewis and LGen Dalliare have started namesake initiatives that employ straightforward approaches to advocacy — influencing political, strategic, and legal bodies — and often critically address the international communities’ passivity in its response to the plights of vulnerable populations, and sometimes failure to avert and/or cope with crisis.

Since 2003, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has funded over 1100 initiatives, partnering with over 300 community-based organizations in the 15 countries that have been hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative began in 2007 as a global partnership committed to ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide, and today delivers tactical, prevention-oriented training to security sector actors to promote broader security sector reform. And L.Gen Dallaire and Lewis recently teamed up with the Code Blue campaign, an effort against immunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers who commit human rights violations committed repeatedly by people paid by the UN to come to the aid of civilians in distress.

“It is my strong belief that we have a moral obligation to protect children around the world from heinous acts of violence,” says Dr. Whitman (above). “It is entirely possible that we can do more to put children at the top of the peace and security agenda and the progress I have seen with the Initiative gaining new partners and momentum over the last few years gives me great hope.”

“Weapons of War: A Lecture with Stephen Lewis and L.Gen Roméo Dallaire” takes place Thursday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in the Dalhousie Arts Centre’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Tickets are $36 ($24.50 for students) and are available from the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office.

Roméo Dallaire says Canada could take 90,000 Syrian refugees

Syrians would be ‘an incredible asset’ to Canada, says former UN commander and retired senator

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By: Jennifer Chevalier, CBC News

Retired lieutenant-general and former senator Roméo Dallaire says Canada has the capacity to take in between 80,000 and 90,000 Syrian refugees, and he dismisses security concerns over accepting them as a “smokescreen.”

Reacting to former chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier’s push for 50,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas, Dallaire said Hillier was “dead on,” but his figures were “at the bottom end of the requirement.”

Dallaire told CBC’s Power & Politics that Syria was a well-educated, middle class society and its citizens would make a contribution to Canada.

“They will be an incredible asset, as the Vietnamese were and the Hungarians,” he said. “And if you want to talk 80,000 to 90,000, we can handle that capacity.”

Security issues a ‘smokescreen’

All political parties have pledged to bring in more refugees, but the Conservatives have said they are concerned about the security risk of bringing over Syrians without proper screening.

“We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada,” Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said last week.

But Dallaire expressed concern that the issue of security was now becoming a “smokescreen” to do nothing. He said Canada has already taken in more than 20,000 Iraqis, and said, “I don’t remember people falling all over each other about security. And all of a sudden because they are Syrians — security has become a dominant [theme]?”

The government had already pledged to bring in 10,000 more Syrian and Iraqi refugees by 2017. Dallaire is skeptical about how many of those will be from Syria, rather than Iraq.

“The question is how many Syrians … are going to be part of that exercise. We could go right into those refugee camps and start pulling them out. They are all registered.”

Boots on the ground

Asked by Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton about the military campaign, Dallaire said the American-led coalition should have used ground troops in from the start.

“We should have been there with boots on the ground, reinforcing local capacity in order to make an effective protection.”

Airstrikes, he said, provide limited risks, but also limited results. “Dropping 500-pound bombs on a truck with a couple of guys in it is not what I call an effective use of force.”

Dallaire was the commander of the UN force during the Rwandan genocide. He was appointed as a Liberal senator in 2005, but resigned last year to spend time on his initiative for child soldiers. Dallaire recently returned from visiting a refugee camp in Jordan, where he says he saw first-hand the frustration of teenage refugees.

“You should have seen those 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds … sitting there and they know that their future is screwed. They know they have nowhere to go … they can’t get schooling. They won’t have enough money to even build a family.”

Child soldiers fighting in Syria

That frustration is leading to recruitment. The war in Syria has become more complicated, Dallaire said, because all sides are using child soldiers. “They are young kids and they are using them younger … and they are using them indiscriminately,” he said.

Dallaire made reference to the tragic image of Alan Kurdi on the Turkish beach, saying it was a “horrible thing,” but that children have been dying since the civil war began four years ago.

“They have been killing kids by the thousands and thousands for years, and I [didn’t] hear anybody screaming,” he said.

“It sort of reminded me of Rwanda before the genocide,” Dallaire said. “Nobody even wanted to answer the phone.”

Genocide Prevention Seminar Takes Place in Ottawa

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uOttawa hosts 3rd Professional Training Program on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities

By: Paul Molpeceres

A Concordia-based research institute held a three-day seminar on genocide prevention geared towards professionals, diplomats, students and the military last week.

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) gave presentations on topics ranging from violence prevention technology, such as aerial drones and translation apps, to the child soldier crisis in Africa, to the mass atrocity crimes committed in Darfur and Syria.

Kyle Matthews, deputy director at the institute, led the training program with the likes of Roméo Dallaire, former force commander for the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the 1993 genocide and Amy Pate of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Day one included presentations from Dallaire and Shelly Whitman, an expert on child soldiers with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

That evening, participants were invited to the home of the Swedish ambassador to Canada for a speech by Parliament Hill genocide prevention advocate and former Attorney General of Canada, Irwin Cotler.

“It is our duty to fight this heinous crime against humanity that is taking place as we speak—dare we utter its name,” said Cotler. “On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the fight against genocide has never been more urgent.”

On day two, Walter Dorn, scientist and professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, gave an emotional account of his experiences as a UN electoral officer in East Timor during the country’s 1999 referendum.

At the height of the reign of terror, the UN officials in Dili, East Timor, signed a declaration that they would not accept evacuation unless all the Timorese who had sought refuge in their mission headquarters were also allowed to leave. The UN relented and flew out some 1,500 Timorese people to safety in Australia, a first in UN history.

When asked what he thought about the training program at its conclusion, Dorn replied, “It was excellent. It gave a good introductory overview as well as depth on some issues.”

Dorn was asked what he’d like to see done in Ottawa on the issue of genocide prevention.

“I’d like to see the government sign the Arms Trade Treaty and have parliament ratify it,” he said. “That would help move Canada into the norms of civilized regulation of weaponry that can be used to violate human rights.”

Following Dorn’s presentation, Amy Pate of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland gave a presentation on Boko Haram, followed by a group exercise serving to encourage collective thinking through participant interaction.

Pate spoke about a troubling shift in thinking on the part of today’s most active terrorist factions.

“The old adage that terrorist groups don’t want body counts, they want media counts, is shifting,” said Pate on the recent mass killings by Boko Haram and ISIS.

The consensus over the course of the training program was that the Canadian government is not nearly active enough in the fight against genocide.

Noah Schouela, a student at the University of Toronto and an intern at MIGS, said the three-day experience was useful for the people he met.

“What I really gained from helping to put on this seminar was taking part in the conversations that were had among the participants,” he said.

“I left the conference hopeful that based on our diverging perspectives and what was discussed among us, there is hope for the future.”

Event coordinator Kyle Matthews was pleased with the result at the culmination of the three-day seminar.

“It exceeded my expectations in that we gained the support of numerous Canadian members of parliament and the Swedish Embassy to Canada,” he added.

The MIGS team is already looking ahead to next year’s training program.

“Next year I would love to find an international partner to hold something similar outside of Canada,” said Matthews.