Moral imperative: Romeo Dallaire addresses sold-out Annapolis Valley crowd

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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.

Taking action

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.

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