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.