Guest speaker at the 35th Annual Watts Lecture at U of T Scarborough, Dallaire, a retired general who served as commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the genocide, and current senator, urged students to look beyond Canada’s borders to the problems of the less fortunate in the Third World.
“Get your boots dirty,” he said. “It is my personal opinion that the youth of this nation should have a rite of passage: that they have under their bed a pair of boots dirtied with the mud of countries in development.”
As commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994, Dallaire had requested additional troops and a more forceful mandate to intervene and prevent the genocide, but these were denied, with tragic results. Over the next four months, 700,000 minority Tutsis were slaughtered by ethnic Hutus, who also killed 100,000 of their own people for being too conciliatory toward Tutsis. Dallaire disobeyed orders from his political superiors not to place his peacekeepers in harm’s way, and concentrated his troops in areas in and around the capitalcity of Kigali where he knew Tutsis to be hiding.
“He was my boss, and this was a legal order,” he said, referring to his instructions from UN headquarters to withdraw. “Although it was legal, it was also immoral. Better to stand a court martial than add 30,000 more bodies” to the death toll. Dallaire said the international community’s failure to act in Rwanda, and subsequently in the Congo and Darfur, is unforgiveable: “the rest of humanity just watched and let it happen, actually let a planned genocide happen.”
He also criticized the UN’s decision to intervene in the former Yugoslavia, and not take stronger action in Rwanda. “How is it,” he asked, “that in 1994 I could barely keep 2,600 troops in Rwanda where more people were killed and raped than in six years in Yugoslavia? Why did we go into Yugoslavia and pull out of Rwanda? Are all humans human, or are some more human than others?” Dallaire described his experience in Rwanda in the award-winning 2003 book, Shake Hands With the Devil: the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, made into a movie of the same name.
His most recent book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, focuses on the conscription of child soldiers. At the end of the war in Rwanda, Dallaire recalled that a patrol under his command had found a group of Hutus taking refuge in a church when they were flanked by children armedwith AK-47s. “What does the sergeant do then?” Dallaire asked. “Keep in mind he only has milliseconds” to react. “Do you kill children who kill? Children who have been drugged up and indoctrinated. Is it the answer to kill them to protect the others?”
Dallaire argues students are uniquely suited to make a difference in the world, but that they should pay greater attention to the developing world. Abandon your plans for a Euro trip, Dallaire advises, and spend time in an underdeveloped country to get a sense of the problems afflicting humanity. “Don’t go to Paris or London, go to Kinshasa, parts of South America, so you can see, hear, feel what is going on to 80% of humanity, and bring it back here.”
Dallaire encouraged students to join non-governmental organizations, or even to create their own like Marily Ize-Dutuze, a student born in Burundi who broke down in tears thanking Dallaire for work in Rwanda. Ize-Dutuze, a York student who lost several family members in the genocide, founded Green Hope for Children, a non-profit agency that aids child victims of war.
Speaking to the newspaper after his lecture, Dallaire criticized the Harper government’s foreign policy. In Libya, he said, Canadian policy has been “late, inept, and hedging its bets.” He also rebuked the government for failing to win a seat on the UN Security Council last October. Canada could have used this seat to act as a bridge between the great powers and the developing world.