Change Maker: Romeo Dallaire
by The Nommz on March 31, 2015 - 12:19am
The U.N has always been seen as a method to which Canadians can get involved in international issues. In 1995 there were over 5000 Canadian service men and women carrying out U.N missions over seas, now there are less than 200. The reasons for Canada’s neglect on the role of Peacekeeping are in part due to the failures of previous operations which harmed Canadian faith in the ideals of peacekeeping. One such operation was the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which the majority Hutus 81% of the population began slaughtering the minority Tutsi (14%). The conflict which left 800,000 Tutsi women, children, and men dead would become one of the most notorious moments in the modern age. The events in Rwanda also changed the focus of individuals, one such individual is Romeo Dallaire the former lieutenant General responsible for the oversight of the U.N operation in Rwanda. Born in the Netherlands on June 25th 1946 to Staff Sergeant Roméo Louis Dallaire and Nurse Catherine Vermaessen , Romeo Dallaire grew up on stories of military bravery. Moving to Montreal with his family just after he born he enlisted in the Canadian military as a Cadet in 1963. He enrolled in the Le Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sciences in 1969 he was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. Dallaire continued to hone his military craft throughout the years by attending the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College, the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the British Higher Command and Staff Course. Appointed to command U.N troops in Rwanda in 1993, Romeo Dallaire stood witness to the 1994, 100 day genocide which claimed so many. His role as Commander of U.N forces during the Rwandan Genocide is what defined Dallaires stance on peace keeping, and western nation’s roles in it.
Rwanda has a troubled past, lined with ethnic tensions between the Tutsi’s and Hutus stretching back centuries. Resentment for each other only grew when in 1916 the colonial ambitions of the Dutch Elevated the Tutsi’s to a higher status than their Hutu neighbors. For decades the Tutsi population of Rwanda received better services gradually enraging the Hutu Population more and more. Ethnic tensions reached a boiling point in 1959 when 20,000 Tutsi’s were killed, and many others fleeing to neighboring African countries. In 1962 when Belgium began to decolonize the region of Rwanda and began to relinquish power to the Hutu majority, the Tutsi population began to become a reason for any and all crisis’s the newly liberated Rwanda began to face. As the economic situation within the country continued to worsen, so did the tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the tensions exploded into violence when the plane of Hutu president “Juvenal Habyarimana” was shot down on April 24th 1994. The shooting down of the Plane was blamed on the “Rwandan Patriotic Front” (RPF) a primarily Tutsi group, and as such spurred the rage of many Hutu militias and citizens causing the 100 day slaughter of Tutsis throughout the country. In his book “Shake Hands with the Devil” Dallaire chronicles the events of his role as Commander of the U.N forces in Rwanda.
Initially his role was to monitor the Peace deal between the (RPF) and the Rwandan Government, however he always knew that this peace was only for show. He saw Hutu extremist stockpiling weapons, and Tutsi refugees were banding together to form militia groups intent on overthrowing the government of Rwanda. Dallaire found out through informants that the government was planning a extermination of Tutsis on January 20th 1994 "They were going to conduct an outright slaughter and elimination of the opposition” said Dallaire while speaking CNN's Christiane Amanpour for "Scream Bloody Murder." As the plane of President Habyarimana was shot down the Hutu government had their reason to begin their slaughter. With his mandate limited to observing the peace between the warring factions, Dallaire’s forces were underequipped and outmanned to handle the task of preventing a genocide. Dallaire desperately tried hailing contacts from the U.N in New York requesting aid and tried to extend his mandate to prevent furthering the slaughter, his aid never came. After the fourth week of the killings the U.N. Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Gali called the mission in Rwanda hopeless and ordered the withdraw of U.N troops within the region. Romeo Dallaire refused the order saying "I refused a legal order but it was immoral." Under his command his troops remained in the region saving 32,000 refugees from the slaughter. He always believed that he could have saved many more, if only the U.N council of nations had given him the proper resources required to counter the efforts of the Hutu extremist.
This event in human history profoundly changed Romeo Dallaire’s view on what needs to be done, he states “this new century must become the Century of Humanity, when we as human beings rise above race, creed, colour, religion, and national self-interest and put the good of humanity above the good of our own tribe. For the sake of the children and our future.” After being released from the Canadian forces in 2000 for P.T.S.D he became an advocate for veterans, and began calling for the elimination of child soldier’s worldwide. His books “Shake Hands with the Devil” and recently “They Fight Like Soldiers; They Die Like Children” have brought up important issues of how we should balance our own national interest with our moral obligation to prevent cruelty around the world. Romeo Dallaire founded the Child soldier initiative aimed at the elimination of children as weapons of war, and bringing the issue to the eyes of the public. Romeo Dallaire has become a figure head for what it means to be peace keeper, he sheds light on events that happened during the trying moments the Rwandan Genocide and presents the standard of what efforts should be made to make the U.N a proper agent of peace around the world. His views and efforts should serve as an inspiration to those seeking to eliminate the prospect of war from this world, and ultimately elevate Humanity into a new age of prosperity, understanding, and compassion.