In ironic fashion, Romeo Dallaire was reliving the events of Rwanda, only on a less costly human scale. Sent to the Senate to bring intellectual rigor and disciplined experience, he was increasingly abandoned by a government that delighted more in waging domestic war in political ridings than in enhancing Canada's human rights and diplomatic record on the world's stage. He called for resources; they didn't arrive. He sought meetings with political elites; they didn't transpire. And when he ultimately called the government to account for its abandonment of Canada's diplomatic expertise in the world, he was ultimately abandoned and isolated
For reasons which are amply documented and well-known, as a Senator Romeo Dallaire committed himself to the most serious of issues: prevention of genocide, Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD), child soldiers, conflict resolution and investigation into crimes against humanity. He is, in other words, a champion of causes that are for most politicians quagmires to be circumnavigated. The departure of Romeo Dallaire means that there will be one less serious, hard-working and principled member in the Upper Chamber.
In the annals of human evil, Rwanda's genocide takes a special place. With a kill rate of about six people a minute for more than three months, it's likely one of the fastest mass slaughters of humans in history. Most were hacked to death by machete, partly because the perpetrators found it cheaper than using bullets.
Snapshots of Nelson Mandela continue to swell the collective, global memory as deeply personal tributes pour onto the web. In the Canadian psyche too, is the imprint of a giant. It happens to be another man who made news this month: Roméo Dallaire, the retired Lieutenant-General who witnessed genocide in Rwanda.
When I read that Romeo Dallaire had been in a car accident on Parliament Hill just outside of East Block, I wondered if it was due to fatigue. I have never known him to be other than fully occupied and frequently exhausted in the course of his heavy schedule. Romeo has a lot more than just memories to fight. As he explained this week, he fights depression and remains medicated for PTSD. But he has turned his pain into a purpose, and in so doing he can get up every day.
This November we must also remember those child soldiers lost in battle. However, children rarely enter the conversation in this manner on Remembrance Day -- they are forgotten. The UN estimates that 250,000 children, boys and girls, are currently being used as child soldiers, we will never know how many of them have been killed or lost in battles.
General Romeo Dallaire was meeting with two child soldiers, Serge and Ajefi (age 16). Both had just escaped their armed rebel groups. Dallaire told them that during the Rwandan Genocide, "I faced one kid, who had an AK-47 stuffed nearly up my nose. And in his huge eyes, there was anger and horror and fear, and excitement."
Senator Romeo Dallaire is currently listed as a speaker at a conference being held by an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls "perhaps the single largest group of hard-core anti-Semites in North America." Other speakers at this event will include the president of the John Birch Society and a former professor who is slated "to explain satan's role in current human history." You don't have to agree with every position a group takes before agreeing to talk to them. But when a sitting senator is given high billing as a speaker to a divisive fringe group that was apparently too far right for William F. Buckley, there's reason to get riled up.
Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children humanizes the global struggle to end the use of children in armed conflict. Pushing aside the morass of international norms and NGO reports -- important and useful as they are -- Dallaire asks a simple yet harrowing question: how is it that we can go "apeshit" -- to use his word -- when our own children's rights are violated, but passively accept the reality of child soldiers throughout the world?
Roméo Dallaire declared: "I need a haircut." We had heard that just down the street was a barber shop where the young man cutting hair was a former child soldier. He turned in his weapons, trading a machete (or panga) for scissors, and learned a new trade: "I used to be forced to cut limbs; now I cut hair."
More than 250,000 children under 18 are involved in at least 17 conflicts around the world today. In 2008 Romeo Dallaire, now a Canadian Senator, founded the Child Soldiers Initiative to raise awareness, pressure world governments to take action, and train police and military forces from around the world to protect children and prevent them from being recruited as soldiers.
In 1999, as Médecins Sans Frontières' international president, Dr. Orbinski, accepted the award on behalf of MSF for its pioneering approach to medical humanitarianism, particularly for its approach to witnessing -- making the atrocities they observe known to the public. We got a chance to sit down with Dr. Orbinski.