|Romeo Dallaire, Force Commander for UNAMIR (Google Images, collaged by Steph L.)|
"My story is not a strictly military account nor a clinical, academic study of the breakdown of Rwanda. It is not a simplistic indictment of the many failures of the UN as a force for peace in the world. It is not a story of heroes and villains, although such a work could easily be written. This book is a cri de coeur for the slaughtered thousands, a tribute to the souls hacked apart by machetes because of their supposed difference from those who sought to hang on to power. . . . This book is the account of a few humans who were entrusted with the role of helping others taste the fruits of peace. Instead, we watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect."
-- Romeo Alain Dallaire,
Shake Hands With The Devil : The Failure Of Humanity in Rwanda
Romeo Alain Dallaire has inspired many in their efforts in humanitarianism. A celebrated humanitarian himself, Dallaire's work has affected millions. His work with the United Nations and UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission In Rwanda) during the Rwandan Genocide, countless efforts to help those struggling with the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, and his efforts with the rescue and rehabilitation of child soldiers across Africa are more than admirable.
He is a Canadian Senator, a Special Advisor to the Canadian Government on War Affected Children, a member of countless international agencies against child labour and child soldiers, a fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, and he endorses the Genocide Intervention Network.
He is an officer of the Order of Canada and an officer of the Legion of Merit of the United States, and he is an Honourary Doctor of Laws, as well as an Honourary Doctor of Humanities. He has received the 25th Pearson Peace Medal and the Aegis Trust Award.
But behind these achievements, is a life story just as vast and colourful.
Born on June 25, 1946 in Denekamp, The Netherlands, to Romeo Louis Dallaire and Catherine Vermaessen, Romeo moved to Montreal, Quebec at six months of age. In 1964, he enrolled in the Canadian Army and attended Le College Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean. In 1969 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Royal Military College of Canada. He was then commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery.
He has attended 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.
While he was in the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery he learned that he was not a Canadian citizen. To be deployed with the troops, he had to obtain citizenship quickly, which he did.
After commanding the 5e Regiment Artillerie Legere Du Canada( 5th Regiment of Canadian Light Artillery), he was promoted to the position of Brigadier-General, and commanded the 5th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group and was Commandant of Le College Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean.
Until the fateful day he was commissioned to be the Force Commander of UNAMIR
(United Nations Assistance Mission In Rwanda), and the most major, disturbing and horrific times of his life were about to begin.
When Dallaire received his commission from UNAMIR, Rwanda had just come out of a civil war waged between two very different tribes, a group of Tutsi rebels and a portion of the Hutu tribe known as the Hutu Extremists. The Hutu Extremists relied on the Rwandan army and the president at the time, Juvenal Habyarimana, during the civil war, and would execute any Tutsi or Hutu moderate found in Rwanda (the Hutu moderates were the part of the Hutu tribe who felt that what the extremists were doing was wrong).
The civil war ended when a set of laws, called the Arusha Accords, were set in place so that the Tutsis could be re-integrated back into the Hutu government and Rwanda, and UNAMIR was sent to Rwanda to enforce the Arusha Accords.
However, when Dallaire arrived the country seemed in any state but a peaceful one. For instance, on the 2nd of January, 1994, the Rwandan Armed Forces, also known as FAR, received an aircraft full of Israeli, Belgian, French, British, Egyptian and Dutch arms, ammunition and weapons. Since the weapons were ordered during the civil war, it was not in Dallaire's power to remove them from the FAR. Things became even more unsettling when employees of the government and citizens alike, were given identity cards, identifying them as Hutu or Tutsi, allowing the Hutus to know exactly which tribe a person came from, aiding them in the slaughter that was to come.
On the night of April 6, 1994, the president of Rwanda was assassinated, his plane systematically shot down. This major event began the slaughter of the Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Dallaire ordered ten of the Belgian soldiers to protect the prime minister, Madame Agathe Uwilingiyimana. The Interhamwe, a Hutu militia, held the soldiers hostage and killed Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband. Dallaire was warned that the Belgian soldiers were to be killed, and the Belgian government removed their troops and evacuated the Europeans.
Dallaire requested that the UN send 2,000 more soldiers to help end the killings that had only just begun. After many days of speculation, the UN resolved not to send those soldiers, but to withdraw enough men to leave Dallaire with the tiny force of 260 men.
After the removal of the Belgian soldiers, Dallaire focused on taking the 260 men left to him and setting up "safe areas" to protect the Tutsis and Hutu moderates from the Hutu extremists. Dallaire was not allowed to fight, he was told to observe and report, as thousands were slaughtered around him. By creating these safe areas, Dallaire saved over 200,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates alike.
After many weeks, deaths and press accounts, the UN resolved to launch UNAMIR II, and sent in 5,500 soldiers. UNAMIR II stormed Kigali, a major area held by the Hutu extremists, and the genocide was brought to an end, after the Rwandan Patriotic Force gained control on the 18th of July in 1994. By this time, there were between 800,000 and 1,171,000 Tutsis and Hutus dead.
After the genocide, Dallaire was severely affected, and became depressed. He still commanded many missions for the Canadian Armed Forces, but was released in April of 2000, after he was found to have post-traumatic stress disorder. On the 20th of June, 2000, he was found under a park bench in Hull, Quebec, and was rushed to the hospital, after he had slipped into a coma from the mixture of alcohol and anti-depressants. After the incident, Romeo Dallaire began to put his experiences into words and wrote a book, Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure Of Humanity In Rwanda. It was critically acclaimed and received many awards, including the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction.
Dallaire testified against Colonel Theoneste Bagosora at the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in January, 2004.
He was a fellow of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard from 2004-2005. He also received an Order of Canada and was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Paul Martin, in addition to his many other achievements.
Romeo Dallaire has inspired me in so many ways. I have resolved to be more globally conscious of my actions, and to help others as much as possible. He has taught me, through his actions, that I should be more critical of the information that is presented to me and to help those who need help, even if I don't know them.
On November 3, 2007, I attended the "Hope in the Balance" conference in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto. It featured many brilliant minds, including the wordsmith, Stephen Lewis, whose name I suspect you know, Marilyn McHarg (the Founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders), Stephanie Nolen (reporter for the Globe and Mail), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (an amazing African novelist), James Orbinski (the current Head of Médecins Sans Frontières), and my hero, the eloquent, comedic and passionate Romeo Dallaire, all of whom had come to speak about many things, including the atrocities occurring in Darfur, Sudan, the AIDS pandemic, child soldiers, and the state of Africa. It was amazing to hear Romeo Dallaire speak, as he was both passionate and funny, and his views were clear and concise. I enjoyed hearing him speak, and it expanded my views on child soldiers and the genocide in Rwanda, and the atrocities in Darfur, all of which, I believe, are disgusting acts and extreme violations of human rights. Dallaire deserves all of the recognition and acclaim that he has received; he is a truly amazing, person and, without a doubt, a hero.