In conversation with General Dallaire
Marie Visca - October 21, 2013
At this moment, there are more than 250,000 children worldwide participating in armed conflicts as soldiers. Some are kidnapped from their villages; others are recruited using tactics of fear. They are girls and boys, and they are all under the age of 18.
Hundreds of people gathered in the McInnes room earlier this month for “The Soldier and the Doctor,” a panel discussion hosted by the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which is housed at Dal. The participants included the retired lieutenant-general himself, as well as Halifax Poet Laureate El Jones and globally recognized humanitarian activist James Orbinski.
“I admire General Dallaire, so I'm nervous,” Jones said before she began her poem. By the end of the night, it was clear that many speakers, presenters and audience members regarded the humanitarian in the same way.
When the United Nations ordered peacekeeping troops out of Rwanda amidst the genocide in 1994, Romeo Dallaire, along with a small contingent, stayed to provide protection to those who sought refuge with the UN. Since his retirement, he founded the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and has become an advocate against the use of children in war zones. He has also served on many advisory committees, won multiple awards for his work and courage and is the author of two best-selling books.
“At least 25,000 people in Kigali survived because of his choices,” said Dr. Orbinski. “The world knows about the genocide because of his actions and his courage; because he spoke, understood and acted, and apparently for those very simple reasons. I say unequivocally that General Dallaire is my hero.”
Throughout the event, Gen. Dallaire and Dr. Orbinski spoke on a variety of topics concerning children in warfare.
“What do you do after you've reported it to the leaders but children still remain the primary force?” Gen. Dallaire asked the audience. “How do you negotiate with a 13-year-old with an AK-47, and people around him yelling 'shoot him, shoot him'?”
While a frightening image, it is the distinct reality, as 40 per cent of the total armed forces worldwide use child soldiers.
“We have complete abominations in warfare. We have state-sanctioned torture of children,” Orbinski said when asked about military and humanitarian collaborations. “If they can work towards a common goal of protecting the most vulnerable – our children – I see that as a very worthy cause.”
The discussion, facilitated by Dal’s Shelly Whitman, director of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative also highlighted the role of students in prevention of children in warfare.
“The balance of power is in the youth that haven't voted,” Dallaire said. “I believe there should be a rite of passage after high school: you should have a pair of boots or sneakers under your bed that have been soiled with the earth of a developing country. It is an extraordinary time for new and innovative power, and we have so much potential that is not being used.”
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