2023 Peace Studies Lecture features former Canadian general and senator
(This article was originally published at stmcollege.ca and is used with permission)
A man who looked pure evil in the face still has hope for humanity.
The Honorable Roméo Dallaire – who served with United Nations forces in Rwanda– delivered the 2023 STM Peace Studies Lecture Oct. 4 at St. Joseph High School in Saskatoon.
His message of hope brought inspiration to the crowded auditorium during an especially troubling time for the world, with regional wars raging and our global environment in deep crisis.
Dallaire’s message also comes despite a personal history of despair that very nearly cost him his life by his own hand four times.
While commanding United Nations forces in Rwanda in 1994, then Lt.-Gen. Dallaire saw the worst of humanity when, despite providing his superiors with information about a planned massacre, he was denied permission to intervene and was told to withdraw from the country.
General Dallaire, along with a small contingent of Ghanaian and Tunisian soldiers and military observers, disobeyed the command to withdraw, and remained in Rwanda to fulfill their ethical obligation to protect those who sought refuge with the UN forces.
The subsequent genocide ultimately took more than 800,000 lives in less than 100 days, and later drove Dallaire into deep despair.
But out of that abyss came this award-winning book Shake Hands with the Devil: the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, and Dallaire went on to found the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace, and Security which has a mission to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in violence.
A celebrated advocate for human rights, especially in regard to child soldiers, veterans, and the prevention of mass atrocities, Dallaire is also a respected government and UN advisor and former Canadian senator.
His talk in Saskatoon was entitled Peace, Faith, and Humanity in Times of Crisis, and was sponsored by the Irene and Doug Schmeiser Centre for Faith, Reason, Peace, and Justice.
“We are in a revolutionary time,” Dallaire told the crowd. “In that scenario, how do we lead? How do we find our references? Are we, in fact, going the right way? And who will be leading? The older folks with grey hair, or will it be the 25- and 30-year-olds?”
In fact, his optimism does come from the hope of the youth. Dalliare pointed to the technology that has bred awareness of the global community and the stake the younger generation is taking in shaping the future.
“With technology, for the first time in the history of humanity, we can communicate with the whole world. This new generation is already global. They don’t just think locally,” Dallaire said. “They are, in fact, as I call them, a generation without borders.”
“More and more, I would argue, we are going to be seeing that younger generation wanting to engage. And wanting to engage beyond a town, a province, a country. They want to engage at a scale of humanity because they can talk to humanity. They can see, and speak and feel for this humanity.”
Dallaire believes a call to public service early in life can create a generation of Canadians ready to lead on the world stage.
“Maybe what we should do to help them is create a kind of right of passage. Anybody after technical schools, or high school, or university — before they go off into the workforce — should have underneath their bed a pair of boots that have been soiled with the earth of a developing country. Not necessarily one that’s at war, or in conflict, but countries that are in development. Which is 80 per cent of humanity.”
“They should go and see, and hear, smell, touch, taste what is the source of so much rage in humanity due to the poverty and imbalance that exists. And bring back that sort of sacred little flame that they get in their stomach from having experience that couple weeks or months, and keep that flame alive. And when its time for them to make decisions, that they will remember that they are in one of the most extraordinary countries on Earth.”
Dallaire said comparatively speaking, Canadians live in opulence, and we have a responsibility to the humanity beyond our borders.
“That is one of the fundamental responsibilities that I believe in.”