Dallaire speaks on atrocity prevention

Roméo Dallaire

On April 6, the 22nd anniversary of the plane crash that triggered the three-month genocide in Rwanda in 1994, Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire (ret.) delivered the Yale Genocide Studies Program Charles E. Scheidt Family Lecture on Atrocity Prevention. He addressed an enthusiastic audience of approximately 150 students, faculty, and members of the community. 

Dallaire is a retired Lieutenant General in the Canadian Army, former Senator, and prominent spokesman for human rights. He is also the founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; an organization that works to prevent the use of child soldiers in conflict. But Dallaire is probably best known for being the Force Commander of UNAMIR in 1993-94. It was in this role that Dallaire bore witness to the atrocities of the Rwandan Genocide. He also experienced the abandonment of Rwanda by the international community – against Dallaire’s call for more troops to combat the unfolding genocide, the United Nations voted to recall almost the entire UN peacekeeping force he commanded.

Dallaire condemned Western governments for dithering over the use of the term “genocide” while avoiding taking decisive action. He related an incident when he disobeyed an order from Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to pull the UNAMIR peacekeeping force out of Rwanda. Dallaire explained that although the order was legal, to him, it was not ethical, and for that he found himself standing up to the Secretary General of the United Nations. 

The far-ranging lecture touched on many issues: preventing the use of child soldiers, NGOs role in humanitarian intervention, conflict resolution, the effect of 9/11 on liberal democracies, and the role of technology and social media in conflict.

Dallaire described child soldiers and rape were as being deployed as “weapons systems” during the Rwandan Genocide, and in most other conflicts since the first Gulf War.  Further research into the phenomenon at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights in 2004 motivated him to found the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which is now active in many areas of the world and working towards finding ways to prevent the use of child soldiers.

The backbone of Dallaire’s lecture addressed the future role of humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The concept of R2P is promoted by the UN and aims to prevent, and if necessary intervene, in cases of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Dallaire summed up his support for humanitarian intervention when he declared, “Sovereignty is no longer an absolute.” Which is to say that traditional notions of Westphalian sovereignty do not hold absolute in cases of extreme human rights violations. Cautioning that the transition to this post-Westphalian world would be neither quick nor easy, Dallaire advocated a companion doctrine that he called, “the will to intervene” or W2I. For Dallaire, it is the willingness of political leaders to take risks and have the political will to use humanitarian intervention when the self-interest of the state is not involved that will determine whether mass atrocities and rampant human rights abuses can be regularly prevented.

After nearly two hours of lecture and audience questioning, the audience seemed reluctant to leave. Gen. Dallaire’s deep passion for humanitarianism and human rights issues resonated, as dozens stayed afterwards to offer thanks and let him know that he had, in some way past or present, inspired them.

Written by Charles Mitchell (African Studies, ‘17)

April 8, 2016