In 1994, the genocide of Rwanda was reported largely within the shadow of the ongoing war in Bosnia. Arguably one of the most violent incidents of the 20th century, around 1 Million people died over the course of just 100 days. The genocide followed a tense cease fire between government and rebel forces under the Arusha Accords, but was catalyzed with the death of the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana. Immediately after his death in a mysterious plane explosion, extremist leaders in the military began fighting once more. The new fight would not only be a political one, but sectarian as well.
During the colonization of Africa, Rwanda was a Belgian colony. The Belgians assigned identity cards to all native people in Rwanda, including clearly identifying their ethnic groups. The Hutus and the Tutsis became not only separate ethnicities, but separate socioeconomics classes as well. This divide grew and festered with time and power turnovers. It caused civil wars within the country and refugees to flee outside of the country. The Rwandan Government, led by Hutus, had just made an agreement with the key rebel army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Tutsis, when LTG Romeo Dallaire arrived on the scene.
LTG Romeo Dallaire was a high-ranking officer in the Canadian army when he was assigned to lead the UN forces in Rwanda, UNAMIR. With the mandate to facilitate and guide peace talks between the parties, his mission was unfortunately unprepared for what was to come. During the three months of slaughter, Dallaire and his force would see unbelievable cruelty which would seem to defy the morality of even the most corrupted of human beings. Churches were used as traps and turned into slaughter houses, victims would be mutilated with machetes before being killed, and children would often times be forced to commit this violence until eventually they no longer needed forcing and did it voluntarily. Tutsis and moderate Hutus alike were killed by the extremist Hutu military and militias. It would not be until another UN mission entered Rwanda and the Rwanda Patriotic Front overtook the extremist government forces that the genocide would “officially” end, but violence and refugee crises would continue for some time.
Following the violence, Dallaire himself struggled for a long time with PTSD and depression. Understandably, he seems to have left the conflict feeling somewhat empty at his inability to prevent it or stop it sooner. As the man in charge of the peace in Rwanda, he had seen unspeakable brutality that his best efforts were unable to end. He needed to do something, if not to undo the past, then to ensure it will not happen again in the future.
Dallaire successfully campaigned for the Canadian Senate in his home province of Quebec, and has used his position as a platform to campaign for human rights, child soldiers, African peace, and PTSD victims. He believes in the need for early and responsive action to humanitarian crises around the world, and the need for humans to protect each other. The world failed in Rwanda, as is evident by the subtitle of his book on the subject. As a global community with the UN as its central body, Dallaire seems to believe that teamwork and true humanity can prevent another Rwanda, but only if the key players, i.e. the Security Council P5, are also truly dedicated to this.
Throughout the violence as well as prior to it, Dallaire had warned of impending doom and had requested more men, more investigators, and more action. His warnings were ignored, and due to his UN mandate his soldiers were not even allowed to take an active role in the fight. Instead, they could only protect themselves and civilians if they were in danger, and were unable to push the genocidaires back. The lack of response from the UN and the global community cut the ground out from under the mission, and left Rwandan civilians on their own.
Dallaire has also made PTSD and Child Soldiers his cause as well. He advocates for better treatment for PTSD survivors in Canada, as well as for the protection and rehabilitation of child soldiers around the world.
Romeo Dallaire has seen the worst terror humanity can create. He advocates for change not only as a military officer or a politician, but as a man who has witnessed the peak of human cruelty. Despite the mental effects the genocide had on him, he has decided to continue working to prevent future tragedies.
For more information on Romeo Dallaire, you can find his books Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda and They Fight Like Soldiers; They Die Like Children. You can also visit the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative website as well as the Montral Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, of which he is a fellow.