" When Humans Don't Seem to Count" Dallaire on Rwanda and Darfur

That is the provocative title of today's presentation by Retired Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire who served as the Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force during in Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. Dallaire is also a senator for Quebec, the author of the book: " Shake Hands with the Devil" about his experience during the Rwanda Genocide and co-creator of the "Will To Intervene" project, an initiative to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Regardless of his past heroics, Dallaire is clearly an attaching character. I was in the auditorium early when he entered. I hope he will forgive this comparison from a child of the 80's but his face reminded immediately of a mix of Viper from Top Gun and Charles Bronson.

The director of the The Princeton Center for Human Value is clearly moved to introduce him and present his many accomplishments.
Dallaire comes to stage to a rousing ovation and recalls how the last time he was here, students seemed to be a bit loss about how to serve in the aftermath of 9/11. He says he is glad to sense a renewed energy for service in the past year. Dallaire jokes that he likes to remind his American audience that in his opinion, his sides won the two major battles between US and Canada. T battle of Baldensburg and the sack of York (Toronto). He says:" you think you hurt us by sacking York but I am from Montreal, I am more than happy that you sacked that place".

The mood turns rapidly somber as Dallaire states:" The Rwandan Genocide is often billed as a failure of the UN, that is correct but it is also the failure of each individual state who has a stake in the organization with the capabilities to act but decided to do nothing".
But Dallaire says he wants to focus on trying to prevent such horrors from happening again, which is the focus of his "Will to Intervene" report ( and the blog here)
Dallaire start by explaining how classic war and classic peace keeping used to be. He shows a map of the first Gulf War, what he calls a General's dream because "it has a lot of arrows and a fairly manageable territory".

"That is not the reality of conflicts anymore" he says. "The challenge now is to decide in a guerrilla warfare whether to shot at a young lady who might be carrying a bomb or let her go and potentially be responsible for the deaths of your comrades." He explains that a new paradigm must be set: Ambiguity and complexity are now the norms of conflict. If war and peace conflict seems ineffective, what else can we do then ? He offers that the emphasis must be put on prevention. We live in a world today where technology allow us to shrink distance that used to be too much to overcome. We have become a much closer globe and that should help a great deal in preventing conflict.

He proposes 3 phases of conflict resolution:
1) conflict prevention 2) Crisis response 3) Reconciliation and Nation Building.

A poignant moment of his speech came when he recalled his mission in Rwanda:
"I was sent to protect civilians in Rwanda and my mission order became later to protect the lives of UN personnel we sent there to rescue Rwandan in the first place. "How did some lives become more important than others, I have no idea. I was told by a country official: we have no strategic interest there, no major financial commitments, the only thing left there are human beings. This kind of statement is what still drives me today. Are all Humans Humans ?
There were reporters doing an incredible job of reporting the massacres in Rwanda. The stories were shipped to Nairobi but the Rwanda genocide happened at the same time as the OJ Simpson trial so most of the stories were put on the back burner. Not everyone wanted the Rwandan crisis to be documented and for the general public to know of the inaction of certain governments in the face of a tragedy"

"The civilian population being used as an instrument war has to be clearly defined and recognized by people involved in conflict resolution. Children and women are used more often than not as instruments of war, may it be as soldiers or through rape as it is the case in Darfur"

After posing the debate between sovereignty and intervention in crimes against humanity, Dallaire notes that Chapter 8 clearly stipulates that a Humanitarian intervention is granted when a state does not fulfill its obligation to its people. Although powerful, it is still unclear when such conditions are fulfilled: Does Darfur fit ? he asks:

When it comes to a solution for Darfur, Dallaire seems to favor an accrued role for NGOs to palliate the failure of the states. He says the reason why it is not working right now is because the humanitarian, politics and military are not working as one. They need not to collaborate but go further and integrate their effort in one place so that they have a single aim.

He also advocates that we should not be afraid of staying longer in places where we intervene (including Afghanistan). We should stay until strong institutions are in place. He states:" we have been in Cyprus for 40 years and I don't hear anyone complaining".
He argues that a Superpower like the US should not be the "police of the world". It should let the "Middle Powers" ( Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, India etc..)get more involved in conflict resolution all around the world.

During the Q and A, Dallaire explains why he is so bullish on the role of NGOs. He says that the strongest indication that Bashir is guilty of war crimes is that he kept kicking out all the NGOs like MSF that have come to attend to its people. He ponctuates the statement by saying: " if that is not the best indication that he is an asshole, I don't know what is" I think that may mark the first time a speaker pronounced the A word in a public event at Princeton. Well, Dallaire certainly earned the right to say it like it is.

He also grew angry retelling the story of a Rwandan soldier who still remembers 20 years later shooting at drugged child who was used as shield by the militia, and even angrier at recalling how rape is used as a systematic tool to create a brand new ethnicity in Darfur.

He says that the best thing Princeton students can do to help with conflict resolution in Africa is to go in rural villages and bring along a cheap laptop, with a solar panel and a satellite dish. Then set up a skype connection for the villagers, keep in touch with them and listen to their concerns regularly. That is how you prevent conflict from happening, he says, by being more attune with the daily struggles of your fellow human beings. Poverty, he asserts, is in 80% of cases the main reason for conflict. (I cannot help but point out that this seems to be a perfect fit for the mission of Global/Rising Voices project)

Yet a colleague of mine is unimpressed with Dallaire's emphasis on the role of NGOs. She argues that the NGOs have always been there but without the political will of the states, the work of the NGOs are pretty much useless. She argues that the students should look to run for office and have the testicular fortitude (she used a different word) to explain to their constituents why it is unacceptable for their country to watch a genocide happen and not do a thing about it.

I do like Dallaire's arguments but I agree that he is probably letting governments off the hook too easily. Maybe Dallaire is just being pragmatic and know for a fact that politics rarely make the ethical choice.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with your colleague's belief about the need to focus on strengthening the transparency and accountability of political parties as much as civil society. NGOs do an enormously important job supplementing the work of the government, but I don't believe that they can replace it. I often find that so-called development experts are not in contact or familiar with the student political clubs that shape the up-and-coming generation of leaders. From what I've seen in Liberia, this tends to be where both possibility and future conflict play out.