How to teach children about child soldiers

Michel Chikwanine’s real-life graphic story is aimed at middle-school readers

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By: Brian Bethune

Michel Chikwanine is 27 now, a student in the University of Toronto’s African studies program. He’s smart, engaging, charismatic, even. His present-day life makes his past path here even more unfathomable. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, five-year-old Chikwanine was playing soccer with his best friend, Kevin, and other children when rebel soldiers kidnapped them. As depicted in a real-life graphic story aimed at middle-school readers, a rebel cut open Michel’s arm and inserted Brown Brown—a mix of cocaine and gunpowder—into the wound. Blindfolded and reeling from the drug, he was initiated into the life of a child soldier by being forced to shoot and kill Kevin.

Although Michel soon escaped and miraculously made his way home, the violence of the Great War of Africa—a wide-ranging conflict that killed six million people between 1998 and 2003—eventually followed him there. At age 10, beaten, sliced across the cheek and held immobile, he watched as soldiers raped his mother and sisters. Later, when the entire family was together in a Ugandan refugee camp, his father, a vocal human-rights advocate, was murdered. It was only then that Michel, his mother and youngest sister were fast-tracked as refugees to Canada. His older sisters, as adults, had to apply on their own. One disappeared, never to be seen again. The other did make it to Canada, bringing six children, her own and her sister’s.

Michel was 16 when he arrived in Canada, into cold he’d never dreamed of—Ottawa in January—and into a teenage milieu even more disorienting, where the biggest source of adolescent angst seemed to be having the wrong cellphone. “In my head, I was thinking first, ‘I want that phone, because I can’t afford it,’ ” Chikwanine wryly recalls in an interview. “And two, the girl complaining about the colour of her model didn’t know her cellphone was causing the war in the Congo, a war over minerals. That’s when I realized people need to know what’s causing conflict and atrocities across the world. They have no idea what being a refugee means. It means you’re a nobody—because you have no papers, you have no say in your life.”

It was easier said than done, of course, for a traumatized Chikwanine to recall his painful story for Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, one of Kids Can Press’s CitizenKid books. The opportunity to do so arose when retired general and ex-senator Roméo Dallaire, now a full-time advocate for child soldiers, was unable to find the time to write such a book himself.

Dallaire and Chikwanine, two survivors of the dark places, physical and psychological, evoked by Child Soldier, have a high regard for one another. Michel’s “lived experience, coupled with his powerful advocacy work, makes him a critical member” of the advisory council for Dallaire’s Child Soldiers Initiative, says the former general, while Chikwanine simply calls Dallaire “one of my greatest heroes.” On Oct. 6, when Michel formally launches his book at the Toronto Reference Library, Dallaire will introduce him.

Chikwanine had to sit down with co-author Jessica Dee Humphreys and, “day after day, go through my feelings back then,” then do it all over again with illustrator Claudia Davila. He’s rightly proud of the results. “Claudia portrayed the emotions that came out in a way younger children can take in.” Rather than depicting violence, Davila uses a palette that darkens when horrible events near, and a perspective that is always that of tiny Michel looking up at his larger tormentors.

Humphreys and Davila together handle the sexual assault at the Chikwanine home with an age-appropriate sensitivity. Chikwanine, though, is particularly pleased with the treatment of the years between the kidnapping and the attack on his family, the years of his “stripped-away” childhood. “Claudia does an incredible job of portraying my attempts to be a normal child again. I couldn’t play, I couldn’t pretend. I thought about Kevin every night.” Whatever children make of the rest of Michel’s story, that sadness will remain with them.


hole in wall

UN Chronicle: Preventing the Use of Child Soldiers, Preventing Genocide

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) and Dr. Shelly Whitman

We are living in an era in which the level of human suffering as a result of intra-State conflict seems to be escalating exponentially. The essential challenge remains how to create the political impetus for timely, non-selective responses to human suffering (MacFarlane and Weiss, 2000). At the very heart of the human suffering we are witnessing is the plight of vulnerable populations, and most notably children. Of all the threats that define contemporary conflict, the use of child soldiers presents one of the farthest-reaching and most disturbing trends today. If in the past children were made to fight in spite of their youth, they are now being made to fight because of their youth.

New approaches to conflict prevention must include how we prioritize the protection of children. As Graça Machel stated: “Our collective failure to protect children must be transformed into an opportunity to confront the problems that cause their suffering” (2001, p. XI). It is possible that our failure to prevent and react to conflict is directly correlated to our failure to protect children and prevent their deliberate use in armed conflict.

Early Warning

Since its introduction in 2005, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine has attempted to promote prevention of conflict. Using the idea of early warning indicators, R2P aims to compel the global community to take action early to prevent mass atrocities. The United Nations intended to establish “‘an early warning capability’ to inform timely and decisive action” (Guéhenno, Ramcharan and Mortimer, 2010). If we can understand and recognize when this mobilization towards mass atrocities occurs at its earliest stages, we can use this critical opportunity to create more effective responses.

“There is an apparent failure within the United Nations system to fully appreciate that the character and urgency of situations leading to genocide requires a unique analysis and approach, justifying a mandate narrowly tailored for this purpose” (as cited in Akhavan, 2011, p. 21). R2P is specifically designed to prevent mass atrocity crimes and genocide by engaging a “narrow but deep” approach as outlined by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon: Our conception of R2P, then, is narrow but deep. Its scope is narrow, focused solely on the four crimes and violations agreed by the world leaders in 2005. Extending the principle to cover other calamities, such as HIV/AIDS …would undermine the 2005 consensus and stretch the concept beyond recognition or operational utility. At the same time, our response should be deep, utilizing the whole prevention and protection tool kit available to the United Nations system, to its regional, subregional and civil society partners and, not least, to the Member States themselves (2008).

There needs to be a comprehensive list of early warning indicators that the global community can draw on in order to justify action. The recruitment and use of child soldiers falls under the mandate of R2P, but has yet to be used as an early warning indicator. It has the potential to galvanize global support, while at the same time achieving Ban Ki-moon’s call for a “narrow but deep” approach.

In April 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established an Internal Review Panel to examine United Nations actions in Sri Lanka. The report of the Panel concluded that there had been a “systemic failure” of United Nations action. It also stated that some of the failings were similar to those that had occurred in Rwanda. As a result of the recommendations of this Panel, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson led work to design a plan to carry out the recommendations—referred to as the Rights up Front Action Plan. It now must be translated into action. The Rights up Front initiative seeks to prevent large-scale violations of human rights.

With the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 2171 (2014), the Security Council “committed itself to better utilizing all tools of the United Nations system to ensure that warning signs of impending bloodshed translated into ‘concrete preventative action’” (United Nations, 2014). Such action may be illustrated in prioritizing the protection of children on the peace and security agenda, which could warn us of possible genocide.

A Priority Security Concern?

The shortcomings of the current efforts to address the use of child soldiers is evidenced by the lack of attention paid to child protection, and prevention of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict within peace agreements: “Since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, 180 peace agreements have been signed between warring parties. Of these, only ten contained specific provisions for child combatants” (Whitman, Zayed and Conradi, 2014). Prioritizing the prevention of the use of child soldiers, versus overall child protection, is critical to understand because of the connection of child soldiers as an early warning indicator.

While the focus of the global community has been largely reactive to situations where children have been used as soldiers, a larger focus needs to be placed on prevention. In fixating upon disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration and not upon the eradication of the use of child soldiers, the international community has merely attempted to fix the broken, rather than to protect the whole. Until this issue is elevated within the security agenda, the international community will continue to squander excellent opportunities to prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers (Whitman, Zayed and Conradi, 2014).

Rwanda 1994

In 1994, I was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). While I have written extensively on the genocide that ensued over that period, I have not detailed the connection between my witnessing the recruitment and use of child soldiers and the build up towards the Rwanda genocide. Much like the rest of the international community, I did not make the connec- tion about the recruitment and use of child soldiers as an early warning indicator for mass atrocities or genocide, until I began to look at this phenomenon through the lens of my work with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

On 4 August 1993, the Arusha Peace Agreement was signed. My first duty was to collect information and report on the implementation of the peace agreement. Looking back now, as we conducted our first visit to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the first thing that struck me was how young the soldiers were. As of 1990 the RPF only had 3,000 troops, but by 1993 they had swollen to 22,000. In large part this could be understood due to the sheer need for human resources and the small size of the available population for recruitment by the RPF. The child soldiers all appeared to be disciplined, well fed and appropriately treated. We did not file reports specifically on the recruitment and use of child soldiers, but we did state in the technical report of 1993 that the soldiers appeared “very young”. In addition, we did not have any training or awareness to raise this issue.

The Forces armées rwandaises (FAR) had grown from 5,000 to 28,000 troops from October 1990 to August 1993. Migrant labour and unemployed men were easily picked up to be recruited by the FAR at that time. By November 1993 we began to witness men marching through the streets, not in uniform, but wearing baggy pants and shirts in the colours of the Mouvement républicain national pour la démocratie et le développement (MRND)—the Interahamwe. The Interahamwe was the youth movement of the extremist MRND party. You would expect them to be under 18 years of age as in any political youth movement, but there were lots of people in it that seemed to be older. We would later come to understand that the older people were the “leaders”.

In December 1993, I received a letter signed by members of the FAR, which referenced the warning about youth movements. In January 1994, as street demonstrations increased, we observed children being used increasingly by the Interahamwe. An informant by the name of Jean Pierre told us his job was to train the Interahamwe to kill. He explained that one could witness children being taken for recruitment and trained to kill Tutsis. He came to UNAMIR to arrange for the arms caches to be seized so that they could not be distributed. Once they were distributed, he indicated that they could not stop the killing.

Guns were distributed to the hardcore Interahamwe who gave the orders, while children were given machetes. It would be much easier to get back machetes than guns; also, children were used to machetes in agricultural work. We then visited some of the training sites. At that time we witnessed many children around, all in civilian clothing.

In addition, one of the military observers with UNAMIR reported in January 1994 that he observed teachers telling children that they had to go home to ask their parents what ethnicity they were. Teachers stated their concern with this new directive, which was preparing their students for the genocide. Children under 14 years of age did not have identity cards, thus this new directive allowed everyone to see who the Tutsis were in class. That should have signaled a warning bell, but nothing was made more of this at the time.

By the time the genocide was in full swing by mid-April 1994, the Interahamwe were very visibly using the children to commit acts of killing and man roadblocks. The use of children was a deliberate tactical and strategic plan by the extremists. Had this alarm bell been raised as a critical early warning factor that could have been addressed, it may have been possible to mobilize support to put resources towards protecting the children, and to have possibly prevented or greatly reduced the capacity of the génocidaires.


Understanding the use of child soldiers as a precondition for mass atrocities also allows more room to address the issues through structural measures. In weak and fragile States, children are more easily swayed into participating in criminal activity. The factors that render them vulnerable to such work are extremely similar to those faced by child soldiers: they are plentiful and readily available, financially desperate, under or uneducated, have little expectation of finding gainful employment, and are continuously exposed to the violence and degradation that is endemic to failing States.

The evidence of children participating in mass atrocities and genocide has occurred from the Hitler Youth of the Second World War, to the killing fields of Cambodia, and to the genocide in Rwanda. It is not a new phenomenon, however understanding the connection between child soldier use and recruitment and the potential for more effective early warning mechanisms has yet to be put into action. This approach can lead to actions that place emphasis on the protective mechanisms being strengthened for children—from the education processes, to community sensitization, to security sector reforms, and rethinking the most cost-effective investments for communities at risk. Expanding the list of early warning mechanisms to recognize, prioritize, and prevent the use of children as soldiers may be that tangible action which has eluded the global community and yet has the power to create long-term systemic change.


Akhavan, Payam (2011). Preventing genocide: measuring success by what does not happen. Criminal Law Forum, vol. 22, Nos. 1 and 2 (March), pp. 1-33.

Ban, Ki-moon (2008). Address at event on “Responsible Sovereignty: International Cooperation for a Changed World”. Berlin, 15 July. Available from

Guéhenno, Jean-Marie, Bertram G. Ramcharan, and Edward Mortimer (2010). UN Early Warning and Responses to Mass Atrocities. Meeting Summary. 23 March. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Available from

MacFarlane, Stephen Neil, and Thomas G. Weiss (2000). Political Interest and Humanitarian Action. Security Studies, Vol. 10, No.1 (Fall), pp. 112-142. Available from

Machel, Graça (2001). The Impact of War on Children. New York: Palgrave.

United Nations (2014). Security Council, adopting resolution 2171 (2014), Pledges Better Use of System-Wide approach to Conflict prevention. Available from .

Whitman, Shelly, Tanya Zayed, and Carl Conradi (2014). Child Soldiers: A Handbook for Security Sector Actors. 2nd ed., Halifax: the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

LGen Roméo Dallaire and Stephen Lewis to Discuss the Use of Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers as Weapons of War

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HALIFAX, Sept. 24, 2015 /CNW/ – Two of Canada’s leading humanitarians—Stephen Lewis and retired lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire—will take the stage this evening at Dalhousie University to discuss the use of sexual violence and child soldiers and their work to bring an end to the use of these weapons of war.

More than 15 million children—three times the number of children in Canada—live under constant threat of conflict. Many will become direct casualties of these modern weapons of war that continue to define contemporary warfare.

Today, conflicts are raging across the globe. Each of these conflicts has two things in common, the widespread use of sexual violence and child soldiers. Used systematically and deliberately, these two weapons have inflicted unimaginable damage to communities, regions and whole counties.

“While sexual violence and child soldiers share an unfortunate prevalence in conflicts historically, the scale and systematic nature of their use in modern conflicts are creating long-lasting universal repercussions. We only need to look as far as Syria or the continuing violence that has engulfed South Sudan,” states Dr. Shelly Whitman, Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

This evening’s presentation will raise funds for the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, based at Dalhousie University.  During the event, The Intact Foundation will also officially present its $300,000 contribution to establish the Intact/Dallaire Initiative Senior Fellow. LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d), founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, will serve as the inaugural Intact/Dallaire Initiative Senior Fellow.

The contribution will go toward providing ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training to bring an end to the use of children as weapons of war worldwide.

“The work that the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is doing will go a long way toward preventing and interrupting the recruitment of youths for unlawful activities,” says Charles Brindamour, Chief Executive Officer, Intact Financial Corporation. “We are very proud to be able to support LGen Dallaire’s meaningful cause.”

“We are in this fight against these two weapons of war for the long-term. With the Intact Foundation’s incredibly generous investment in our work, we have critical long term support to create the knowledge, tactics and political will to ultimately end the use of children as weapons of war,” states LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d).

Event details:

Name of event:  Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers, sponsored by Intact Insurance Company

Date: Thursday, September 24, 2015

Time: 8 p.m.

Venue:  Rebecca Cohn Arts Centre at Dalhousie University.

About the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Founded by retired lieutenant-general and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a global partnership committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.

SOURCE Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

Image with caption: “From left to right: Intact Financial Corporation’s CEO Charles Brindamour with LGeneral Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d), founder of The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and Stephen Lewis, co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World at the Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers event at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS, Thursday, September 24, 2015. The Intact Foundation is contributing $300,000 to establish the Intact/Dallaire Initiative Senior Fellow. The Canadian Press Images PHOTO/The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (CNW Group/Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative)”. Image available at:

For further information: Media Contact, Josh Boyter, Communications Officer, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, Telephone: (902)-494-2392 (office), Email: [email protected]

Roméo Dallaire says ISIS recruiting child soldiers younger

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By: CBC News

A retired Canadian Armed Forces lieutenant-general and humanitarian is in Halifax to talk about the dangers of child soldier recruitment near war-torn Syria.

Roméo Dallaire, who is also the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative and a former Liberal senator, recently returned from visiting Syrian refugee camps on the Jordanian border.

“It’s hot — 42, 45 degrees — desolate. There’s 85,000 people squished into an area with no water, only what’s brought in. There’s next to nothing to do except sit there and waste away,” Dallaire told CBC’s Information Morning.

He said it’s a particularly difficult situation for young people.

“The fight in Syria, as in Iraq, has continued to the extent that now they’re not only recruiting child soldiers — as they’ve been from the start, including ISIS and so on — but they’re recruiting them younger,” said Dallaire.

“Trying to talk to young people who have absolutely no hope, no school, just aimlessly waiting in very difficult living conditions … when people get through to them and say, ‘You might as well cross the border and come and fight.’ Even 13-year-olds are attracted by that.”

Making refugees wait against one’s ‘sense of humanity’

Dallaire said Canada could accept between 80,000 and 90,000 refugees over the next six months.

“We’re one of the 11 most powerful nations in the world and we’ve got 12 million people out there — Jordan has 1.3 million refugees. Sweden … is taking on 100,000. We’re getting stories about taking on 11,000 Syrian and Iraqi [refugees] … over four years, Dallaire said.

Roméo Dallaire was at the Jordanian-Syrian border in July, hoping to prevent Syrian children from being recruited as child soldiers. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

“Just the mere fact of saying four years, that means we actually want people to sit in a refugee camp for three years, at least. … That, in itself, is against your sense of humanity, your sense of giving people hope.”

Military bases in Canada are equipped to act as a staging area to get people out of refugee camps, said Dallaire. .

“This conflict, because we haven’t engaged as we should have four years ago … with boots on the ground, supporting the regional capabilities — we have a civil war that’s degenerated into the most catastrophic type.”

Dallaire also said most of the Syrian people displaced are in the middle class and bring “significant assets,” to whatever country accepts them.

“We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada,” Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said.

However, Dallaire said that concern should not prevent Canada from acting now.

“We brought in nearly 25,000 Iraqis and nobody was screaming from the rooftops that this was going to be a security problem,” he said.

Canada able to ‘fly the whole damn lot of them out’

He said Canada is equipped to assess any potential risks of people coming into this country as refugees.

“There is a risk of that but we do have capabilities here in this country to discern this. We’ve been spending billions building up the public safety capability. I certainly wouldn’t want to be an ISIS infiltrator among that population and be found out,” he said.

“One of the camps we went to, where there are 85,000 of them. They’re all documented … and we could go there with a bunch of trucks, load ’em up, bring them to the airport in Oman and we’ve got the aircraft to fly the whole damn lot of them out within a reasonable time.”

He said there’s infrastructure capacity on the Canadian military bases to accept that volume of people.

“It’s getting at the kids to stop these conflicts, which is the critical path, not just families but the young people. Stop them from being used as weapons of war and stop them from being disenfranchised to sustain these wars,” said Dallaire.

Dallaire will speak at a Dalhousie University’s lecture “Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers,” Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Dalhousie Arts Centre.

Dallaire: Canada must do more to help Syrian children

Former senator says country could take 90,000 displaced persons

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By: Clare Mellor

Romeo Dallaire has seen first-hand the desperation of Syrian children living in refugee camps.

“They can’t get to school. They are sitting around in the middle of a hot desert with (nothing) whatsoever, ” said the retired lieutenant-general and former senator, who was in Jordan in July and visited refugee camps along the Syria border.

“The young people are totally disenfranchised. It is not surprising that they are being easily recruited by the Free Syrian Army to go and fight.”

Dallaire, who will be in Halifax this week, has recently said that Canada has the capacity to take as many as 90,000 Syrian refugees. He reiterated those numbers in an interview with The Chronicle Herald on Friday.

“We ought to be talking in the numbers of 80,000 to 90,000, ” he said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

Dallaire, who was the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force during the Rwandan genocide, said the Syrian conflict reminds him of Rwanda, with millions of people being displaced and children being exposed to horrors of war.

“I’m brought back to Rwanda,” he said. “I see an abandonment of those people, particularly the abandonment of the children.

“It has been quite difficult to watch because when we’ve experienced things like that, we feel it. It is not just watching it.”

Dallaire, founder of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Dalhousie University, and Stephen Lewis, co-director of AIDS Free World, will be speaking about child soldiers and sexual violence as weapons of war at a sold-out event Thursday at Dal.

“Child soldiers, right now, are the primary weapon system used by all sides in Syria, as they are being used in Iraq the same,” Dallaire said.

“What is getting worse is that they are recruiting them younger and younger.”

Syria was a well-educated, middle-class society, and its citizens have many skills to offer, however, a whole generation will soon be lost, Dallaire said.

He has spoken with young Syrians, some of whom have now spent three years in camps with precarious living conditions.

“Young people are seeing their their lives go by,” he said. “They are not getting the skills they need.

“We seem to be quite prepared to let people rot away in camps or, if they are able to get through, give them such a horrible, hard time in trying to find safety and a place to live.

Dallaire said Canada has an important history of helping refugees and the government should not be using security concerns as an excuse not to act.

Canada needs to act immediately and could utilize military bases to temporarily house arriving refugees, he said.

“We’ve got enough strategic lift to move thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “We’ve got a great capability in moving populations, so we can get them out (of camps) soon. So I’m talking six months, seven months, at most,” he said.

Dallaire spoke about the recent outpouring of concern for refugees following the circulation of the image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, who drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach after his family fled Syria.

“They were killing and slaughtering thousands and thousands of children in the fighting and in the mutilations and mass atrocities in Syria, well before that one child,” Dallaire said. “Where were we? Where was the media? Where was everybody. This has been going on for four years.”

Dallaire: Syrian crisis repeat of Rwandan mass slaughter

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By Michael Knigge

The head of the ill-fated UN peacekeeping force that couldn’t prevent the Rwandan genocide, Romeo Dallaire, tells DW why Syria’s crisis is reminiscent of events back then. He also explains what Germany has done right.

DW: Does the continuing carnage in Syria which has led to the exodus of millions of people and the international community’s reaction remind you of what happened in Rwanda 21 years ago?

Romeo Dallaire: What reminds me is not only the scale – I ended up with more than 4 million people, refugees and internally displaced persons in less than 100 days – but also in the incredible apathy we have had from the internationally community apart from pure survival and humanitarian efforts in the periphery. So it was like a repeat performance in a way.

What do you make of the fact that Bavaria’s capital Munich alone has taken in more Syrian refugees in one week than the United States and Canada have pledged to accept over the next few years?

There is a paranoia which we have seen governments successfully instill in our societies in regard to the Muslim community. And it is coming so much to the fore as in previous atrocities and movements of mass populations where it wasn’t the case of Muslims we have seen extraordinary efforts done by governments to ease the trauma and to assist these people. But because of the last years and what we seem to perceive as overriding security factors we have completely subjugated the human dimension to that even though the threat is to be proven within those refugees. I would not like to be an ISIS person caught up among Syrian refugees. I truly don’t think that would be a safe place to be.

What’s your reaction then to the stance of countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden, who are exceptions and have taken in large numbers of Syrian refugees?

I think they have done a much more realistic assessment of the situation. Of course one could argue that these are still drops in the bucket when you consider that we are talking about 12 million people. But it is absolutely incredible that only a few countries have recognized that the Syrian population is an educated middle-class population. These are assets to our nations. Yes, there is a transitional period, but that transition can be supported by governments and with community structures. But that is a temporary set of circumstances. These people can become effective members of our society. So I think they have got it right and we have got it dead wrong.

How many Syrian refugees should Canada and the US accept?

We have been bouncing around a lot of different numbers. My comment is I don’t know what the upper limit can be because we have not done a real assessment of what we can absorb and how much we really want to commit to this humanitarian crisis. We are talking about millions of people and a nation like ours of 35 million people with an incredible infrastructure and a desire for growth. So it is moot to put limits on these numbers. It is far more sensible to say ‘yes we want them to come in’, phase it in and then see when this thing ends. That makes more sense than to say 11,000 in four years and that’s it, even if the number of Syrians displaced keeps growing.

The current US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, long before she joined the Obama administration not only wrote the landmark book on the Rwanda genocide, but also the foreword to “Handshake with the Devil”, your own account of what happened there. Are you satisfied with her response to the Syrian crisis?

To be quite honest, I haven’t seen it. What has her response been? All I have seen is the American position that has come out of the White House and the internal strife that is going in the United States in regard to the whole election process. It’s as if they have cut themselves off from this problem. So I don’t know what her position is specifically .

Taking in refugees is one thing, but that does not solve the underlying Syrian conflict. What should be done to end the civil war in Syria?

We are four years too late to try to bring it under control as we could have as it started under the auspices of the responsibility to protect and the argument of the massive abuses of human rights by the Assad regime. We could have intervened then in a way of protecting the population which means very clearly that it is not just air power and no-fly zones, but it means boots on the ground by regional capabilities first and reinforcing them by training and equipping them and in extremis – if they want reinforcements under Chapter 8 – then we provide boots by training, logistics or even forward troops. That is what we could have done and it would have taken reasonable numbers, 10,000 to 20,000 troops to implement that.

Now four years later with these forces completely intertwined, with the scale of weaponry and the number of fighters amongst millions of refugees that are caught in the middle of this fire, we have a catastrophic breakdown of a region. So my position is that the region must come in to implement a process of assistance on the ground to stabilize Syria in a very progressive way. That does mean training up the regional powers, giving them capabilities and, if necessary, providing certain assets, including ultimately – if they want and support it – troops on the ground.

Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian lieutenant-general, was commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda (UNAMIR) between 1993 and 1994 where he witnessed the country descend into chaos and genocide, leading to the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans. He also served as a Canadian senator from 2004 to 2014 and is the founder of The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.

Voices for global change

Fighting injustice, abuse and inequality is often part of the democratic experience. And one of the many things that unite Canadian humanitarians LGen Roméo Dalliare, (Ret.) and Stephen Lewis is a passion to advance human rights by protecting those who can’t protect themselves.

Next Thursday, September 24, Dalhousie will welcome LGen Dallaire and Lewis to campus for a special event hosted by the Roméo Dalliare Child Soldiers Initiative, which is housed within Dalhousie’s Department of Political Science. The event, “Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers,” will feature conversation between the two advocates about two important global issues and their connections with armed conflicts around the globe. Halifax MP Megan Leslie will serve as moderator.

“It is our hope that this lecture creates critical dialogue in our community on two issues that plague vulnerable people in conflict zones around the world,” says Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Dallaire Initiative. “When like minds such as General Dallaire and Stephen Lewis, share their insights on global issues it can inspire people, change misconceptions and compel people to act towards change.”

Modern weapons of war

Sexual violence against children and the recruitment and use of child soldiers are heinous abuses that are two of the Six Grave Violations against children in armed conflict that was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1612, a monitoring and reporting mechanism.

Sexual violence in armed conflict is widespread, and distressingly strategic: it’s a systematic tool of war that affects girls, boys, women and men. Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, and forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group. In situations like the Rwandan genocide and ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this has gone so far to include “willful” transmission of HIV, causing devastating long-term security and humanitarian issues in post-conflict societies.

At the same time, 2014 was the worst year ever for the world’s children, as documented by UNICEF. A recent report published by the U.N. Human Rights estimated 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the State of Palestine, Syria and Ukraine — including those internally displaced or living as refugees. And UNICEF reported that 2.3 million children are affected by the conflict and up to 10,000 children are believed to have been recruited by armed groups during 2014.

Coming together for change

Both Lewis and LGen Dalliare have started namesake initiatives that employ straightforward approaches to advocacy — influencing political, strategic, and legal bodies — and often critically address the international communities’ passivity in its response to the plights of vulnerable populations, and sometimes failure to avert and/or cope with crisis.

Since 2003, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has funded over 1100 initiatives, partnering with over 300 community-based organizations in the 15 countries that have been hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative began in 2007 as a global partnership committed to ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide, and today delivers tactical, prevention-oriented training to security sector actors to promote broader security sector reform. And L.Gen Dallaire and Lewis recently teamed up with the Code Blue campaign, an effort against immunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers who commit human rights violations committed repeatedly by people paid by the UN to come to the aid of civilians in distress.

“It is my strong belief that we have a moral obligation to protect children around the world from heinous acts of violence,” says Dr. Whitman (above). “It is entirely possible that we can do more to put children at the top of the peace and security agenda and the progress I have seen with the Initiative gaining new partners and momentum over the last few years gives me great hope.”

“Weapons of War: A Lecture with Stephen Lewis and L.Gen Roméo Dallaire” takes place Thursday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in the Dalhousie Arts Centre’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Tickets are $36 ($24.50 for students) and are available from the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office.