Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire urged the current generation to take on a leadership role and move the country towards becoming an activist nation at a lecture on Feb. 18.
Dallaire delivered the 2016 Lodhi Memorial Lecture at St. Thomas University, telling the overflowing audience of more than 400 people in Kinsella Auditorium “we’ve been sitting on our asses too long.”
“This body of humanity has a right to live,” Dallaire said. “It has a right to seek a lie, to see the opportunity to grow, to be positive, to permit their next generations, to have the intellectual vigour that you get in your universities so that you can understand the problems and solve them.”
Dallaire oversaw United Nations forces during the Rwanda genocide of 1994, refusing to pull out of the multinational mission despite orders from Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. He protected as many Tutus as he could until Troops arrived two months later, although hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in the meantime.
Dallaire said when a country massively abuses the rights of its people, it is in the self-interest of the rest of humanity has a responsibility to engage and protect those people.
“We had the capability of attenuating those conflicts in their embryo because we saw those governments moving to massively abuse the rights of their population,” he said. “That permitted us, through the U.N., to engage, to protect those citizens.”
Dallaire spoke of the right to protect, often referred to as R2P, which is a proposed U.N. norm that arose out of the Rwandan genocide. It was championed by Canada during the Paul Martin government and was cited by the U.N. when it intervened in Libya in 2011.
He said the bombing of the army of Mu’amme Gaddaffi, without putting any troops on the ground to prevent the resulting chaos, gave R2P a bad name it doesn’t deserve.
“We had the tools to do it, and we didn’t have the guts to put the boots on the ground,” Dallaire said.
He compared the situations in Rwanda and Libya to the current conflicts in Syria.
The Syrian War began as protests against authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad during the Arab Spring, but soon drifted into a civil war. Five years later, al-Qaeda and ISIS have gained a foothold. The country is in ruins and millions of refugees have fled, living in refugee camps and streaming into Europe.
Dallaire told the crowd that clips on TV and the internet don’t truly depict what is going on in those countries justice, and that people like him who have lived in the midst of it see the harsh reality.
“We can smell the horrible smells of death and decay, we can hear the kids crying, we can see the anguish in the parents, mothers,” he said. “We can see the fear of another bomb falling down, killing; we can see the elderly, laying by the road dying and wondering what the hell happened. We see it and live it.”
Dallaire stressed that is why he believes that today’s “generation without borders” should establish a sort of rite of passage from countries like ours that can take a leadership role because they have the capacity to do it.
“Go and see what’s happening with 80 per cent of humanity,” he said. “Go and see the reality of that humanity and come back after having touched, smelled and heard, tasted, felt – as human beings with others – what they’re going through. And influence this great nation to become an activist nation.”
Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.