Tuesday, January 24, 2006

General Roméo Dallaire Talks

Tonight, General Roméo Dallaire will be talking at an event arranged by 'Facing History & Ourselves' at The Royal Society of Medicine, London. Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, now retired, was Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. He now holds a post on the Canadian Senate. Since the publication of his book, 'Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda', General Dallaire has become a passionate spokesperson about the humanism necessary today in leadership and conflict resolution.

'Facing History & Ourselves' is doing extensive work in Rwanda currently helping them develop a new history curriculum and training hundreds of teachers to use it. You may know that 75% of the teachers in Rwanda were either murdered or imprisoned during the genocide so the rebuilding of the teacher network is essential.

General Dallaire and the work of Facing History challenge us to explore profound moral questions. What are the challenges of being given responsibility without authority? What are the consequences of a military person following his conscience instead of his orders? Are some lives worth more than others? How can we expand our "universe of obligation" to include people we don't know or even recognize? Why should we care about events that go on half way around the world?

A full report of the event will be posted later in the week.


At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Greg Marquez said...

I don't mean to be too rude but is the irony here not apparent to anyone? Immediately before the post once again touting the heroic General Dallaire, is a post with these words in it from the story of a Rwandan Genocide survivor:

"On 6 April, we made our way to the Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO), where some people had already sought refuge with the UN. We had protection and felt safe, but on 11 April, the UN troops drove away. As they left, the Interahamwe and government soldiers came. They told us we would be taken to Nyanza. They made us run. Some people were praying, others singing. As we ran, some people were hacked with machetes and others killed…"

Now why is it again that the leader of the U.N. troops who deserted these people is a hero? Seriously what did he do that was so wonderful? It seems quite likely to me that General Dallaire's impotence was a leading factor in encouraging the genocide. And he's a hero in Canada? Has the world gone mad?

At 10:12 AM, Blogger louis chalklin said...

Good point Greg. Actually I attended the 'Evening with Romeo Dallaire' Event that is mentioned on this blog last night. General Dallaire was not surprisingly challenged with similar questions. It was a very interesting talk. Dallaire certainly doesn't promote himself as a hero. In fact, he was quick to dismiss comments of praise that the audience were keen to shower on him.

He is very aware of his own culpability. He spoke at length to make clear where he went wrong and to try and articulate his regrets.

Although General Dallaire obviously had some authority on the ground in Rwanda, there were of course higher powers that he had to battle with for his will to be carried out. Not trying to make excuses for himself, Dallaire talked about the futile warnings he gave to the UN about the worsening situations. He talked about his frustation at the failure of the world to take notice, but accepts that in retrospect, he should not have accepted 'no' for an answer. He should have pushed those higher authorities harder to understand.

When the UN asked Dallaire what he needed on the ground to handle the situation, he requested 44,000 troops. The reply he got was '44,000 troops?.....In Africa?' As if to say, 'Are you kidding?'

Dallaire explained how 67,000 troops were sent to Bosnia, but when it came to saving Africans, there was little interest. Indeed, by the time the UN could gather any number of troops to help the cause, it was far too late. No country was willing to give its troops to the UN. The first troops to arrive on the scene were Ethiopian soldiers...unarmed and untrained...

We all know how the radio station acted as a prominent instrument of genocide, ordering and explaining to Hutus how to kill the Tutsis. Dallaire explained how easy it would have been easy to take out the radio station. He had an attack planned on the main mast etc. He was however told that he couldn't shut down the station becuase 'Rwanda is a sovereign state'!

He talked of the complexities of what he COULD do, which wasn't much.

I generally got the impression that Dallaire is somewhat of a broken man, obviously living with the death of 100s of 1000s on his conscience. He was obviously in a position of more authority than you or I, but ultimately there was little he could do I think. The whole world is culpable for the catastrophic failure against humanity in Rwanda.

As I say, Dallaire does not pertain to be a hero, but I think some praise is due to him. Many people, including those far more culpable than Dallaire for the events of 1994 (ie. those with higher authority the world over), have simply forgotten about Rwanda as 'old news'. At least Dallaire, whether it is just a mission to try and clear his own conscience or not, has been campaigning for over 10 years now to try and raise awareness of the Rwandan genocide and other contemporary genocides, and to educate of the 'responsibility of the individual'.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I m french and their is a small but growing debat in France on our responsability in the genocide. Could someone help me on that ? what do you think of this responsability ? thanks frederic

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello greg, the comments you refer about the UN having to leave people has been addressed in many works - perhaps you shoudl do a bit of your own research before you question Dallaire.

As the other post reveals he has never proclaimed himself to be a hero and has in fact had to live with the memories of the brutality he witnessed and was unable to stop. Suggesting he was a 'leading factor in encouraging the genocide' demonstrates a total lack of knowledge or understanding of the situation. The UN and its member states were responsible for not providing him with the tools to prevent the killings.

You ask why he is a hero, its a fair question. What you need to realise is that he was one of the few who chose not to leave, and in so doing saved lives. And you ask 'has the world gone mad?' well its another good question but whereas you direct it at the idea Dallaire could be considered a hero I prefer to consider that question from the point of view that the worlds most powerful utterly failed in their responsibilities. It is a mad world indeed when countries on the security council who at the time of Rwanda were oppossed to acting remain unable to learn from the deaths of 800,000 people. Unfortunately a small number of people prefer to focus criticism on the one man who at least did all he could to save peoples lives.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Matt Rose said...

Greg, I also suggest you educate yourself before condemning D'Allaire in such a harsh way. The impotence you mention is not that of General D'Allaire, but rather, a result of the uncaring attitude of the world community, including You and I, of shrugging it's shoulders, and turning it's back. We, the citizens of the western world, took away D'Allaire's power, and he is doing everything in his power to make sure that it never happens again.

Those forces you mention were pulled out by the Belgian and other gov'ts without his agreement, and against his direct requests for more troops. He asked for 44,000 troops, and after the Belgian gov't withdrew their troops, he was left with far less than 1,000 Should he have done more? Undoubtedly. Could he have done more? I don't think there's anyone that could honestly, unequivocably say yes.

D'Allaire did all he could to save all the people that he could, and in reward, the UN pulled his troops out, and left him there to watch hundreds of thousands of people die, while he tried in vain to save those the few people he had the forces to protect.

The trauma of that experience mentally and emotionally incapacited him with PTSD on his return to Canada. He ended up attempting suicide.Now, rather than trying to "put the past behind him", or attain "closure" he loves Rwanda, goes back there on a regular basis, and he's going around the world to try and get that message out, so that it never happens again.

Although I am a Canadian, and I consider him a hero, he himself does not. I'm sure if you asked him, he would agree with you more than with me.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Greg Marquez said...

I don't want to kick Gen. Dallaire while he's down but I think the cross-comments miss the point. Everyone keeps defending his actions by essentially saying he was just following orders.

I concede that I am not an expert on these things but I also think that here is no question but that Dallaire's forces could have destroyed the broadcast facilities which were used to coordinate the genocide. Dallaire did not do this because… he was ordered not to. He didn't do what he could do because the UN said no. Hello. Hello. You guys are missing the obvious. He should have disobeyed the order. I would guess that he would agree with that assessment.

The problem is the Canadian public. They like holding themselves out as these amazingly super-moral creatures who do not have to resort to brute force to solve problems like their obviously morally inferior neighbors to the south. And then when this moral fatuousness results in the genocide of hundred's of thousands they avert their eyes to their culpability and declare the supervisor of the genocide a national hero and continue promoting the U.N., as the great protector of human rights. By the way, whatever happened to Dalliare's boss at the U.N.? What was his name? Dofi, Mofi, Kofi ? Something like that.

To put it bluntly someone should have been fired for this but no one was. A bunch of medals and promotions were handed out. All the responsible parties patted each other on the back and excused one another and to this day the Canadian public instead of showing some remorse, or contrition or repentance continues to justify itself. Nothing could have been done, waa, waa, waa. You see we still are morally superior. Yeah tell that to the dead Rawandans cause I'm not buying it.

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg yes its true to say that you really aren't an expert. In hindsight i am sure he wishes he did some things differently - but that is hindsight and is very easy for people like you to batter on about long after the event. Moreover you miss the most crucial point. It wasn't Dallaires overwhelming failure which enabled the genocide to take place - it was the international communitys for failing to act even when they knew what was happening. Your point about the broadcast facilities is also ridiculously simplistic. If you actually studied the chronology of events and the number of troops Dallaire had on the ground during the start - peak of the broadcasts you woudl realise that it woudl have been impossible for him to apply enough troops to an operation. He was stretched thinly enough as it was.

Moreover merely destroying the broadcast facilities as you suggest would not have been enough, just as pirate radio stations have been closed down they prove able to move on and start-up with considerable speed and ease. The only way to have prevented the broadcasts of hate was for the US to committ to blocking the airwaves - a simple enough task - but one it chose not to do because Rwanda was a 'sovereign state'.

Your point about the UN and the fact that not enough people were held accountable is a fair point. Unfortunatley you decide to engage in trivial little digs rather than engage in a serious consideration of the point. You also seem to overemphasis Canda. For sure it fails to adequately match its principles in terms of action but lets not forget who the most culpable countries were during Rwanda - the US, UK, and France. You want to talk about morals and a failure to do anything then focus on these three. Your example of Annan getting promoted is a great example but ask why he got this promotion and the answer is clear...the US wanted him to get it.

You really should look in more detail at this subject. Dallaire admits he made mistakes but they are far more complex and open that your crass and hindsight driven statements.

At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before writing about Dallaire, I would like to know what qualifies you Greg to write in such a manner about a Lieutenant General of the Canadian army. I would be happy to accept your criticism if you had commanded troops, or worked in a position of responsibility in a war zone. However as I see no resemblance of this in your ignorant comments I can only assume that you don’t really understand Dallaire and his role. Normally before posting a blog one does at least research on the subject they are writing about, from the ignorant way you write one can only assume you didn’t.

A personal suggestion for you is that you read or watch, “Shaking hands with the devil”, before posting on this blog again.

General Dallaire was leader of UNAMIR the terribly neglected mission at the time of the Genocide in 1994. As soon as he realised what was going on he wired a fax to command asking for the means to do more. The response as we all no was negative. Despite this and being ordered on 3 occasions to leave the country, Dallaire remained in Rwanda. With him a small volunteer force from the former UN Troops stationed in Rwanda. Dallaire and his small team constantly went under personal and professional to rescue and save those who they could. His tireless value for human life kept him in Rwanda, risking his life and courageously attempting to save those who he could.

Dallaire himself submitted a detailed plan to HQ to dismantle a killing machine that was moving 5 times faster than the Nazis at the height of the Holocaust. His request, a mere 5000 troops. His plan was rejected by the UN Security council and the United States even refused to acknowledge the occurrence of the Genocide.

Dallaire book, “Shaking hands with the devil”, subtitled, “The Failure of Humanity”, details out the failures of the mission. It also tells how Dallaire experiences drove him close to suicide, post-traumatic stress and depression.

So is Dallaire a hero..?

Dallaire by his own admission doesn’t feel a hero or want to be proclaimed as such. In his visit to Rwanda in 2004 he said with much emotion that he felt that he and the world had failed Rwanda in 1994.

But by all accounts, Dallaire should have left Rwanda along with his fellow service men; instead he risked his life and stayed.

It’s evident that others writing here think that Dallaire should have vetoed the order to withdraw.

A bit stupid really, if Dallaire had done this, I believe his own command would have executed him and promptly left. Once dead, of course would have made it completely impossible for him to help at all. If you want to risk your life for others, it doesn’t give you the authority to order others to do the same.

I will remind you that “He, who saves a single life, saves the world entire.”

To suggest that Dallaire’s work was impotent or that it encouraged the Genocide is just fucking stupid. How was sending soldiers to secure potential targets impotent or helping the liberating rebel force get into the capital city encouraging genocide.

Even from the very beginning of the Genocide, Dallaire and his troops were running short on every supply including ammunition. The only significant section of the troops had been the Belgians, however after Brussels ordered their withdrawal, the main source of high skilled man power, weapons and ammunition were gone. By the 3rd or 4th day of the genocide, Dallire’s volunteer mission were numbered more than 1000 men.

It’s very important that the whole world realises something. We, and by that I mean every person of an age to realise the difference between right and wrong, are collectively responsible for the Rwandan genocide and shortly we will be responsible for the Darfuri genocide to.

Of course not each and every one of us are not responsible for its beginning and of course we could not all have fought against the militia, but by putting pressure on the powers governing those who could act we could have made a difference.

I think rather than undermining the brave efforts of Dallaire, we should each question ourselves about our own duty and failure to respond to the situation.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Gary C said...

I think That General Dallaire should be view as a very important figure not for the mistakes that he might of committed but for the effort he gave. At least he tried to help while the rest of us just sat comfortably at home infront of our large screen t.v.s watching a movie or two. What gives us the right to critize one who tried despite putting himself in harms way. The more I read about him the more I respect him. I just hope that one day he may sleep good at night, for he is his own worst critic. He doesn't like the word hero but in this readers mind the word fits perfectly.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger xoxo... t said...

All one asks is that you read the testimony from his mouth before passing judgement. Read "Shake Hands with the Devil" where he details every last request made to the UN and every last disagreeance with their responses. General Dallaire was failed in Rwanda and as such, so were all Rwandans when the President's plane was shot down on April 6th. If you don't think so, check out Bill Clinton's apology on the matter.

Read the book. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but if you read testimony right from the horse's mouth, than your opinions will at least hold some weight.


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