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Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired)

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired) was the force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, or UNAMIR, in 1993 and 1994. When the genocide started, he had to do his best with the minimal amount of forces he was left with to save as many civilians as possible and try to calm the chaos that was all around him. Here he speaks about the importance of the conference and reflects on the lessons learned in the years since the Rwandan genocide as well as challenges that still affect peacekeeping today.


Question One: What can be accomplished by bringing together key decision makers from 1994 to assess the events that led up to the genocide in Rwanda?

First thing is actually having them sitting around a large square table or set of tables to talk. Because many of us have either avoided each other or not spoken or simply read what we’ve written and been left on our appetite, and “Boy I’d love to see him again.” So, there’s the formal sessions and then the informal sessions where we’re able to get a snippet here and there. But it’s giving really, in all honesty, depth to the material that’s already out there and it will permit collating materials and opinions that were not there before that can reinforce the paperwork.

Question Two: Looking at the situations we face today, do you think the lessons of Rwanda have been learned by the international community?

The lessons have been learned extensively on paper. What I mean by that is that we’ve introduced the Rome Statue and the International Criminal Court to fight impunity. That’s a direct result of the Rwandan tribunal, the Yugoslavian tribunal, the Sierra Leone tribunal. And so that’s a great result. We introduced, we started work in 2001 and by 2005 the whole [UN] General Assembly signed on to Responsibility to Protect, which means that if abuses are massive in a population we have the responsibility to go in and protect the innocent people. So that means that sovereignty is no more an absolute, which is a great revolution. There are all kinds of protocols and so on, as an example, the Optional Protocol on Child Rights, that prevents you from recruiting children and it’s also a crime against humanity and we’re holding countries accountable. But all that hasn’t been really operationalized. There is one factor that makes the situation today worse than in 1993 and 1994. In 1993 and 1994 we were stumbling into this stuff. We really didn’t know what the hell we were getting into, and that’s why I ended up with a Chapter VI [peacekeeping mandate] in Rwanda. We’ve got 20 years under our belt. We’ve got all these pieces of paper that give us the authority, but we do not have the political will to implement it. And so what is still missing is statesmanship in the world.

Question Three: How effective has R2P been as an instrument and what are its prospects?

It is there, people know of it, know of the different pillars: economic, political, diplomatic, and military security side. It is not operationalized, because there is no political will to want to apply it on purely humanitarian grounds. Countries are still too hung up with self-interests dominating and so we’ve got a lot of politicians who are managing problems but no statesmen who wants to lead and solve them.

Question Four: The protection of civilians is more routinely included in the mandates of peacekeeping missions. What are the primary obstacles to realizing R2P and what advice would you give to the incoming force commander in a new UN peacekeeping mission?

I’ve been reading the mandates over the last years, and the mandates are becoming very robust and they make a lot of sense. We’re including even more and more of the child soldiers’ stuff that I’ve been working on, where they are a security problem and not just a social and economic one. So the mandates are there. What we’re seeing as a problem is the people who are being deployed being able to apply them. That is to say, peacekeeping or conflict resolution is no more “blue beret,” it’s “blue helmet.” And in that context it is far more complex and ambiguous in these imploding nations and failing states and civil wars than it was when one nation was going after another.

And with that complexity and ambiguity, you need people who’ve got more depth than purely using force. You need people who understand the problem. So, as an example, you need people who have anthropology, sociology, philosophy in your leadership to be able to grasp all this. So, instead of seeing deployed, developed countries, who’ve got extensive training, who’ve got a lot of command and control capabilities, who’ve got the logistics to sustain themselves, and they’ve got the technology to be able to cover the ground in a continuous fashion day and night. We’ve seen them abdicate and hand it over to developing countries who have next to none of that.

And so when you don’t have the equipment, you don’t have the weapons, you don’t have the protection, you don’t even have the good command and control, field commanders will then start to reduce the impact of their rules of engagement, and so we’re seeing a reticence of maximizing what’s there. And so I think the greatest element of sadness, apart from the fact that we’re not applying R2P, is the fact that the developing countries, the middle powers, the Canadas, Germanys, and more of the Dutch and so on, the Japanese even, they are just not engaging. And if they engage first, and keep the big boys in reserve, I think we’d probably come in with far more subtle, far more acceptable sort of scenarios than coming in and being seen as an occupation force.