Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian military general (rtd) who served as Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda a quarter century ago, is this year’s recipient of Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship.
Dallaire, 73, received the award in Toronto, Canada, Wednesday, September 25, from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship at a forum dubbed 6 Degrees.
“This timely recognition, on the 25th anniversary of the (Genocide against the Tutsi) in Rwanda, is an urgently needed reminder of the very real consequences of inaction in the face of growing divisions in Canada and around the world,” according to a statement.
More than a million people lost their lives during the Genocide in Rwanda amid indifference from the United Nations and the rest of the international community. The UN ignored repeated pleas from Dallaire to reinforce and allow his relatively small peacekeeping force to engage the genocide machinery, but the former responded only by withdrawing the bulk of the blue helmets instead.
“General Dallaire’s lifetime of work is woven together by a common thread. He brings to light issues too often ignored. He forces us to acknowledge and act on uncomfortable truths.
“He works to make the world a better place for its most vulnerable. He has been named the 2019 Laureate in recognition of this work and to honour his courage and resilience in transforming trauma into action,” the statement adds.
The Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship is awarded annually to a “leader whose life work has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the ideals of belonging and inclusion.” The prize is presented as one of the signature events of 6 Degrees Toronto, described as a global forum for inclusion.
Adrienne Clarkson, the co-founder of Institute for Canadian Citizenship, said Dallaire was chosen as this year’s recipient, because “his actions and his humanity made the genocide real to all of us.
“His attempts to awaken the world’s conscience and his subsequent struggle to deal with his own trauma have made him a figure who personifies humanity and its attempts to defeat the forces of darkness. As soldier, senator, and advocate for the helpless, General Dallaire continues to remind us that no human is more human than any other.”
Later, in 2003, Dallaire would author a book, titled ‘Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda’, in which he shared his harrowing experience during his mission in Rwanda.
“25 years ago today, I departed from Rwanda injured, even broken, but profoundly awake to the responsibility we have to each other as human beings and global citizens,” Dallaire is quoted as saying at the forum.
He added: “In these perilous times, similar to those in 1994 when nearly two million refugees were fleeing one tiny country for their lives, it is critical we see ourselves beyond borders and as citizens who share an ethical covenant to respect and protect one another.
“Because every human is human; a sentiment powerfully acknowledged by this humbling recognition from Madame Clarkson.”
Speaking in an earlier interview with OpenCanada ahead of the event, Gen Dallaire said: ‘With Africa and the Rwandan experience, two things changed. One, (I had) the realisation that Africa is a place where extraordinary people live with a magnificent internal culture...
“Two, (I understood) the vulnerability of humanity and of human rights and the overriding concern that people have with self-interest, versus a higher plane,’ Dallaire
In 2007, Dallaire founded the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, a global partnership with the mission to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Past laureates of the Adrienne Clarkson Prize include Margaret Atwood, a Canadian poet and novelist; Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and activist, and His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism.