KIGALI - Retired Canadian Lieutenant General, Romeo Dallaire, the former United Nations Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) force commander who was in the country as the 1994 genocide unfolded has said that he now feels a sense of “personal relief” after Canada came out to recognise the country’s failure to stop the mass killings.
Canada’s Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, during last week’s visit to Rwanda, apologised and acknowledged Canada’s responsibility in failing to stop the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
“It was done, from what I can see, with an enormous amount of humility. I think it was done with sensitivity, and also with a sincerity of recognizing that the international community and Canada’s part of that abandoned Rwanda not only during the genocide, but also in attempting to prevent it,” Dallaire told Canadian press.
“It’s a great source of personal relief to the 11 officers who were with me — 12, in fact, one of them has committed suicide — and to myself.”
Jean’s 3-day visit which ended Friday is the first made by a high-profile Canadian official since the genocide.
In her statement, Jean said Canada “readily acknowledges its fair share of responsibility” and that this country “could have prevented the magnitude of the horror of the genocide.”
Dallaire said it doesn’t matter if Jean’s statement amounts to an official apology or, as the government says, simply an “acknowledgment” of Canada’s inadequate response.
“That’s irrelevant to me. And I say that as the former force commander on the ground with bodies up to my neck and screaming for support,” said Dallaire.
“A head of state went to that country and demonstrated the solidarity with the Rwandan people. To me, that is a great gesture, and I think it’s reflective of essentially what Canadians believe . . . but it doesn’t excuse the fact that when we were screaming for people to come and to stop this genocide, over months, (and) governments deliberately decided not to provide resources to the UN to stop it.”
Dallaire arrived in Rwanda in 1993 to act as the commander of a small United Nations military mission in Rwanda that was to oversee the implementation of an accord intended to end the three-year civil war.
When the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, Hutu extremists began their slaughter of roughly 800,000 mostly Tutsi Rwandans. The killing lasted 100 days.
As some countries pulled their troops, Dallaire pleaded with the UN for more resources, but was ultimately unsuccessful in preventing the mass slaughter. He was able to save an estimated 32,000 people, but was deeply emotionally affected by the experience for years.
On Thursday, Dallaire acknowledged that Canada was the only country that provided any help when he was in Rwanda, sending 12 officers and two Hercules aircraft, although, he said, “what I needed was battalions.”
Now serving as a senator, Dallaire also works on a UN genocide prevention advisory committee. He said that while there have been “significant reforms” to peacekeeping at the UN, he is not yet confident that Canada has “the political will” to intervene in similar atrocities.
“It’s not whether or not, in the field, we’ll be able to do that job. It’s whether politically we want to engage, take the risks, and respond to what we belief in — human rights,” he said.
“I mean, it’s a fundamental law of our country. So when human rights are massively abused, then we have a responsibility to go in and protect.”
Dallaire called upon Canada to be a UN-peacekeeping leader once again and that includes a possible mission in the Congo with a “responsibility” to prevent human rights atrocities as much as it has one to “go in afterwards and pick up the pieces.”
“I think the Congo is but one mission. Darfur is another. There are 109,000 peacekeepers around the world, and we’ve got 53 Canadians engaged,” Dallaire said Thursday.
“We can and have the competency to command these missions, to provide the command and control capabilities, headquarters and so on. We’ve got the depth linguistically, and also experientially now having been involved in counter-insurgency to be able to respond to peacekeeping today.”
Dallaire said peacekeeping operations are no longer about soldiers “standing there watching” in blue berets and short pants. Today’s peacekeeping operations mean troops must be prepared to protect the vulnerable.