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Canadian icon talks about the tragedy of child soldiers

Canadian icon talks about the tragedy of child soldiers

A Canadian icon Romeo Dallaireof humanitarianism urged Glendon students to “get your boots dirty” by working in a developing country and experiencing what life is like for 80 per cent of humanity, as he delivered Glendon's annual John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture.

Right: Dallaire speaks to a standing-room only crowd in Glendon's lecture hall

Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, former commander of the UN mission to Rwanda between 1993 and 1994 and now a Canadian senator, made the remarks in York Hall on Nov. 23, in a wide-ranging talk on the revolutionary changes that have taken place in warfare and international relations, including the tragic use of child soldiers in conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.

In describing how the use of child soldiers came about, Dallaire talked of this being a revolutionary time where the status quo no longer exists. “For the last 20 years we’ve been into a whole new set of parameters in regards to security,” he said, “Where we used to have classic war for which we were prepared with all our technology and uniforms and structures and so on...that all disappeared and we have nothing to handle it.”

Dallaire said the problem of child soldiers began in Mozambique in the late 1980s and continues because leaders in the Western world are “risk averse” and reluctant to become involved in the complex and ambiguous situations that give rise to the conflicts in which they are used. “We haven’t necessarily applied all the laws to stop it,” he said, citing new legal concepts such as humanitarian space and sovereign nations’ responsibility to protect their citizens.

Above: Prof. Stanislav Kirchbaum, Appathurai scholarship winner Dona Dunea, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire and Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts

Eighty per cent of humanity is living in inhuman conditions, he continued, and that poverty is the essence of it. “These massive abuses of human rights are creating the rage that is initiating the extremism that is bringing terrorism, and it’s going to continue to generate a security problem,” Dallaire said.

Child soldiers are a “weapons system”, he explained, putting the problem into military parlance. “What is the system to render them ineffective, to make them a liability to the adults so they won’t use them and then don’t recruit them? That is what we are working on now….  What you can do is join an NGO. Join the NGO community. Get involved in the NGOs because they are evolving massively in numbers and they are starting to coalesce more, they are starting to cover all the bases in humanity and they are, for you, an opportunity to get into the field and to see what is happening today with the state of humanity.

“I believe [they] will be far more the voice of humanity in the future,” Dallaire said. “They will influence public opinion and policy more than the nation states themselves because they’re without borders.

“There should be maybe a rite of passage, that what you require is a pair of dirty boots underneath your bed that have been soiled in the earth of a developing country. Where you went to see what happens to the 80 per cent of humanity. You bring that back here, where the 20 per cent are, and you significantly influence the policies and how we actually will be advancing humanity…. So get your boots dirty, get involved.

For more information on what is being done to stop the use of child soldiers, Dallaire recommended the website, the public mobilization campaign of the Child Soldiers Initiative, which he founded in 2010.

As is customary at the annual lecture, the winner of the Edward R. and Caroline Appathurai Scholarship in International Studies was announced. This year's award went to Glendon student Dona Dunea.

More about the John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture at Glendon

The annual John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture at Glendon honours the late John W. Holmes, a Canadian diplomat, writer, administrator and international relations professor at Glendon from 1971 to 1981. Holmes was a tireless promoter of Canada at home and abroad, in political, diplomatic and educational circles. He also participated in the founding of the United Nations and attended its first General Assembly in 1945.

Shortly after his death in 1988, a memorial fund was set up at Glendon under the leadership of Professor Albert Tucker, principal of Glendon from 1970 to 1975 and chair of the Department of History at the time, to create a series of annual lectures honouring Holmes, sponsored by Glendon's International Studies Program. It was launched in 1989 by the late Edward Appathurai, who established international studies at Glendon, Tucker and three Glendon graduates, Jim Dow (BA '75), Marshall Leslie (BA Comb. Hons. '75, MBA '80) and Martin Shadwick (BA '76, MA '78), who had attended Holmes’ course on Canadian foreign and defence policy.

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.