Roméo Dallaire Garners W. Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award

The Jewish Tribune – November 17, 2005


Shlomit Kriger
Tribune Correspondent

While the recent Holocaust Education Week served as a reminder of the suffering of the Jewish nation, among others, during WWII, it also brought to the forefront the reality that other genocides have since occurred and may continue despite the vow of ‘never again.’

One of these was the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, through which a group of Hutu extremists known as Interahamwe brutally murdered about 800,000 men, women and children – Tutsis and moderate Hutus who supported them – in that African country within 100 days.

Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire helped save thousands of lives while serving as force commander of the United Nations mission in Rwanda. In recognition of his courageous efforts and dedication to world peace, Holy Blossom Temple presented Dallaire with the W. Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award on Nov. 7.

Every two years the award is bestowed upon a Canadian who has made an outstanding contribution to the community and to human rights. Previous recipients include Dr. J. Fraser Mustard, founding president and fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research [CIAR], and Irwin Cotler, Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general.

“Dallaire is a leader and a scholar, and above all, someone who speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves,” said Holy Blossom’s Award Committee Chair, Rose Wolfe, who presented the award.

John Fraser, Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, introduced Dallaire, commending him for bringing to bear his own personal set of values while in Rwanda and for “not parking his humanity at the door.”

Dallaire was sent to Rwanda as a peacekeeper and to help the two ethnic groups in the region come to a compromise. Although he saw the grave conditions firsthand, it took him a while to recognize that this was, indeed, another genocide.

“The genocide in Rwanda happened this morning, not 11 years ago,” said Dallaire. “The Holocaust happened this morning. The destruction and despair are alive and will never go away. There is no way of forgetting.”

Nevertheless, by his third week in the region, Dallaire received an order from the UN and its Security Council to withdraw his force for fear that their own people faced too much of a risk for their lives. Dallaire refused. He had already helped get 30,000 Rwandans under protection while more than 300,000 others were slaughtered.

Dallaire was surprised at the response to the conflict considering that the previous year the United States took similar action during the Battle of Mogadishu, which resulted in a failed attempt to prevent the deaths of thousands in Somalia. He also pointed out the delay in bringing aid to those currently dying in Sudan.

“Are all humans human or are some more human than others?” he asked the crowd. “Are some more important than others? Are they worthy of us risking our lives while others are not?”

Many of those who created the idea of wiping out the Tutsis – who comprised more than 80 per cent of the population in Rwanda at the time – are now sitting in France living in luxury, while nobody is fighting to bring them in front of the international court, he added.

“Even if we use the term genocide, how is it that we can’t stop these things in their tracks? How many millions of people have to die before we respond?”

To impede such catastrophes, Dallaire believes that more women should be empowered to serve in leadership roles, because they “have heart and emotion.” He also reinforced the importance of educating the youth.

“Give them the tools to express their arguments and give them the sense that they can affect the future.”

In an interview with the Jewish Tribune, Dallaire shared some thoughts on how the Jewish community can play a role.

“It is in building the momentum of the suffering of these genocides, in addition to more cohesiveness amongst the suffering nations and those who have gone through the horrors, that I think people will continue to keep alive the effort to eradicate (genocides).”

Since the Rwandan genocide, Dallaire, unable to shake the disturbing memories, suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and attempted suicide more than once. He disclosed his experiences in his book Shake Hands with the Devil in 2003 and in a documentary of the same name produced by White Pine Pictures a year later – following his first return trip to Rwanda in April 2004.

He spent a few moments following the award ceremony greeting all the audience members and signing copies of his book for those who brought along a copy.

Dallaire is currently pursuing a Fellowship at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he continues his studies on conflict resolution. He is also Special Advisor to the Canadian International Development Agency on war-affected children and Advisor to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on the prohibition of small arms distribution.