Romeo Dallaire was in Vancouver on Remembrance Day to call Canadian youth to duty in the fight to eradicate child soldiers.

[Dallaire is a former Canadian senator and a a retired general, who tried to stop the Rwandan genocide. This article is from the Vancouver Sun and you can read the piece at their site by clicking here.]

Dallaire calls on youth to mobilize, eradicate use of child soldiers

Romeo Dallaire was in Vancouver on Remembrance Day to call Canadian youth to duty in the fight to eradicate child soldiers.

By Vancouver SunNovember 12, 2010

Romeo Dallaire was in Vancouver on Remembrance Day to call Canadian youth to duty in the fight to eradicate child soldiers.

“Go and get your boots dirty,” he said. “Be part of the solution.”

It is young people, he believes, who can mobilize through social networks to save children who are being forced into combat in developing countries.

His new book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, is a painful but beautifully rendered and expertly argued examination of the humanitarian crisis of children who are forced into combat.

Remembrance Day is a tough day for the retired lieutenant-general and Liberal senator.

“I’m reminded of my father and father-in-law, who are veterans, but I am reminded far more of the soldiers who served with me, those who were injured, those who are still suffering, their families, the ones who were killed, the ones who killed themselves.”

He is also reminded that around the globe, approximately 300,000 children are engaged as child soldiers, as rebel soldiers, as sex slaves, as weapons systems in failing states and imploding nations, with no way out.

“Why are those kids not as human as us?” he asked. “If they are as human as us, then why aren’t we intervening?”

Dallaire hopes his new book will reach young people and that they, in turn, will reach out “to help their peers in these countries.”

He drew inspiration for the book from Antoine de St. Exupery’s The Little Prince. The world, to today’s web-savvy kids, is as small as the planet the Little Prince stands upon. Dallaire hopes that our children, and the child that “survives within ourselves” will find the compassion to reach out to child soldiers, girls and boys, suffering in the developing world.

Dallaire wants “companies and battalions of youths” to take up the cause through social networks and help work toward a global consensus to end the humanitarian crisis.

“Think of how we respond to an Amber Alert,” he said in an interview in Vancouver on Remembrance Day. “Those kids, those child soldiers, are just as human, as our own.”

Children make ideal weapons, he said: they are trusting, easily indoctrinated, vulnerable, they require little food, are easily expendable and easily replaceable.

They can be used to run across landmines, because they are less valuable than other soldiers, and in combat, when peacekeepers or professional soldiers come eye-to-eye with a child, their moral and ethical training may cause them to hesitate for a heartbeat, giving the enemy an advantage.

“We have got a crime against humanity,” he said as he quietly stirred his Earl Grey tea.

“Children are being used as weapons of war.”

Dallaire said his mission to understand and change the plight of child soldiers helped pull him out of the emotional maelstrom that overwhelmed him after his tragic and failed peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994.

“It started with being pulled out of the army and being told I was useless,” he said.

“They were right. My life was to command troops and this injury doesn’t permit you to do that.”

The injury to which he refers is not a physical injury, but a blow to the soul: the post-traumatic stress disorder that he has experienced since bearing witness to the genocide in Rwanda.

The opportunity to speak about war-affected children has given him a reason to live, and something worth fighting for.

After speaking at a conference on the problem of war-affected children, Dallaire accepted a chair at Harvard’s Carr Centre for Human Rights at the John F. Kennedy School of Government to study the problem.

There was very little academic, intellectually rigorous research or analysis available on child soldiers.

“I realized that what we were doing in this area, the diplomats, the humanitarians, the development people, the military, the police in conflict-resolution was nothing more than trying to adopt old methods to a new era.”

The conventional view of war-affected children as victims, and (post-conflict) as a social problem, was missing something in the middle: how they are being used during a conflict.

Dallaire argues that a new conceptual base must be brought forth, and a new vocabulary developed. Child fighters, child rebels, child soldiers are being used as weapons, and must be dealt with as such.

“We have to understand that these children are being used as a weapons platform, a whole God damned weapons system,” said Dallaire.

“If it is a weapons system, you want to neutralize and eradicate it, even from the minds of adults, just like we have done with nuclear weapons.”

This new vocabulary, new way of looking at child soldiers, shocked people working in the field, said Dallaire.

“I don’t mean to eradicate the children. I mean to eradicate the use of children as a weapon.”

A weapon that is also human, and morally innocent, presents unique ethical and legal dilemmas.

Peacekeepers are not prepared to deal with armed children, political leaders fail to take action, and rogue commanders continue to recruit children, said Dallaire.

“How many more thousands of children have to be recruited, how many raped, wounded, killed before we become engaged?” he asks in his new book.

Dallaire still seethes with rage at the helplessness he felt two decades ago when he saw child soldiers in action in Rwanda, “the living souls … who have been influenced to commit such horrific acts … and the adults that directed them.”

But he also believes that technology has changed the world in wonderful ways.

“Don’t pull your children away from the screens,” he said. “Keep them in front of the screens so they can see the world.”

Dallaire said he feels a sense of optimism when he looks at the generation of kids in schools these days. “They have no sense of ‘the other.’ Through the Web the youth have become aware of the world, they are not afraid of multi-ethnicity, human rights, they can grasp grand concepts.”

He believes that if kids across Canada — at an elementary or high school level, and at the university level — mobilized through social networks, they could make direct connections with youth in conflict zones.

They could even guide actions to ensure children are no longer used as instruments of war, he said, adding battalions of youths are needed to protect their peers.

How can it be done?

“By use of non-lethal weapons, by better defence of areas where they can be recruited, by figuring out how to stop the proliferation of small arms, by developing a field guide that is adaptable to different conflicts, by getting public opinion to support legislation … make it part of the fundamental premise of our laws and ethics.”

For more information on how youth can work with Romeo Dallaire to eradicate child soldiers, go to

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