UN force commander during Rwandan genocide discusses changing rules of global conflict

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Roméo Dallaire lectured before a crowd of hundreds in the Mack Ballroom inside Umphrey Lee. Photo credit: Lauren Aguirre

Retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire visited SMU Thursday night. He gave a lecture in the Mack Ballroom inside Umphrey Lee.

Dallaire began the evening with a few jokes about history and his verbose tendencies, claiming he had reduced his presentation to “only 146 slides.”

“You’re not here to have a good time,” he continued. “I hope you’re here to get a feel of what is going on.”

Dallaire was appointed force commander for the United Nations Assistance mission for Rwanda in 1993. He witnessed the genocide of more than 800,000 Rwandans during his service.

After retiring, he has become a human rights advocate, founding the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The organization aims to end the use of child soldiers worldwide.

“We have seen so many destructions of human life over the past 25 years,” Dallaire said. “We are seeing the introduction of children as weapons of war.”

He discussed the changing rules of war. With child soldiers, conflicts are being prolonged and sustained by aging of these children.

“We nee a new conceptual framework to understand what is happening in these conflicts,” he said. “We don’t even have a lexicon.”

Dallaire claimed that the Rwandan genocide occurred because the rest of the world didn’t value human lives.

“We’ve stumbled into a scenario where human beings don’t count,” he said. ” There was more coverage of O.J.’s glove than there was of the slaughter of 10,000 people a day.”

Dallaire also cast his gaze forward in time.

“One day, we won’t have to kill each other to make a point,” he said. “Human rights will be the framework we will follow.”

SMU students were excited to see Dallaire on campus.

“His ideas inspired me and it keeps my fuel going,” first-year Human Rights major Julia Cantú said.

Another first-year attended the event for the educational experience.

“I don’t have a lot of knowledge on this subject so I’m happy to learn,” finance major Olivia Edwards said. “We’re learning from someone deeply involved in this field. These events seem very distant and don’t get enough attention.”

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