With his announcement that he will be stepping down in June, Senator Roméo Dallaire is ending his service as a Canadian parliamentarian. He has served in the upper chamber since his appointment in 2005.
Born in the Netherlands in 1946, Mr. Dallaire is perhaps best known as the commander of the ill-fated UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. He has been remarkably candid about Rwanda’s emotional impact, speaking openly about his suicidal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He has also been an advocate for veterans, and pursued high-profile international humanitarian work, including a campaign to end the use of child soldiers. His books include Shake Hands with the Devil and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children.
The Globe and Mail has compiled a chronological selection of significant moments in Mr. Dallaire’s life and career.
In late 1993, Mr. Dallaire, then a general in the Canadian military, was placed in command of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. The death of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana in April of 1994 triggered an outbreak of violence involving the Hutus and the Tutsis, Rwanda’s two largest ethnic groups; over the next few months, Hutu activists and militias, supplemented by police officers and military commanders, killed an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis.
Gen. Dallaire’s efforts to seize weapons and prevent the violence were deemed beyond the scope of his UN mandate. He and his staff intervened where they could, and were credited with saving up to 32,000 lives, but the mass killings continued until July, 1994, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front, under the command of current President Paul Kagame, gained effective control of the country.
Mr. Dallaire has been openly critical of the world’s failure to intervene ever since. On his own site he argues that the Rwandan story is “the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.”
In the years after Rwanda, Mr. Dallaire was appointed to several high-profile military posts including a divisional command, a staff position at National Defence Headquarters, and special adviser to the Chief of the Defence Staff. He was decorated as an Officer of the Legion of Merit of the United States in 1996, the highest honour available to non-Americans.
He suffered from guilt, depression, and PTSD, however, and attempted suicide in 2000. He has been an outspoken advocate for more attention to depression and mental health in the Canadian military, with a particular emphasis on suicides among armed-services personnel.
Shake Hands with the Devil, 2004
Mr. Dallaire’s book about the Rwandan genocide blames France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the UN for aiding and abetting the tragedy. It also details his own experience and guilt over his inability to prevent the slaughter.
Published by Random House Canada in 2004, Shake Hands with the Devil won the 2004 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction.
Earlier the same year, Mr. Dallaire attended the International Criminal Tribunal to testify against Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, who was subsequently convicted of genocide and responsibility for the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers.
Senate of Canada, 2005-2014
Mr. Dallaire was appointed a Senator for Quebec by governor-general Adrienne Clarkson on March 24, 2005. He sat as a member of the Senate Liberal caucus until Jan. 29, 2014, when party leader Justin Trudeau expelled him and his Senate peers from the party caucus.
Trial of Désiré Munyaneza, 2007
Former Toronto resident Désiré Munyaneza was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Rwandan genocide. Mr. Dallaire testified at the trial in Montreal, giving detailed descriptions of the situation on the ground and the wider context of organized mass slaughter.
In his testimony, Mr. Dallaire insisted that his PTSD actually sharpened his memory for detail. “Post-traumatic stress disorder hard-wires events in your brain to the extent they will come back in digitally clear detail to your brain,” he said in response to questions from lawyer Laurence Cohen. “You don't actually remember them. You relive them.”
After giving his evidence, Mr. Dallaire said he considered testifying an act of duty.
Zero Force, 2010
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative was already established at Dalhousie University when Mr. Dallaire challenged an audience of 750 high-school students in Toronto to enlist in his fight to eradicate the use of child soldiers. He was accompanied by Emmanuel Jal, a former Sudanese child soldier. The event was part of Zero Force, a widespread advocacy initiative aimed primarily at young adults 25 and under; Mr. Dallaire subsequently spoke to the Globe’s Michael Posner about civic engagement among younger Canadians.
Earlier that year, Mr. Dallaire’s book detailing the fight was published. They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children described the tragedy of children forced into battle, used as sex slaves, and subjected to forcible confinement, rape, torture, and brainwashing. Mr. Dallaire's advocacy has included the case of Omar Khadr; in 2008, he told a parliamentary subcommittee that failing to defend Mr. Khadr's human rights would make Canada no better than the terrorists it was purporting to fight.
Car accident, 2013
In December of 2013, Mr. Dallaire fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and crashed into a traffic barrier on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He said the news of three suicides of Canadian soldiers, combined with stress over the approach of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, had left him unable to sleep.