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Romeo Dallaire

Child Soldiers in Africa: New Angles on this Instrument of War

Date Recorded: Mar 12th, 2005
Recorded At: Africa Now: Untold Stories Conference, Carleton University, Ottawa
Duration: 59:30


Topic Background

According to the Canadian International Development Agency, worldwide, in any given year, over 300,000 children under 18 are exploited in armed conflicts as child soldiers and sex slaves.

Children are recruited as child soldiers because they are perceived as cheap and expendable, and are easily brutalized into fearless killing and unquestioning obedience. They are often chosen for the most dangerous assignments or forced to participate in human rights abuses, sometimes against their own families or communities. Atrocities have all too frequently been committed by child soldiers, sometimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol which they may be forced to take. It is argued however, that it is not the drugs, but the children’s systematic abuse by adults, combined with a pervasive culture of violence, that is ultimately responsible for the situation of these children.

Child soldiers routinely suffer killings, beatings and other forms of torture or ill-treatment, and forced labour. Girls are raped and forced into sexual slavery. If they survive, many child soldiers struggle to overcome the physical and psychological consequences of their experiences; but it may take years for them to be fully rehabilitated and able to reintegrate into society and resume their lives.

Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire currently focuses on the continent of Africa for his research on child soldiers, while pursuing a fellowship at the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University.

Dallaire’s research is informed by his perspective as a military field commander, as he addresses the effectiveness of the currently used weapons system in African states, and explores what system is needed to counteract it, and to render it ineffective. He aims to bring an intellectual and scientific approach, rather that an emotional response, to the issue.

His intense emotional involvement in this, and other areas of preserving the value of human life in the African continent, are told in his account of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Shake Hands With The Devil- The failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Speaker Biography

Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire was born in 1946 in Holland, joined the Canadian army in 1964 and rose through the ranks. In 1993, he was sent to enforce a peace agreement between warring factions in Rwanda, and found himself in the middle of a bloodbath as Hutu extremists embarked on a killing spree which ended with the death of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over a period of 100 days. During this time of inter-ethnic chaos and international diplomatic inaction, the Canadian officer struggled to save the lives of thousands of Rwandans.

His 2004 book, Shake Hands With the Devil, chronicles his witnessing of this genocide.

He retired from the Canadian army in 2000 and is now special advisor to the Canadian Ministry of Defence on child soldiers, and is pursuing a fellowship on child soldiers at the Carr Centre ofr Human Rights Policy at Harvard. He is married with three children.

For more information about Romeo Dallaire visit

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