Images of 9- to 12-year old soldiers who were trained to implement the Rwandan Genocide, and photos of those who died in the bloody assault scrolled across the screen in Albright Auditorium at the start of the President’s Forum talk by Lt. General Roméo Dallaire on Friday night. As Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda in 1993, Dallaire’s mission was to enforce a peace treaty; he alerted the United Nations of the impending genocide in which 800,000 people were killed over the course of 100 days.
Dallaire opened his address, noting that he came to campus to reflect on his efforts to end genocide, and also hoped to provoke the audience toward action.
“We’re going to do a bit of a return into history, and we’re going to project into the future, and I hope at the end of that to make you very uncomfortable,” explained Dallaire. “What I hope to do is create in you a pilot light of a flame of activism and engagement for humanity without war and, in so doing, hopefully you will carry on the flame of human rights and help to one day prevent the massive abuses of human rights around the world.”
The Canadian senator, humanitarian and author was welcomed to campus by President Mark D. Gearan, Associate Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies Department Richard Salter and more than 300 members of the HWS and Geneva communities. The event marked the beginning of a three-semester long symposium on genocide.
Prior to Dallaire’s talk, Gearan recognized Dr. Edward Franks ’72, an ophthalmologist from Albany, N.Y., who initiated and funded the Human Rights and Genocide Speaker Series at Hobart and William Smith Colleges for more than a decade.
Reflecting on the toll of genocide, Dallaire explained that one of the things that most needs to be changed is the world’s response to these tragedies, noting that more emphasis needs to be placed on conflict prevention, especially in creating an environment that is not conducive to these abuses.
“We need three things to advance past, and one day prevent, human rights abuses,” said Dallaire. “First, since more than 40 percent of the population is female, we need to empower women. Secondly, education will instill the intellectual rigor necessary for peoples to figure out their own problems and provide good solutions. Finally, we need to instill in the world a sense of responsibility towards humanity that values respect over tolerance and recognizes that no person is more human than another.”
In 2000, Dallaire retired from the Canadian army, and began work as a special adviser to the Canadian minister responsible for Canadian International Development Agency, focusing on war-affected children and the non-proliferation of small arms. He has also served as a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he began to avidly pursue research on conflict resolution and the use of child soldiers. In March of 2005, Dallaire was appointed to the Canadian Senate, where he currently represents the province of Quebec.
Established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, the President’s Forum Series is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members.
The Human Rights and Genocide lecture series began on the HWS campus in the Fall 1999 through a donation from Franks. In his continuing interest in the subject, Franks has made another significant donation to support the symposium that begins this semester. Through a series of lectures, films, art exhibits, and more, the series aims to examine the systematic killing of whole national or ethnic groups. Genocides in the 20th century include the two World Wars, the Stalinist gulag, the Holocaust, Armenia, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the killing fields in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo.
Dallaire’s talk was also made possible in part by the generous scholarship of the Young Memorial Trust.