Dallaire outlines 'new world disorder' and provides lessons of hope at Pensa Lecture

November 29, 2012

Sen. Dallaire lecture

By Susanna Eayrs

Senator Roméo Dallaire brought lessons of hope and an inspiring call to action at the 2012 Claude and Elaine Pensa Lecture in Human Rights at Western University.

Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His book on that experience, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2004.

He delivered the free public lecture, entitled ‘The Will to Intervene’, to an overflow audience on November 23 at the Faculty of Law.

Dallaire, a strong advocate for human rights, is a senior fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies and co-director of the institute’s Will to Intervene Project.

During his provocative and thoughtful speech, he discussed the need to identify strategic and practical steps to build the political will to prevent mass atrocities.

Dallaire asked the question “Is humanity to thrive or just survive the future?”

“The aim is not just survival, it is to maximize potential and to have hope and to thrive. We can influence humanity to thrive.”

He argued that we must try to assist all of humanity, including the 80% who live in the developing world, often in poverty.

“Poverty is the main catalyst, the force multiplier of rage in the world,” he said.

Dallaire asserted that the old notion of peacekeeping is gone and we now live in an era where all the rules have changed and we are left playing catch-up.

“We’ve entered a new world disorder,” he said. “It’s an era of significant ethical, moral and legal dilemmas in the field, and we haven’t figured it out.”

In speaking of the genocide in Rwanda, Dallaire questioned the "political elites'" decision to remove troops from Rwanda during that time.

“We held back,” he said. “The scale was so overwhelming, so massive and complex we didn't respond.”

“The human beings in that disaster were the lowest criteria, and they did not carry the day,” he said.

Dallaire made the argument that we tend to respond more vigorously to natural disasters than human ones.

Yet Daillare remains optimistic about the future.

“We are going to see activism come to the fore because of social media and our communications revolution,” he said, referencing the use of technology in the Arab Spring.

“You are in the front lines of shaping that future, because of the mastery of the technology that you have,” Dallaire said. “You are the generation that can make that happen; www means no borders.”

Dallaire told the mostly student-aged crowd that “the NGO world is where you can become activists.”

His advice? Finish school, and then “get your boots dirty and pay your rite of passage” with a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Dallaire encouraged the students to volunteer, even just for a week, in a developing country. That experience would let them “hear and taste and feel what is happening to 80 percent of humanity.”

“I don’t think there has been a more significant time to serve than now, whether in uniform or with an NGO,” he said, “because the missions are just, the missions are right.”

He concluded his lecture on a powerful note. “Inaction is an action,” he said, “the future is in your hands and you are either going to survive it or shape it.”

In thanking Dalliare for his lecture, Claude Pensa said, "Yours is a powerful parable of human rights. Thank you for your courage."

Pensa, counsel to the firm Harrison Pensa LLP, the Lecture’s sponsor, also presented a generous donation to Dallaire’s Child Soldier Initiative, which works on the ground in Africa to extract children from war zones.

Since 2006, Harrison Pensa LLP has partnered with Western Law to bring the Claude and Elaine Pensa Lecture in Human Rights to Western and the London community.

The lecture series honours Claude Pensa’s longstanding career as well as the commitment he and his late wife, Elaine, shared in the area of human rights.