Roméo Dallaire to youth at TEDx Concordia: “Why don’t we lead the pack?”

Romeo Dallaire talks to Concordia students at TEDxConcordia conference. Photo by Mackenzie Lad

Human rights icon encourages TEDxConcordia audience to be agents of change

Canada’s young people have the power and responsibility to be agents of change in the world, according to lieutenant general Roméo Dallaire.

The author and champion of human rights spoke at TEDxConcordia, an independently organized TED conference with the theme “Welcome to the Next Generation,” on Sept. 24. He called on the mostly-young audience to harness the power of modern communication technology, as well as their voting power, to take on global challenges.

“One of the great advantages that [today’s young people] have is that they’ve mastered a tool that none of us have ever had before,” Dallaire said, referring to modern communication technology and social media.

“We [were never global’ before],” he said. “Now, we can actually communicate in real time. With that extraordinary technological revolution, we should be maximizing it.”

He also encouraged young Canadians to take full advantage of their right to vote, saying that “if they all voted, they would actually hold the balance of power in this country.”

Dallaire criticized the Canadian government for not having a clear vision of its own future and place in the world, especially on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. “Where do we [see] this country, this Canada, in a global environment? What can it do to advance humanity?” he said. “It is in the hands of you, the young people, to articulate the absolute essentiality of giving that focus and moving beyond our borders.”

Since his time as force commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the Rwandan genocide, Dallaire has become a globally-recognized champion of human rights. His 2004 memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil, which criticized the global response to the Rwandan genocide, was a national bestseller and recipient of several awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award.

He also founded an organization, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which works with governments, militaries and police forces around the world to promote non-lethal strategies for dealing with child soldiers on the battlefield.

Dallaire encouraged the young people in the audience to take on this cause as well. Describing the plight of child soldiers around the globe, he said, “In so many countries in the world, your peers are the ones being absorbed and becoming the victims and actually being destroyed by the decisions of adults.”

He said that, while there is a system of international laws designed to protect children, “there’s not much in the field to actually implement it.”

According to Dallaire, in at least 17 current conflicts around the world, “we are seeing tens of thousands of children being used as the primary weapon, of which 40 per cent are girls.” He said these children are recruited for a number of purposes, from front-line fighting to sex slavery. “There’s something fundamentally, morally corrupt about the world for permitting that.”

Dallaire concluded his talk by saying he is hopeful that one day the use of children on the battlefield will be not only eliminated, but will be deemed “unthinkable.”

Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad

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