“Child soldiers are not a socio-economic problem in itself that you pick up after [a conflict],” said Roméo Dallaire, a former UN force commander in Rwanda
during the 1994 genocide and now a Canadian senator and outspoken advocate. “It is a core security problem in a nation that is imploding, and it’s got to be looked at that way.” It is estimated that tens of thousands of children under the age of 18 serve in government forces or armed opposition groups worldwide.
“That means you’ve got to bring in the security side actors—the police, the military from missions, the national capabilities, even the nonstate actors—and walk them through scenarios in which we educate them in what child soldiers actually do, what they can’t do, and ultimately their limitations,” he said in this interview.
According to Dallaire, if you stop treating child soldiers as an afterthought, you can start to look at how they’re being used, and who can influence that use—“which means, how can you prevent them from being recruited in the first place? And then, how do you make them a liability for people who want to use them?”
Mr. Dallaire said that the human trafficking component of this problem is extensive. “When I was in Sierra Leone, we were discovering Sierra Leone kids who had been demobilized, ending up in Côte d’Ivoire because the bad guys had picked them up outside the demobilization centers or the rehabilitation centers and simply abducted them and taken them to another conflict and sold them off to at a very high price.”
He added that one of the really dangerous dimensions is the child soldier who has been re-recruited into a different conflict, or even the same conflict. “A re-recruited child often ends up in a leadership role, and in so doing with his experience or her experience is able to sustain the efforts of the other kids, and in so doing makes the force effective,” he said.
Mr. Dallaire and his organization, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, have developed a handbook for the security sector, providing them, he said, “with new tools to handle child soldiers so that they can be effective, and also make the child soldiers less of a security problem without having to kill them all.” This approach has been accepted by UNITAR, the UN Institute for Training and Research, and made available through e-learning.
The United Nations has been doing a lot in the area of child soldiers, he said, but “it has not necessarily affected fundamentally the numbers nor the interest of countries and nonstate actors from using kids.”
Mr. Dallaire is also outspoken about genocide prevention and the lack of global leadership on the issue in the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide. “We are in an era where there is a dearth of statesmanship,” he said, adding that the prevention tools are out there, “but we don’t seem to want to operationalize them. So my thrust is: Why are we not operationalizing the tools that have taken hundreds of thousands of people to die to create, and yet they’re sitting there on the shelf?”
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Warren Hoge: We are pleased to have as our guest in the Global Observatory today, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire of Canada, who as the force commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1994 earned the world’s regard for his efforts to prevent the genocidal attacks there that killed more than 800,000 Rwandans.
General Dallaire is today a member of the Canadian Senate, an outspoken advocate for human rights, genocide prevention, mental health, and war-affected children. And in this last connection he is the founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and it is there that I want to start.
General, the Dallaire initiative provides training to security sector personnel on preventing the use and recruitment of children by armed groups. How do you do that?
Roméo Dallaire: We have introduced an angle to the problem of child soldiers that has not been touched upon by anybody else before. As so many have been engaged in what you do once you have been able to extract them and rehabilitation and so on, no one has been looking at how they’re being used and who can in fact influence that use—which means, how can you prevent them from being recruited in the first place? And then, how do you make them a liability for people who want to use them?
And so we discovered that a near-security dimension was completely omitted. Child soldiers are not a socio-economic problem in itself that you pick up afterwards. It is a core security problem in a nation that is imploding, and so it’s got to be looked at that way. So you’ve got to bring in the security side actors—the police, the military from missions, the national capabilities, even the nonstate actors—and walk them through the scenarios in which we educate them in what child soldiers actually do, what they can’t do, and ultimately their limitations. And through that, how do we find nonlethal means of neutralizing them? And that means the option of maybe even using nonlethal weapons to using radio stations to educate them to using indirect fire, or to simply being able to extricate them during combat, which is when they’re most vulnerable from the leaders.
WH: And once you have done that, I imagine the real purpose is to prevent them from falling back into a military role, isn’t it?
RD: One of the really dangerous dimensions is the child soldier who has been re-recruited into another conflict or possibly even the same one. A re-recruited child often ends up in a leadership role, and in so doing with his experience or her experience is able to sustain the efforts of the other kids, and in so doing makes the force effective. So we specifically work at trying to prevent from the DDRR—the rehabilitation/reintegration—the possibility of these kids wanting to be recruited.
And that side is still weak. We’ve seen many re-recruitments going on from one country to another and forcibly through child abductions and child transitions between one country to another.
WH: Now you are also mixed up in trying to prevent human trafficking, are you not?
RD: The human trafficking side of children is extensive. When I was in Sierra Leone, we were discovering Sierra Leone kids who had been demobilized, ending up in Côte d’Ivoire because the bad guys had picked them up outside the demobilization centers or the rehabilitation centers and simply abducted them and taken them to another conflict and sold them off at a very high price. And so how do you protect them once they’ve gone through that process is what we’re finding is a great weakness.
WH: The United Nations has passed some major resolutions, the Security Council has, and we expect may be passing a new one pretty soon, which I think will sort of amend the one that exists from 2005, 1612. They have also created a working group in the Security Council to watch this, a monitoring mechanism to keep track of it, the well-known six crucial crimes that they mention. How do you find the UN is working in this area, and do you cooperate with them a lot, do they seek you out?
RD: We’ve been doing a lot—I mean “we” the international community—through the UN, to bring the paperwork up to snuff. That is to say, from the optional protocol on child rights right up to now the International Criminal Court holding people accountable for recruiting children and accusing them of a crime against humanity, and everything in between, including an under-secretary who has a process of naming and shaming annually countries and holding them accountable for recruitment, be they, first of all, nation states, but then trying to get at the nonstate actors in those countries to be held accountable.
It has not been in vain because you need the framework of that backdrop in order to hold accountability or fight impunity of the adults who are doing that recruiting—because it’s adults who are in fact using the kids. However, that has not necessarily affected fundamentally the numbers nor the interest of countries and nonstate actors from using kids.
And so, although you’re doing significant efforts in ultimately bringing people online and doing all the paperwork and potentially putting them in jail and fighting impunity, we have seen that that has not significantly reduced the desire by adults in imploding nations/failing states to use children as a primary weapon. And that’s where I feel that better training, better education of the peacekeepers, the police, better integrating efforts with the NGOs that are on the ground in order to discern, to capture that these kids are being recruited and be far more proactive in preventing them from being recruited and protecting them as a security problem—and not as an afterthought—is, to our opinion, one of the significant steps forward that we think will ultimately reduce the numbers.
WH: You and I have just attended an event with among other people Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and he actually held up a book that you all published, the handbook, because, as I understand it, very often it’s a soldier, an adult soldier, who first confronts a child soldier.
Have you had success in inculcating in peacekeeper mentality the idea that this is a responsibility they have?
RD: We have been having a number of discussions where this awareness training—this providing them with new tools to handle child soldiers so that they can be effective, and also make the child soldiers less of a security problem without having to kill them all—we have now got acknowledgment that this training is of significance. UNITAR, the UN Institute for Training and Research, has even not only accepted the training but has put it on e-learning and available.
The question that still remains, however, is how do you get it into the hands of the troop-contributing nations? One of the tools we’ve discovered is that why don’t we take on the countries that are providing troops? So we’ve gone directly—we’ve gone directly to Rwanda, to Uganda, to Sierra Leone—and we are right now training contingents that are going from, as an example, Sierra Leone to Somalia, and, in so doing, being proactive in the training without necessarily having UN funding it, nor even still making it essential.
So we scrounge money where we can and we help countries prepare the contingents with this new capability, particularly those who are going into conflict zones where the primary weapon systems are child soldiers. And they want it. It’s amazing how these officers—some of them with two, three missions under their hats—are taking this scenario-based training that we’ve built and developed through the handbook and our field experience and the research we do. (And having it in a university is very important because we can validate it and then refine it.) They are surprised at how they didn’t know how to respond to child soldiers, and in fact often felt that they didn’t do their mission because they didn’t want to take on the child soldiers and so avoided it.
WH: Is part of that response seeing it before it happens? I know that you have a theory that your training is prevention oriented. Is part of that telling soldiers to keep an eye out for when they see young people who might be liable to be recruited?
RD: That is sort of the backend of prevention, of recruitment, that is to say where we’ve already got a force on the ground and we are looking at attenuating the possibility that the conflict would degenerate to where it would use child soldiers. Just look at Central African Republic. Five years ago we were telling them they were recruiting child soldiers. So we had a lot of warning of what was going on.
So, yeah part of it is to make them observe signs within communities—to be attentive, be actually communicating with the social structures who will tell them, “Hey, all of a sudden our kids are going, or this people have been coming around trying to convince kids to join, and weapons are around.” That has not been in the norm of peacekeepers-sort of duties. In fact, they wouldn’t even consider it significant because the mandates haven’t in the past made it significant—because child soldiers in the mandates has been a social economic problem. So, you know, “We’ll pick them up once we’ve got the big boys sorted out.”
Now, the front end of that is how do we get nations to not want to recruit—nation states? And so as an example, the president of Sierra Leone has asked us to retrain his whole army, all his police forces, and even his prison guards in how to handle child soldiers, how to handle children who end up in gangs— because there are a lot of kids who are unemployed, disenfranchised turning up in gangs. How do you handle them? Do you start blowing them away, as we see in the favelas in Rio, as an example, where they’re killing them nearly a thousand or so a year? So, we’re training their police forces and their military to be less aggressive, more attentive, and interfacing with the social structures in order to establish that atmosphere of security and prevent these kids from falling into the hands of recruitment.
And lastly, we have been able with the Sierra Leone government—and that’s why it’s our first nation-based training; it’ll be a good four to five year program—where we’re into the curriculum of the primary school where we are proving to kids that it’s not as sexy to be recruited to be a child soldier. That what they’re telling you—that you’re going to have a better life, you’re going to be able to go to school, you’re going to have money and so on—is wrong, and is lies.
And so building in the curriculum this sense of awareness that if somebody’s sniffing around, I don’t want to be part of it. And through that we believe by the teachers and these kids, we’ll get at the parents, and so the parents then will reinforce that. And that’s the real clean prevention side that takes years to do. But ultimately, we see that with the way we’re going about it will actually change the philosophy of that people in reference to children. And, in that aim, we’ll actually convince them that if there is conflict again, the children are not part of it, that you just don’t use that.
WH: In April of 2014, just six weeks from now, we will be commemorating 20 years since the Rwanda genocide. Obviously you’re going to be a large part of that commemoration speaking. Is there any particular theme or message you hope that that commemoration will capture?
RD: My aim with this 20th is to bring attention to the world that 20 years since Rwanda with new concepts like responsibly to protect that have made sovereignty no more an absolute, that we are in an era where there is a dearth of statesmanship. There’s a lot of politicians managing these problems, but no statesmen who are demonstrating the courage, demonstrating the flexibility, the humility, the innovative ideas and taking the risks of intervening. And so the tools are there, but we don’t seem to want to operationalize them. So my thrust is: Why are we not operationalizing the tools that have taken hundreds of thousands of people to die to create, and yet they’re sitting there on the shelf?
WH: Lt. Gen. Dallaire, thank you very much for being with us in the Global Observatory.
RD: It’s a fine, fine platform, and thank you very much.