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Roméo Dallaire: Back in Canada to face his demons

With more than 800,000 people slaughtered in 100 days the Rwandan genocide stands as one of the most horrific mass murders of the past century. In the middle of the horror was a Canadian peacekeeper whose efforts to avert the tragedy were thwarted by political apathy and incalculable evil. CBC Digital Archives looks back at this sad chapter in Africa's history and how Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire managed to survive to become Canada's most famous casualty of war.

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It's the summer of 1994 and Roméo Dallaire is finally cleared to take his leave of Rwanda. Psychologically shattered after a harrowing 10-month mission, he returns to UN headquarters in New York City where he is debriefed before returning to Canada. This CBC Television clip catches Dallaire on his second day back in North America where he speaks frankly about his painful experiences and confesses to feeling powerless. 
• On Aug. 20, 1994, a physically and emotionally exhausted Roméo Dallaire left Rwanda after nearly a year. He was replaced as UN commander by another Canadian, Guy Tousignant.
• After his official debriefing, Dallaire described his mission as a complex balancing act that left him feeling "powerless." "What do you do when someone is screaming on the phone [for help]?" he asked. "There were a lot of those things that we had to do."

• Faced with a small contingent of soldiers, Dallaire had to move strategically to save as many people as he could. This meant leaving thousands to die in mass killings so he could sneak out handfuls of people from their homes in the backs of trucks and car trunks.
• Dallaire returned home to his new duties as deputy commander of the army and as commander of the 1st Canadian Division.

• While many Canadians sympathized with Dallaire's experience in Rwanda, he was criticized by members of the military after he returned home. An op-ed piece published in the June 1998 issue of the Canadian military magazine Esprit de Corps accused Dallaire of having "suffered a fatal paralysis of will" during his UN mission.
• The anonymous author took Dallaire to task for obeying the UN mandate too closely and not allowing his troops to use force to protect themselves.

• "Dallaire failed militarily. He should have been reduced in rank to colonel (at least) for not preparing for battle," the article said. "This is his first responsibility. The UN takes second priority." "The Belgian [soldiers] are dead because they tried to obey a Canadian officer whose leadership was not up to what it should have been."

• In his book Shake Hands With The Devil, Dallaire wrote that he felt guilty about leaving the country before his mission was over. But he said he "had to accept he had become a casualty" and "just like other casualties, I had to be evacuated."

• Dallaire has often expressed an interest in eventually returning to Rwanda to live and work among its people. He has called the country "a tiny paradise on earth" and once told an interviewer that Rwanda "[is] in the pores of my body. My soul is in those hills, my spirit is with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered."

• Shamed by its failure to avert genocide, the UN expanded their presence in Rwanda after Dallaire left. The UNAMIR 2 troops helped during the negotiations for a new government and provided aid for a massive relocation of refugees. The mission finally left in March 1996.
Medium: Television
Program: Petrie In Prime
Broadcast Date: Sept. 8, 1994
Guest(s): Roméo Dallaire
Host: Anne Petrie
Duration: 3:35

Last updated: March 27, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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