Meet Top 10 author Roméo Daillaire

The panelists are in the process of deciding which book they want to bring into the ring for the February debates. We'll reveal who they are — and the titles they choose — on November 23 on CBC Radio's Q and right here on CBC Books.

In the meantime, we want to introduce you to the authors you voted onto the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 list.

Today, meet Roméo Daillaire, author of Shake Hands with the Devil. Daillaire stopped by Sounds Like Canada on November 7, 2003, shortly after his book was published. You can listen to his entire conversation with Shelagh Rogers in the audio player below.

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Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire joined the Canadian army in 1964. Upon his return from serving as force commander of the United Nations mission to Rwanda, he served as commander of the 1st Canadian Division and deputy commander of the Canadian army, and, later, was appointed assistant deputy minister (Human Resources-Military) in the Ministry of Defence. He has also served as special adviser to the Canadian government on war-affected children and on the prohibition of small arms distribution. In 2005, Daillaire was appointed to the Senate.


In the summer of 1993, Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire was sent to Rwanda to keep the peace. But his small international force couldn't stop the ongoing conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu populations. For months, he tried to alert the UN to the escalating violence, but the world didn't heed his warnings. Within 10 months of his arrival, 800,000 people were dead.

Daillaire believes that this was a massive and preventable failure for all parties involved. "The mission was not able to do its job, and as such, the mission failed," he told Shelagh Rogers.

Daillaire recognized the failure immediately. "By the end of the first 24 hours," once the mass murders began, he said, he "knew we were in a situation where the mission doesn't exist any more." Instead, the remainder of the mission was spent not following orders from the UN, but rather trying to figure out exactly what to do. "For weeks on end, I operated without a mandate from the UN," he said. "The whole aim [of the mission] was now to focus on keeping going and trying to save lives."

Despite his best efforts, governments and peacekeeping bodies ignored what was happening, instead opting to withdraw troops from Rwanda. Daillaire felt lost and abandoned, but never gave up. As more and more countries withdrew support, Daillaire pushed forward, trying anything he could to make a difference in the conflict. "It only made me say, 'It's not working this way. How am I going to get people interested in advancing the cause of all these innocent people?'"

Situations like "walking in mass killings" or seeing "dogs eating humans" became the norm for Daillaire. These images haunt him to this day, and contributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that resulted in an honourable discharge from the military in 2000.

Despite the failure of the UN's Rwandan mission, Daillaire remains convinced that the organization is an important means of bettering the lives of people around the world.

"I've supported, continue to support and will continue to support the UN," he said. "I still think it's the only transparent and impartial body in the world that we can turn to, to continue to advance human rights and the rights of the individual and the rights of the child."

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