Dallaire grew up in the east end of Montreal, and joined the Canadian Forces in 1964. He attended Collège Militaire Royal (CMR), Saint Jean, and graduated from the Royal Military College (RMC), Kingston, with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Roméo Dallaire, soldier, advocate, senator (b at Denekamp, Holland 25 Jun 1946). Roméo Dallaire served with distinction in the Canadian Forces and was so affected by his experiences that he became an advocate for the world's victims of genocide, particularly in Africa.
Dallaire grew up in the east end of Montreal, and joined the Canadian Forces in 1964. He attended Collège Militaire Royal (CMR), Saint Jean, and graduated from the Royal Military College (RMC), Kingston, with a Bachelor of Science degree. He began his military career during the COLD WAR and was deployed during the 1970 FLQ OCTOBER CRISIS.
A full colonel by 1986, Roméo Dallaire was appointed the director of the army's equipment and research program regarding the forces' funding and requisition systems. The resulting white paper's proposals were deemed unaffordable and were rejected by the government in 1987. The report was to foreshadow Dallaire's experiences as he prepared for duty in Rwanda.
In the early 1990s, as a brigadier-general, Roméo Dallaire took command of the 5e Groupe-brigade mécanisé du Canada (5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group) at Valcartier. It was the height of the Gulf War and a new era for the Canadian Forces, which was more engaged in global PEACEKEEPING missions.
In 1993, the UN was considering a mission to Rwanda, a small, populous African nation negotiating the hoped-for peaceful end of a civil war between the government and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The rebels were positioned behind a demilitarized zone monitored by neutral military observers from the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The president of Uganda asked the UN to establish a small force to monitor the border to ensure that soldiers and weapons were not entering Rwanda to reinforce the RPF.
Roméo Dallaire took command of the United Nations Observer Mission in Uganda and Rwanda (UNOMUR) and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). It was a modest operation, with Dallaire seconded by the UN under a civilian contract, stationed on the Ugandan side of the border and supported by only one Canadian officer, Major Brent Beardsley, and 81 unarmed military observers. They received little support; Dallaire requested 5000 UN troops and was given 2600, which was subsequently reduced to 500.
Nothing in their experience could have prepared the Canadians for what was happening in Rwanda. Dallaire forewarned his superiors at UN Headquarters in New York of an impending mass killing of ethnic Tutsis by Hutu nationalist extremists. He pleaded for permission to act to prevent widespread violence and slaughter. The UN refused to allow Dallaire and his UN troops to act more forcefully against the escalating violence. The genocide occurred swiftly and massively. In the 100 days between 6 April and 16 July 1994, an estimated 800 000 men, women and children were brutally killed, many hacked to death with machetes. The victims were Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
A significant challenge of the UN mission was trying to use classic peacekeeping tactics, containing conflicts diplomatically, with weapons used by UN troops only for self- defence. Standard peacekeeping guidelines were woefully inadequate to contain a Rwandan regime intent on genocide. In the mission's rules of engagement, Dallaire established the authority to use force, including deadly force, to prevent "crimes against humanity." It was groundbreaking, but too late for too many. Yet another of the world's genocides was not stopped in time.
Roméo Dallaire was deeply moved by the horrors of life in Rwanda, particularly the plight of children, and the seeming futility of his assignment, which caused post-traumatic stress upon his return to Canada. He completed his military career in a series of significant posts, including Commander of Land Force Québec Area, Assistant Deputy Minister (Human Resources-Military) and Special Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Staff on Officer Professional Development.
Since his retirement from the Canadian Forces in April 2000, Roméo Dallaire has worked to inform the Canadian public about the effects of war. He was appointed as a special advisor to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) on matters relating to war-affected children around the world and to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) on the non-proliferation of small arms. He was also a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. Dallaire reported his Rwandan experiences in Shake Hands With the Devil - The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, which was awarded the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2004. It has garnered numerous international literary awards, and was the basis of a full-length feature film released in 2007.
Roméo Dallaire has been highly decorated; his awards include the Meritorious Service Cross for his actions in Rwanda; the Vimy Award; the United States Legion of Merit; the Pearson Peace Medal; and numerous Honoria causa doctorates. He was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002 and to the Canadian Senate in 2005.
Lt-Gen Roméo Dallaire, with Major Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003).