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McGill Reporter Q & A: Roméo Dallaire on McGill Genocide Conference

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Published: 9 Oct 2007

The McGill Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide, which begins October 11 in Montreal, will gather the world's pre-eminent survivors, decision-makers, academics, witnesses and journalists to examine ways in which society can act to address the most horrific and intractable human rights problem of the past century. Senator Roméo Dallaire, whose best-selling autobiography, "Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda," was recently released as a full-length feature film, will be among the featured participants. He recently spoke with the McGill Reporter's Pascal Zamprelli.

The McGill Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide, which begins October 11 in Montreal, will gather the world's pre-eminent survivors, decision-makers, academics, witnesses and journalists to examine ways in which society can act to address the most horrific and intractable human rights problem of the past century. Senator Romeo Dallaire, whose best-selling autobiography, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, was recently released as a full-length feature film, will be among the featured participants. He recently spoke with the McGill Reporter's Pascal Zamprelli.

Reporter: What impact do you hope the Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide will have?

Senator Dallaire: What we try to do is not necessarily to create a revolution, although it would be really neat if we could inspire the youth of the world – those under 30 – to coalesce and exercise their right to vote and really change things, which they don't enough. Maybe they don't sense that their future is a lot closer than they think it is, and that therefore they should get involved. What I try to do is actually attrite the political complacency that's out there by bringing answers and proposing options that can give politicians better arguments and make them feel more comfortable in difficult decisions where their political capital is on the line. And so ultimately that's what you're going after, is how to influence the political capital in the sovereign states to actually move – not to be known in the world as crisis managers, but actually as crisis preventers.

Reporter: How do you think a forum like this one – a conference that brings these types of people together – will help accomplish that?

RD: There's the methodology of the conference itself: the debate, the passage of information and the ability of the conference to be known to the Canadian people through the media and ultimately through the politicians. It's all part of the very solid democratic process that we have, in which information makes its way ultimately inside governments.

It's done by officials who attend, and it's done on another angle by public opinion, and by the public being swayed and influencing the politicians directly. This way, the politician gets it from both sides – gets it from a knowledgeable public service, and on the other side from a dynamic and involved public.

Reporter: On October 11, before the conference begins, you will be meeting with 36 Young Leaders from around the world who are here for the youth forum in the week leading up to the conference, and who'll share with you the results of their discussions on the prevention of genocide. What do you hope to hear from them on that day?

RD: I'm hoping to hear from them that they are prepared to take a step back in history, and take up the mantra of the students and youth of the sixties, and to launch an era of youth activism that we have not seen in the last nearly 40 years. In so doing, I hope to light a fire underneath them in the arenas of the subject matter, including also nuclear disarmament. If they are the leaders that I am informed that they are, then we'll look for an ability to capture a vision – a grand design – and focus on a target out there towards which they can channel the enormous potential and incredible energy they have, and reach those they are trying to influence. I am hoping to give them a target, inasmuch as how they will shift the true alignments of humanity in the world from the technical/academic/legal dimension to one of in-the-streets activism.

Reporter: Recently – between a feature film, a documentary film, the ongoing Desire Munyaneza trial and this conference – you have been back in the news and have had to discuss some terrible things you have seen and lived through. What is it like to relive the horrors of Rwanda on an almost daily basis?

RD: I consider it a duty. The impact on me is up to me to sort out. However, the requirement that it be done overrides that. There is no solace in it, there is only the satisfaction that the duty I gave myself to keep the Rwandan genocide alive is being met, and that should suffice for me.

McGill Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide:

On the Web
Conference program

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