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For retired general, Romeo Dallaire, remembering the horror of genocide is a painful but necessary part of preventing it from happening again. Rwanda happened. He was there. He saw what he saw. It was real. Before that, there was Cambodia. Before that the Holocaust. And today, Darfur.
"I consider it a duty," Senator Dallaire told the McGill Reporter recently in advance of this week's McGill Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide. "The impact on me is up to me to sort out. However, the requirement that it be done overrides it. 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."
Society's enduring inability to prevent politically motivated mass violence is the driving force behind the conference, hosted by the Faculty of Law Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism at the Hotel Omni Mount Royal, Oct. 11-13.
Joining Sen. Dallaire is a roster of prominent human rights thinkers, politicians, journalists and activists from around the world, as well as genocide survivors who will share their testimonies. The conference's goal is to stir the world to action.
"Ultimately what you're going after is how to influence the political capital in the sovereign states to actually move," said Sen. Dallaire. "Not to be known in the world as crisis managers, but actually as crisis preventers."
McGill Law Professor and Conference Chair Payam Akhavan believes that bringing together such a broad range of stakeholders will create a forum for a long term social movement. "We need this broad alliance to ensure that those in positions of power are given the information, perspective and motivation that they need to take timely action. We also need to understand that power can be exercised in a variety of ways and ask ourselves whether we don't also have our share of blame."
"What if intervention in Rwanda had become an election issue?" he asks. "What if intervention in Darfur becomes an election issue?"
Despite the international community's dismal track record, Akhavan hopes that two innovative features of this conference will help it succeed. The first is the interface between decision makers and genocide survivors, whose voices may spark the "empathy and profound emotional connection" that is needed to provoke political will.
"The other dimension that is different", Akhavan continues, "is that there will be a dialogue between the previous generation and the future generation of leaders, from which a broader movement can begin to emerge."
In conjunction with the conference, 36 students, NGO workers and activists, policy makers, local government representatives and journalists, aged 18 to 30, have gathered in Montreal for the International Young Leaders Forum, a unique series of workshops and roundtable discussions dealing with the prevention of genocide.
Since Oct. 7th, they have been preparing their own recommendations to present to some of the conference speakers, including Senator Dallaire, who is expecting great things: "I'm hoping to hear from them that they are prepared to launch an era of youth activism that we have not seen in the last 40 years," adding "I hope to light a fire underneath them."
At the same time, anyone hoping to learn more about this important struggle should certainly not miss "Imagining the Unthinkable: L'exposition du genocide," an unforgettable public exhibition that conveys the realities of genocide through exceptional international collections of photographs, drawings, survivor testimonial archives and interactive multimedia, which is on display only until Oct. 14th.
The exhibition is divided between the Faculty of Law Atrium, 3660 Peel Street, and the Foyer of the McLennan Library Building. It is free of charge and will be open to the public from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.