Widely known for having served as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. Dallaire tried desperately to stop the genocide that was being waged by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and Hutu moderates.
Romeo Dallaire was born in Denekamp, Netherlands in 1946 . He later immigrated to Canada when he was six month-old and settled down with his mother in Montreal, where he spent his childhood. In 1963, he enrolled in the Canadian Army as a cadet at Le Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, and graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada in 1970. He was commissioned into The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery shortly after, but continued to attend numerous military colleges over the next 2 decades.
Romeo & Rwanda
Dallaire received his commission as the Force Commander of UNAMIR in late 1993 to assist in the implementation of the Arusha Accords. The UN attempted to negotiate with numerous influential people within Rwanda to execute these Accords successfully, and as a result end the three-year Rwandan Civil War. Dallaire was tasked with supervising and helping both sides with the implementation of the agreed-upon Arusha peace accords and then transition to a new government.
While Dallaire came to Rwanda expecting a standard mission, he soon noticed early signs that something was wrong.
On January 22, 1994, a French aircraft landed in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, loaded with ammunition and weapons for the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR). Dallaire learned through an informant that these weaponry would later be utilized in an attack on the Tutsis and he promptly sent a telegram to the UN. He had requested to seize these shipments, but his request was denied on two main reasons. Firstly, the shipments had been ordered before the Arusha Accord, and as such, the UN was not allowed to attain possession of them. Secondly, the FAR displayed paperwork indicating that the weapons had been sent by several countries (Belgium, France, United Kingdom) in which the UN believed had good intentions. In the end, these weaponry were not seized and were later used to massacre countless Tutsis.
Also at this time, troops from the Rwandan government began checking identity cards of the citizens, which identified individuals as either Hutus or Tutsis. This tactic of utilizing identity cards would later allow Hutu militias to quickly and easily pinpoint their victims with precision during the Genocide.
On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down. This set in motion the vicious genocide as extremists within the Hutu population began assassinating moderate government officials and ultimately claiming the lives of more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus within 100 days.
Amid this escalating violence, Dallaire stood his ground and faced a nearly impossible situation. His force shrunk from 2,500 soldiers to merely a few hundreds as nations withdrew their troops in the first days of the slaughter and the UN repeatedly refused to send reinforcements. Dallaire and his remaining forces remained, attempting to save as many people as they could while the massacre continue. Most of his efforts were to defend specific areas where he knew Tutsis would be hiding, resulting in directly saving the lives of 32,000 people of different races throughout the genocide.
As the massacre progressed in Rwanda and press accounts of the genocide grew, the UN Security Council rethought Dallaire’s former request and voted to establish UNAMIR II. It included a strength of 5,500 men which would be sent by the UN. As opposed to UNAMIR, which had a peacekeeping mandate under Chapter VI of the U.N. Charter, UNAMIR II would be authorized under Chapter VII to enforce a peace. It was not until early July in 1994, when RPF troops under Kagame swept into Kigali that the genocide ended.
While the genocide is over, Dallaire witnessed acts so inhuman during his time in Rwanda that he now suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He attempted suicide in 2000, but now writes about his experiences in Rwanda as a method of dealing with his condition.