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Working to protect child soldiers

22.01.2019 - Article

As the UN commander in Rwanda, he witnessed the genocide. Today he fights against the use of child soldiers. How Germany supports the Roméo Dallaire Initiative.

He stayed when the majority left: Canadian Major General Roméo Dallaire
He stayed when the majority left: Canadian Major General Roméo Dallaire© The Canadian Press

The war in Rwanda may have ended a long time ago, but Canadian Major General Roméo Dallaire has not been able to forget what he saw when on duty there in 1994. As the Force Commander of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda), he witnessed terrible crimes: up to a million people were murdered within just a few days in the Rwandan genocide. Those responsible even used child soldiers.

He stayed when the majority left

When the majority of UN forces were withdrawn, Dallaire remained in Rwanda with a small number of soldiers. Thanks to his untiring efforts, he and his shrunken forces managed to create limited security zones and to save lives. Dallaire’s commitment continued after his tour of duty. He launched the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which works to prevent children from being forcibly recruited as soldiers.

Intervention even before children are recruited

The German Foreign Office (FFO) is providing over a million euros in support for a project run by the Initiative with the aim of providing special training courses for soldiers and police officers in the West African country so that they can learn how to intervene at an early stage when children are being forcibly recruited to a conflict. The training is also designed to teach the security forces how to disarm and protect child soldiers. Protecting and helping forcibly recruited children plays a special role when it comes to post conflict peacebuilding, because if the children, often severely traumatised, cannot be given any perspective for their future in society, further conflicts are inevitable in the future.

Lifelong scars: a forcibly recruited child soldier in Uganda
 Lifelong scars: a forcibly recruited child soldier in Uganda© AFP

Impact beyond Rwanda

Rwandan soldiers and police officers are participating as blue helmets in UN missions in numerous African states. Raising their awareness of how to deal with forcibly recruited child soldiers therefore has an impact far beyond the country’s borders. The Rwandan security forces could thus become a role model and pioneer in numerous conflicts on the African continent.

Protecting children is also one of Germany’s priorities within the context of its UN Security Council membership. Germany has joined a working group which examines and tries to prevent severe violations of children’s rights in armed conflicts.

© FFO

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