Dallaire, Belafonte draw lessons from Rwanda, Humanitarian aid alternatives

Three high-profile UNICEF representatives were in Quebec City last week to address the global problem of child soldiers. At a press conference at the Hilton Hotel last Thursday, Harry Belafonte, Senator Romeo Dallaire, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada Nigel Fisher resolved to move beyond politics in order to defend children caught in conflict.

“There will not be a success under the current rules of engagement,” said Belafonte, the popular singer. “UNICEF, which is mandated to stay out of politics, must be engaged occasionally in the political process.”

Belafonte was invited to become a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1987.

Senator Dallaire, the retired Canadian Lieut. Gen. and former UN commander in Rwanda went a step further: “I am not convinced nation states can advance the way [non-governmental organizations] can.”

Dallaire listed three criteria used by politicians that limit a nation state’s involvement in offering humanitarian aid: the political investment or the political capital which can be lost or won; the self-interest of the state in the affected area; as well as the fear of casualties of aid or peace-keeping personnel.

“NGOs are above all that, ... they have moved from aid to instruments of prevention; they are on the ground, the eyes and ears,” the senator said.

The UNICEF president agreed, at least in part: “There is no place for politics in the protection of children.” Before his latest position with UNICEF Canada, Fisher was an Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. He headed the observation of UN humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan in 2002.
On that file, Fisher said, “In the last six to seven years there has been progress.” Fisher noted the increased availability of health care and Polio vaccinations for children specifically.

The three men all bore witness to the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They and many others believe that the international community failed to pay adequate attention to the humanitarian crisis. Between 500,000 and one million ethnic Tutsis were murdered.

Disillusioned by the inaction of governments, the fatigue of donors and the indifference of citizens in industrialized countries, Dallaire and Belafonte are seeking alternatives to state-based humanitarian intervention.

“The arts is mobilizing,” Belafonte hinted. The singer indicated he is spearheading a new organization called “We Are the World Too” – a play on words in reference to the 1985 hit song for African charity, “We are the world,” which he was involved in. The soon-to-be-launched organization will focus on combating the apathy that hinders humanitarian aid as well as calling attention to the link between violence and youth.

Dallaire is convinced younger generations will bear the torch. “Generation Y will make a difference.

We want them smelling, seeing, hearing, getting their boots dirty,” the senator said.