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Oklahoma City National Memorial to honor witness to Rwandan massacre

BY LILLIE-BETH BRINKMAN, For The Oklahoman Published: March 23, 2014
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The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum will honor a man who is credited with saving the lives of 32,000 people during the Rwanda conflict 20 years ago.

Romeo Dallaire, 67, a humanitarian, Canadian senator and retired lieutenant general, will receive the museum’s Reflections of Hope Award at the 10th annual dinner March 31.

Appointed force commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1993, Dallaire watched the country descend into chaos and genocide, a news release from the museum stated. The next year, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in less than 100 days in a targeted attack by Hutu militia extremists against the Tutsi people in Rwanda and those who sympathized with them.

“We felt he met all of our requirements” for the Reflections of Hope Award, said Kari Watkins, executive director of the National Memorial & Museum. “We’re looking for people who are teaching hope in the midst of political violence.”

As the killings escalated 20 years ago, Dallaire and a small contingent of Ghanaian soldiers and military observers disobeyed the command to withdraw and stayed in Rwanda to protect those seeking refuge with the United Nations. His peacekeeping force in Rwanda dwindled from 2,600 people to 450, and his requests for other help were ignored, the New York Times reported in 2004, the year he testified against Col. Theoneste Bagosora at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

His orders were to evacuate foreigners, but he stayed and protected those he could; he and the peacekeepers who served under him are often credited with helping save the lives of 32,000 people by defending specific areas where the Tutsi were under attack.

His story was featured in the 2002 documentary “The Last Just Man” and elsewhere.

In the past, Dallaire has talked about his struggles dealing with the killings, including his struggles with post-traumatic stress syndrome and attempted suicide.

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At a glance

Reflections of Hope Awards Dinner

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum will host its 10th annual Reflections of Hope Award Dinner on March 31, beginning with a reception at 6 p.m. followed by the dinner and awards ceremony at 7 p.m., at the National Cowboy& Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63.

The honoree, humanitarian Romeo Dallaire, will receive a $25,000 cash prize and a crystal award. He will tell his story at the dinner. About 400 people are expected.

Reflections of Hope was established by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation in 2005 in honor of Linda Lambert's service to the memorial. The dinner raises funds for the memorial.

“This award is the 10th year ... so it’s very memorable to us. We’ve had a long list of very notable winners,” said Traci Cook, co-chairman of the dinner along with Kim Neese. “It’s just, again, very eventful, memorable, and I think he’s going to be that for us again.”

Individual tickets are $200, available online at oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/roh.

It is my aim in life to eradicate even the thought of using children and youths as weapons of conflict and war.”

Romeo Dallaire,
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Reflections of Hope honoree

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