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.
“You can’t be a hero when your mission failed,” he told The New York Times in 2004. “There’s absolutely no solace in saying I did the best I could. That is not going to erase the suffering of 1 million people.”
Since his retirement in 1998 as a lieutenant general, he has been an outspoken advocate for human rights, genocide prevention and war-affected children, the release from the museum noted. He founded the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, committed to stopping the use of child soldiers worldwide. The initiative works with military police and peacekeeping forces to stop the recruitment (and abduction) of children by armed groups.
“It is my aim in life to eradicate even the thought of using children and youths as weapons of conflict and war,” Dallaire said in a news release.
He also has written two books with co-authors, “Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire,” with Samantha Power, and “They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers,” with Ishmael Beah. He has been the subject of other books as well and has served in the Canadian Senate since 2005.
‘Beyond his comfort zone’
“There are so many people in Oklahoma City who can relate to the work that Romeo has done and how he went beyond his own comfort zone to bring them (the Rwandans) stability,” Watkins said. “People will be very intrigued to hear his story.”
Traci Cook, event co-chairman, said memorial leaders were eager to welcome Dallaire to the city for the presentation.
The “evening is always inspirational, and it’s wonderful that we can bring such a thing to Oklahoma City,” she said.
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.”
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Reflections of Hope honoree