On December 1 of 1992, the United Nations began celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year, Brock University will host retired Lieutenant-general, the Honourable Romeo Dallaire to mark this year’s theme of ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’. Dallaire will cover topics including his own struggle with PTSD in an attempt to expand the conversation on what it means to live with a disability.
Dallaire is most known for serving as the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), which was a special peace-keeping force established by the United Nations to end the Rwanda Civil War, in a mission that lasted from late 1993 to early 1996. The Civil War in Rwanda was fought between the Rwandan government, which was mainly Hutu (one of the many ethnic groups from the African Great Lakes region) and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which was mainly Tutsi (another ethnic group in the area). In 1994, following the shooting down of an airplane carrying the president of a neighbouring country, the Hutu majority began a genocidal massacre of Tutsis. From April to July of 1994, approximately five-hundred thousand to one million Tutsis were killed, with an estimated two-million Rwandans fleeing the country as political refugees.
As leader of the UNAMIR, Dallaire had wanted to bring in an estimated five-thousand additional soldiers to help keep the peace, and allow for safety of the refugees and for elections to be held. However, the extra contingent was never supplied until the creation of a second UNAMIR towards the end of the Genocide. Many of Dallaire’s requests to intervene in the Genocide were denied, despite the General supplying information of the Genocide to the UN.
After his time in Rwanda, Dallaire served in various posts with the United Nations, and in 2005 was appointed to the Canadian Senate as a member of the Liberal Party. Dallaire has since become an outspoken voice on the topic of genocide and intervention, and has also been an advocate for human rights and ending the practice of child soldiers.
As a result of dealing firsthand with the effects of genocide and the institutional inability to prevent the atrocities, Dallaire suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2000, Dallaire attempted suicide with a combination of alcohol and antidepressants. Since his struggles with mental health, Dallaire has also dedicated his life and work to advocate on behalf of people, particularly veterans, suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues.
With his talk at Brock and his other efforts, Dallaire aims to create a ‘bridge’ between the understandings of disabilities and mental health issues such as PTSD. Chris Lytle, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Co-ordinator at Brock University, said that Dallaire would bring a unique perspective to the issue of inclusivity for persons with disabilities.
“Mr. Dallaire comes from a unique field, being in Rwanda in 1994 during the Genocide”, Lytle stated. “There is a lot of stigma around mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. This is mainly because these disabilities are not actually seen. But they’re a reality the people face, and Mr. Dallaire’s experience can translate to an individual’s lived experience on campus.”
Lytle also discussed how he felt Dallaire’s talk will tie-in with the United Nations’ annual theme of ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’.
“There are disabilities that are physical, that are seen and acknowledged”, Lytle said. “I would say mental health needs to be, number one, acknowledged as a form of disability, and number two, strategies need to be applied to make the world more sustainable and accessible for all.”
Dallaire is scheduled to speak in the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre on Brock’s main campus at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1. The event is free and accessible, but advance tickets are required to attend, which are available at brocku.ca/accessibility/the-international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities/.