Child soldiers a crime against humanity, says Sen. Dallaire

By  Doug Koop, Catholic Register Special
  • June 25, 2010
Boy soldierWINNIPEG - Retired general Senator Romeo Dallaire told a packed audience of religious leaders that the proliferation of child soldiers in world conflicts is a sin and a crime against humanity.

Dallaire, the retired general who led the ill-fated UN peacekeeping forces during the mid-1990s genocide in Rwanda, was addressing some 71 delegates and 130 observers at the opening session of the World Religions Summit June 21-23 at the University of Winnipeg.

The old world order of the Cold War has been replaced by a “new world disorder,” said Dallaire. And he warned of a “new, low-technology weapon” created in recent years — the child soldier.

“With the proliferation of small arms, they can be very effective. There are more than 300,000 of them at any one time involved in 30 conflicts.

“This is not just a crime against humanity,” insisted Dallaire. “It is a sin.”

Dallaire lamented the short-term thinking that drives today’s political decision-makers. “They are swimming in the complexity and ambiguity of our times. They are thinking of tomorrow’s headlines, not of what will still be significant five years from now.” They need “the depth that faith provides,” he said, adding that the world is begging for visionary, not reactive, leadership.

Members of the Roman Catholic Church worked alongside spiritual leaders from all the major faith traditions as they gathered in Winnipeg to craft a statement to influence political leaders at the highest levels.

“The suffering of the poor is the starting point,” stated Alberto Quattrucci of the Community of Sant’Egido in Rome at the official opening ceremonies. “There is no struggle against poverty; there is solidarity with the poor.

“The Bible doesn’t speak of poverty, but of the poor. They always have a name,” he continued. “To build a society starting with the poor is to build a society sustainable for everyone.” But reducing everything to the lowest common denominator of the market, he said, represents “rebellion against God.”

It was a fitting beginning to a gathering that aimed to send a clear message from the global religious community to the leaders of the G8 and G20 nations meeting the same week in Toronto and Huntsville, Ont., a message to advocating justice for the poor, care for the planet and sustainable peace.

“Our job as people of faith is to announce what is politically unrealistic, and then make it realistic. The prophetic vocation is to proclaim the impossible, and then make it possible,” said Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics and founder of the Sojourners Community, a Christian social justice organization in the United States.

“Politicians have leveraged the greatest scientists and economists,” observed David Courchene of the Anishinabe Nation, Eagle Clan. “When are they going to leverage the people of the heart?”

Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber moderated a session focusing on peace and security issues. “It is delightful to be in one room with people from all religious traditions and to actually be talking with each other,” he said.

Delegates and observers at the first full day of the summit heard from a wide range of speakers including Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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