OPSEU honours General’s true courage

Lieutentant General Roméo Dallaire receives OPSEU's the prestigious Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award for his extraordinary humanitarian efforts as UN Commander in Rwanda

Toronto (27 April 2009) – The prestigious Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award established by the Ontario Public Service Employees’s Union(OPSEU/NUPGE) was presented during OPSEU’s 2009 convention last week to Lieutentant General Roméo Dallaire, noted for his extraordinary humanitarian efforts as UN Commander in Rwanda.

General Dallaire was unable to attend the Convention but asked that his prepared statement be read to Convention delegates acknowledging his acceptance of the award.

“I am greatly honoured to be awarded the Hounourable Stanley H. Knowles Humanitarian Award by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and I humbly accept the award for the recognition of my work in attempting to bring social justice and human rights to the disenfranchised and destitute.”

“As Ontario public servants you are where the ‘rubber hits the pavement’ in terms of showing compassion and understanding to a public in need of government services. As a society is always judged by the way it treats its less fortunate, the people of Ontario are fortunate to be served by a caring and professional union of public service employees.”

In presenting the award on behalf of OPSEU, Larry Brown, National Secretart-Treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) referred to a quote from General Dallaire’s website – “Go now to make a difference in this perilous and broken world.” Brown noted, “I think General Dallaire would be pleased to think OPSEU has taken that message to heart.”

Background on Lt. Gen Dallaire

For 100 days in 1994, Rwanda, Africa, was gripped by the brutal genocide of Tutsi, propeace Hutu and foreigners. More than 800,000 Rwanda civilians and others died, often by machete-wielding Hutu extremists, and without thought to the age or gender of their victims. Hutu and Tutsi peoples have long been at odds over true Rwandan ethnicity. Hutu hold the ethnic majority.

Lieutenant (LT) General Romeo Dallaire was assigned as the Force Commander for the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1993. His mission was to oversee a peace accord between the government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) after three years of civil war. The General was the first Canadian to be assigned a commanding position of a UN peacekeeping mission.

Within months of the assignment, racial tensions erupted with the assassination of Rwanda President Juvenal Habyariman, a Hutu, on April 6, 1994. The subsequent Tutsi genocide marked the end of the peace agreement.

Within days of the first Tutsi murders, the UN and other Western nations chose to withdraw peacekeepers from the country now under siege by extremists. The General, from his headquarters in Rwanda, begged the UN for 5,000 additional troops, believing this could stop the violence from escalating. His pleas were dismissed.

Seriously ill-equipped, Lt. General Dallaire ignored orders to abandon the Rwandan people as he felt a responsibility to the more than 20,000 refugees in UN controlled areas. Only a small contingent of 450 troops stayed with him. He continued to plea with Western countries for assistance, all unheeded.

Though his decision to stay in Rwanda during the horrific events over 100 days in 1994 has taken a great personal toll on Lt. General Dallaire, there is no telling the countless number of lives he saved or the hope he gave to the people he served and protected.

Lt. General Dallaire doesn’t like to be called a hero. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “hero” as “one that shows great courage.” Lt. General Romeo Dallaire deserves to be called a hero and to receive this year’s Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award.

Stanley Knowles

In 1987, OPSEU recognized Stanley Knowles, a leading legislator in the federal House of Commons for more than 40 years, by presenting him with a humanitarian award. He was also a leading advocate of social justice, and was largely responsible for persuading the governments to increase Old Age Security benefits and for the introduction of the Canada Pension Plan. Thereafter, OPSEU named the award after Stanley Knowles. It has been given out annually to recognize individuals, or groups who exemplify the spirit, dedication and ideals of Mr. Knowles.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

 

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