Retired lieutenant-general and senator Roméo Dallaire says the willingness of the so-called Islamic State to use child soldiers demonstrates that there are no limits to the atrocities the group could engage in — up to and including genocide.
Dallaire, who served as commander of UNAMIR, the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda, witnessed and attempted to stop the mass killings that unfolded in the tiny African nation in 1994.
“Whenever a force is recruiting children to conduct its operations, you can expect that force to move to the extremes of mass atrocities,” Dallaire told the West Block’s Tom Clark.
“The scale will scare people, because they are recruiting them so young. Eight, six, seven and they’re building up their forces … When the figure 100,000 is spoken of, it is not too much because it does reflect the whole build up of this capability.”
The presence of child soldiers can also have a profound psychological effect on the troops fighting against ISIS, Dallaire noted.
“We have this ethical and moral dilemma of shooting children,” he said.
“We’ve got guys who’ve come back from Afghanistan who can’t look at their own children because of what they had to do with child soldiers.”
Soldiers must be prepared for such situations with detailed training, said the former lieutenant-general, and given options to avoid harming a child while also protecting themselves.
Dallaire himself experienced severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after his deployment in Rwanda, and has acknowledged that he attempted suicide several times. In recent years, he has become an outspoken advocate for better mental health services in the military.
Dallaire told Clark that preventing the military deployment of kids before it occurs is critical, to protect both the children and the soldiers who end up confronting them. This can be partly achieved using counter-radicalization programs that target schools and poorer rural areas.
“What we’ve argued … is that you’ve got to go at them before they’re recruited,” he said.
Watch the full interview above.