Cleveringa Dallaire Critical Conversations #3 - 2021-09-30*
10:26PM Sep 30, 2021
Peter van Uhm
When Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire commanded United Nations forces during the Rwandan genocide, few beyond the military were aware of the severe psychological damage that witnessing such moral atrocities can cause. Dallaire's revelation that he suffered from PTSD and moral injury in the Rwandan conflict helped de-stigmatize these potentially devastating mental conditions among military veterans. It also helped us understand how all of us can experience moral injury in our daily lives. As we live through the aftershocks of a global pandemic, racial injustice, and the rise of extremist violence around the world, there's no better time to have a conversation about trauma, recovery, and moral courage. How do we build resilience? Collective hope. How can we embrace humanity and human connection? Join the conversation as we work together to build upon General Dallaire's call for transformative change, and an engaged approach to leadership in the face of moral dilemmas.
Hello, and welcome, or welcome back. My name is Dr. Eric Vermetten. I'm a psychiatrist and professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and a military officer in the Dutch armed forces. I'm now joined by my co host, Dr. Suzette Bremault-Phillips, an occupational therapist and associate professor at the University of Alberta. Good morning Suzette.
Good morning, Eric. It's great to see you.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the third of the Cleveringa Dallaire Critical Conversation sessions. We're pleased with the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the first two sessions. We're again so excited that people from more than 28 different countries and walks of life have joined us for today's webinar, 'Ethical Decision Making and Moral Dilemmas'. This webinar is the third of eight conversations honoring the Cleveringa chair that was awarded to General Romeo Dallaire in November 2020. Born in the Netherlands, General Dallaire is a celebrated Canadian who has exemplified moral courage, the key focus of the Cleveringa professorship.
During this series General Dallaire and esteemed colleagues will reflect with us on issues related to complex, ambiguous moral and ethical dilemmas. These times, overshadowed with issues associated with the global pandemic climate change, gender-based violence and racialization, threats of terror, are a call for truth and reconciliation, highlight the need for engaged leaders who embrace humanity and can truly inspire and actualize transformative culture change. This series aims to provide a context for such a conversation.
Before we start, we would like to note a few things. General Dallaire's experience is the thread that weaves these sessions together. The conversation will often come back to the themes of his experience. We're grateful that General Dallaire will be joining us for this session, which will continue through November 10th, in honor of Remembrance Day. Each session is about 90 minutes long, though we may go over a bit today, given the fullness of the program. You registered and received a livestream link for this specific session. And if you wish to follow all of the conversations, you will need to register for each separate event. Please also share the event with colleagues, friends, and post them on social media if you'd like.
We're also aware that some of the content of the conversations may be difficult to hear, or trigger past experiences and memories. We encourage you to honor you, and your experience, and seek local supports and services if needed. We would also love to hear your questions and comments, you can share your thoughts by using the Questions or Remarks box on the Leiden events page. We'll do our best to address questions that are posted. Finally, the sessions will be recorded and made available following the event on the Leiden University events page. Today marks the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. As a result, we invite you, first, before we embark on this critical conversation, to take a few moments with us to reflect, led by Tammy Hopper, Elder Betty Letendre, and Shannon Cornelsen.
Hello, I am Tammy Hopper, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, home to HiMARC at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Today is September 30th. And in Canada, it marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with indigenous peoples. The day honors the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history, and ongoing impacts, of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process. September 30th, also coincides with orange shirt day, which began in 2013, to honor indigenous children forced to leave their families to attend residential schools. September 30th, then, is a chance to learn and reflect on the history and ongoing legacy of the residential school system, to remember those who lost their lives, and to commemorate survivor. And that is why we wear the orange shirt. When we acknowledge territory, such as we do at the beginning of a meeting like this one, it is a small but important act of reconciliation and thus, on this day, I would like to acknowledge that the University of Alberta is located on the traditional territory of Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, and Ojibway/Saulteaux/Anishinaabe nations; lands that are now known as part of Treaties 6, 7, and 8 and homeland of the Métis. The University of Alberta respects the sovereignty, lands, histories, languages, knowledge systems, and cultures of First Nations, Métis and Inuit nations. Thank you for listening. And joining me in this moment of reflection.
We would now like to ask Elder Betty Letendre, a traditional Cree/Métis Elder, to offer some remarks and a blessing. Elder Betty, may I yield you the floor?
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I greeted you all, in my language, a language of my people, the Cree people. For whatever reason, I held on to the language. It was all my spirit could hold, even though I forgot somewhere to continue to use it. So to this day, I say Cree is my language, my first language. English is a second language. And that I honor that gift. And that gift of language comes with—when we had absolutely nothing. Everything was stripped of us. Just a little bit of story I need to tell you, everything was stripped clean, nothing. We were so defeated. They ripped our children out of our arms. And then they took them and many never came home. I won't say what happened to them. But we know. It was genocide. Right in our own country, we call -----, Canada. That's what happened here 150 years ago, if not more, and it's going to take that long for us to educate each other, Indigenous and non indigenous people. Today I too am honored to have this National Truth and Reconciliation Day. What cannot be... what has to be talked about, I should say, is the truth is out. Our babies showed us those, that were found, unmarked, where they were buried, where they were thrown. They brought us here to this day. And we will continue to help each other to make right for the next generation. Today, and in the future. I am the third generation of residential school product. I won't go into the atrocities that I know of. That'll be a time to tell in the new future as so many survivors... Today, I honor all the survivors, all the children, every one of us indigenous people, still so much more work to do, so much more to listen and help each other. As as non-indigenous people, you are our greatest allies. You heard us. I want to say thank you to the General Romeo Dallaire. I'm sure, if there was a time when he went to Rwanda, to fight the fight that he took upon himself. He would have been here, let it be known, he would have helped us. Nobody came to help our children, nobody came to help us. There was Dr. Peter Bryce, who did, and tried to help in the earlier years. And he was crucified for that. Trying to bring truth to what was happening in these residential schools. So today, I won't say too much more. But I would like to talk about the moral courage, the courage, where does it come from? It was in each and every one of us as human beings, in our way of life, and who we are as indigenous people, we come to this world when we take our first breath of life. When we take that breath, and we have nothing. We just have that breath. And we are born with humility, humility, because we need other people to take care of us. So how do we begin to have courage, when we go through those stages of life? What helps us to find that courage? To overcome fear with faith? These are all our indigenous sacred laws that are embedded in us indigenous people. We go back. Other people have 10 commandments, we have our sacred laws embedded in us. We came with that bundle. We came with a bundle when we were born to our indigenous parents. It was a bundle that had to be awakened by our guardians or parents. And as they opened that bundle, came language, came culture, all of those laws. To be kind, to understand life, to respect life. We were told, an ant on this earth has more right to live on this earth than we do as human beings. Because we destroy, we destroy not only here, but we destroy each other by that fire that comes out. I have a little—I know we don't have much time, but I wanted to make sure that you know, as we know, this is just a journey that's just begun. You know us, you see us, but yet you don't know the whole story, the whole truth. And that's happening now. As my friend says, "We can never go back," because the truth has already... it's been exposed. So, as I go through this and I talk about you know the beauty of what our ancestors left us, I wrote a little... It's not for... it's for me, because I write my... people say, "Oh, can you come for a blessing, and can you do this as a blessing?" And I always think, at that moment when they asked for that blessing, it was already written. It would be, it would be done. The blessing is for all of us. Because for us, we have that spirit of life, that spirit of fire within us, as an indigenous woman, a Cree woman, I carry that life, that fire of life. So I'm a life-giver. And I am also a target. I'm a target, as an indigenous woman. I am not safe in my country, because at any given moment, if I'm walking or doing something, I could be hurt. I want to teach the children how precious and how special every one of them are in our classrooms. And that, how our ancestors, our parents, all those didn't have a right to stop the people from taking the children. In their darkest moments, they prayed, they prayed that their children would come home, that they would come home, back into their arms. So the pain would stop, the pain of lifelessness. September was the loneliest parts of the month. August, September because that's when they came for the children. It will be like that when I talk about letting go of your children, you didn't ever let go. People say, "Well, you know, it was a right to take them and educate them." No, it was not. We have the greatest education. And we still use that today. So, however that faith, however that courage, came from that humility and humbleness when you were born, and to acquire that courage. And then you acquire fear, of course, but you overcame the fear because you could understand it. And then you came to know faith. And I think when I read about General Romeo Dallaire, how he just went, and he needed to save the people. There was something else that took over his body, his spirit, that he went and said, "No, I could never live with myself if I did if I turned away." So I guess that's just an example of us, as indigenous people, what we have done, to try to bring up our children in the right way to do things humbly, kindly, fearlessly, but moreso spiritually. And they need that bundle back in their young lives. And that's what we're doing today.
I hope that I've touched a little on what? The resiliency of my people. A little. There's writers, there's storytellers, there's, you know, we have so many great leaders, now scholars, etc. And today is just full of information, every kind of information that you would want to learn about indigenous people. And you know what? We're forgiving people. We pray for our enemies. I pray for the priest, and those that took my innocence. That was the hardest thing for me to do. To pray for them, because I couldn't allow them to control me from the grave anymore. That's one of the hardest lessons I had to learn, but I did it. Will I ever truly have forgiveness? I don't think so. But I'm on that journey where I can talk about my trauma. I can talk about those things that happened. And we're not always healing. Some of us have gone beyond healing. It's now to take time to educate people. Our hurt, our pain, our trauma, you know, are the genocide that happened. We put those aside. So what can I do today, to make a difference for my generation, this generation today and the future generation? What can I do today? I won't always repeat my sad stories or painful stories. But I tell my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, this is what you need to know. You always, always want to include others, never go by yourself.
So I thank you today. They prayed their tears would wash away my survival of pain. I would be one of the lucky ones to live, to tell the stories of what happened to their children. They prayed... those who claim to do... those who claim to do... our ancestors... I'm sorry, those who... sorry. Those who claim to be doing the Creator's work would be discovered. And that their children, my ancestors, continued to pray, even when they knew what had happened. And they never told. They continued to pray for us. Those ones that, for those of us that survived, and still survive today. We remembered, and we say the prayers, as I say the prayer today.
Thank you my loving Creator. Thank you for a beautiful day. Thank you for another day of life that you've given me, to honor myself and those around me. And that this breath I took this morning as I was sleeping, I woke up and my spirit felt rested. And I thank Creator, every day, for the people who come and talk with me, and sit with me, and learn of our ways. Just like that, we've gone so many years learning the other way. Creator, I ask that you bless each and every one of us here today, even though it's through this internet. But I know our prayers and your love is very powerful. And that I have helped a little bit, give a little bit of an understanding of who we are. May you continue with that courage. May you continue with that faith. That's where the path will lead you to better and brighter visions. We talked about mental illness, emotional, physical, spiritual. We know our Creator loves us so much that we will look at all aspects of who we are as a theme. I ask this in your name, Creator. [closing Cree prayer] Hiy Hiy.
Elder Betty, thank you—Hiy Hiy—for opening up and offering your heart, offering your words of wisdom to us, in setting the context for us to be able to better understand, better enter into what the indigenous people in Canada have experienced, what has happened to them, and to set the context for the conversation.
We're going to turn now to Shannon Cornelsen, and her video, to further your words and deepen them, and bring them forward so that we can continue to reflect—yes, Elder Betty?
Could I just say one thing, please? I forgot. I wanted to thank Shannon yesterday for coming to my house and bringing me a beautiful blanket and a card on behalf of all of you. So, thank you to Shannon, and all the great work that you're doing. God bless you and our Creator bless you all. Hiy Hiy.
Tan’si nitotemtik. nitisîyikikâson Shannon. Ekînihtâwikiyân amiskwaciwâskihikan. Ekiskinohamâkosiyân kihcikiskinohâmatow’kamik ekwa ninisitohten nehiyawewin apsis.
Hello, and how are you, my friends? My name is Shannon. I was born in Edmonton. I am studying at the University of Alberta. And I understand a little bit of Cree.
I introduced myself in the language of my mother and my ancestors, because my mother is a residential school survivor. She was only about four or five years old when she was taken from her home in Saddle Lake, Cree Nation, and brought to the Blue Quills residential school. She suffered there for about eight years, and endured emotional and mental and physical abuse. She lost the hearing in her right ear from something that a nun did to her. And I'm not going to tell you about that, because it's too much for me to tell you. And it is too graphic for you to hear. My mom is 84 years old today, and she has something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That is something usually soldiers or first-responders have, after being exposed to too much trauma. But it should never, ever be something that children have, after going to school.
My mother will never be able to recover from the events that happened to her while she was in residential school. But, that is part of my journey. Because in order to break the cycles of intergenerational trauma, somebody has to choose to feel, and to heal, from those traumas. And that is my journey, because I don't want those things to continue on into the lives of my children. So that is part of what I am doing. We have to be able to speak, though, about the children who didn't survive their journeys to residential school. Because those unmarked graves are something that we have to discuss. But how do we do that? Well, without any hatred or negativity, one of our Elders has told us that we need to speak with love. She also told us that, wahkôhtowin, we are all related. That's how our Elders want us to treat one another, as if we're all one family. We have some beautiful, strong, talented people within our communities, now. People who can teach us the way forward. But what we really need to do is to be having these open conversations, and this dialogue, with all of our non-indigenous communities and allies. So that we can all start to heal from the intergenerational traumas that continue to haunt our communities. Because wahkôhtowin. If we're all related, then maybe what's happening to me, is also happening to you. In Cree, to say thank you, we simply say 'Hiy, Hiy'.
Thank you, Elder Betty, and thank you, Shannon. Thank you both. So, now having honored the importance of this day for Canada, we're well prepared to begin today's critical conversations on ethical decision making and moral dilemmas. Now, dear General, would you offer us some opening remarks?
I will do the impossible: to be brief. For, certainly, a retired General and—how do you do, General van Ohm, lovely to see you—and for a retired politician—although Madam Gamba, you're not in a political role, and you are certainly in the most important humanitarian one, that is, for me. So, welcome to both of you and to all the other participants.
The exercise today of ethical decision-making in moral dilemmas, the complexity and ambiguity of missions that we face today with the lack of depth of how actually we can get ahead of the game and anticipate, let alone even prevent, some of these catastrophic failures of massive human rights abuses, has created these dilemmas of a moral, ethical and legal dilemma. And, in fact, the legal dilemma is all the more difficult because things can be legal, but they can be immoral. Things could be legal, but they could be unethical. And you are left with, often, very obtuse mandates to try to interpret that on the ground. I used some debates here in regards to, imagine military debating whether or not in missions, they should be taking casualties for humanitarian missions, as the blood that they are spilling is not necessarily for the immediate self-interest of the nation, of its security. That debate is an in-depth debate on the priority of mission, priority of your personnel, and priority of yourself. The choosing of lives—who lives and who does not—deliberately, and hearing them die at the end of a phone, because you can't save them all, and you have limited resources that have been imposed upon you. And which ones do you choose? And how can you choose? And should you in fact, be choosing, in the way you have? Those remain with you, as well as whether you stay with the mission, or whether you abandon your troops, because people will not react or respond? And do you actually disobey legal orders in order to remain moral, even though you've become, in so doing, a 'rogue commander'. I think the most in-depth one that is facing me still today, 27 years after my mission, is the fact of facing child soldiers and watching and observing how they mutilated and martyred and destroyed and slaughtered so many tens of thousands of human beings, because of the indoctrination they took as militiamen. And then, worse than that, having to actually use lethal force against a child to protect others. And to debate, for the rest of your life, whether that was moral, whether that was ethical, even though it may have been within the rules of engagement, and the mandate, legal. Thank you all for being here at this debate today in particular. Thank you, Eric.
Thank you. Thank you, General Dallaire. We look forward now to engaging with the panelists and moderator, about the ideas that you've shared, in a conversation that will be moderated by Greg Zubacz, Associate Provost and Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University. Dear Greg, please offer your introductory remarks and introduce the speakers.
Thank you, Eric. Good day to everybody, wherever you are watching in the world. It's a great privilege to be here with all of you today, and especially amongst such distinguished guests, and on such a solemn day in Canada. Today's topic will be Ethical Decision Making and Moral Dilemmas. And the common theme that we will have running through the talk today is the idea of the moral compass, and how it helps us to see all humans as human, to inform us as leaders, and to point transformative cultural change in the right direction.
The first question our panelists will consider is the personal question, “where does your moral compass come from?” The compass was invented in China during the time of the Han Dynasty sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. The ancients discovered that if a lodestone was suspended such that it could turn freely, it would always point toward the magnetic poles. By the 11th century, it was being used for navigation. It was something visible that always pointed towards something invisible, and got one safely and reliably to their destination.
Animals are known to have a certain amount of magnetite in their brain tissue, which helps them to know where true north is so they can migrate and navigate. If Earth's magnetic field were to somehow suddenly disappear, many animals would be in serious trouble. Sea turtles and whales would get lost at sea. Migratory birds would fly in the wrong direction. A compass is necessary for our survival. In human beings, moral theologians would refer to our moral compass as our innate sense of natural law. The philosopher Aristotle wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics, that, “Once a man knows good from evil, nothing on earth can compel him to act against that knowledge.” And the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote that bad conduct and choices are the result of a lack of knowledge of good and evil. People with no morals may consider themselves free, but mostly they lack the ability to feel or to love. A well-formed values system is like a compass. It serves as a guide to point us in the right direction should we become lost. And we all do. Without a proper grounding in ethics and morality, our compasses spin like a windmill as we stumble from one situation to the next. It is our strength when we are confronted with the difficulties of life. Anne Frank wrote in the Diary of a Young Girl, that “A quiet conscience makes one strong.” Our compasses need to direct us, rather than narcissistically reflect our direction. They are invisible guidance that we have within our hearts and souls. We may have received it from our families of origin, our faith, our spirituality, our lived experience, or our innate sense of natural law.
The second question our panelists will consider today in round two involves the professional element of the moral compass. How have you used your moral compass with respect to ethical and professional decision-making? How did you use it when dealing with genocide? With war? With the fallout from the residential schools?
When I was in the military at Canadian Forces Base Borden, I was trained in the use of the compass to navigate in the forests. After we adjusted the magnetic declination, we were taught to place the compass on a map with the travel arrow facing in the direction of the landmark and away from us. We would rotate the bezel to position the needle inside the orienting arrow. This is to identify our bearings on the map's index line. Then we would find a landmark’s straight edge, and align it with the compass. Once this was done, we could start walking confidently in that direction, trusting in our compass to get us in the right direction. Our moral compasses function very much like that. It is one thing to have a moral compass, it is still another thing to know how to use it, and indeed to choose to use it. Ethics, like anything else, are philosophical skills just like morality is a spiritual skill. Our moral compasses are there to lead us out of the maddening tangle of forests we so often find ourselves in, out of the labyrinth of circular passages we are thrown into leading to nowhere, and keep us from the walking off cliffs that are fraudulently disguised as paths of goodness and beautiful promise. Good choices require sacrifice, and they don’t necessarily lead to good feelings or give us an easy way out. Yet those around us will experience those good feelings when we behave ethically.
The third question our panelists will explore is the situational question about moral compasses. What challenges have you personally faced that caused you to reflect on your own ethical systems? How did you maintain your compass in your professional role when confronted with a difficult situation? How did your grief about the situation affect your moral bearings? How did you get yourself back on track after a wrong decision?
Sometimes, compasses fail us. Our instructors in the military taught us there are actually six possible magnetic compass errors: Variation; Deviation; Magnetic Dip; Oscillation; Northerly Turning Error; and Acceleration/Deceleration Errors. The needle of a compass is actually a very delicate magnetic instrument, and it is possible for the poles to become reversed if the compass is brought into close contact with another magnet, a metallic object, or electricity. If the 'north' arrow, which is usually red, is pointing south, then your compass has become completely reversed. If this happens, you need to remagnetize the compass using a strong magnet, to get it functioning properly again.
And sometimes we make the wrong decision despite our best efforts. Somehow we choose the wrong direction, go down the wrong path. Maybe this happened in the heat of battle or under stressful circumstances. When we have done so, we need to get ourselves somehow back on track, and get our moral compasses pointing in the right direction once again so that we can get out of the situation we find ourselves in. We must learn to compensate in situations like that, improvise, and sometimes sail our ships a little crooked, to make adjustments.
If a compass needle becomes sluggish and slow to settle, such that it appears to stick and be out of balance that means it has become partially reversed. We could say that this represents a time when we are confronted with moral ambiguity, when our moral compass does not point in any clear direction on the battlefield or in the leadership situation we are thrown into. Moral and ethical leadership is an opportunity not to be self-serving, but to serve others. We so want to do the right thing, but so often we don’t know what that right thing is to do. We need to act, yet we don’t know how. It is this moral dissonance that can cause the fight or flight reaction. We may make rash decisions that we regret later. Or we may avoid decisions and withdraw or try to escape.
There may be times we land in a situation where the ethics are unclear. On the North Pole compasses spin endlessly in random directions as the earth’s magnetic field fluctuates. We can run into situations like this when we are confronted with moral ambiguity, or thrown into situations that we were never trained for or could never have humanly anticipated. We don’t usually worry about our compasses - until we are lost. And when we are lost and our compass is not working, we are plunged into the darkness of uncertainty, holding the maps we have drawn with no way to use them. Just like a compass needle trembles, so do we when we are struggling to find our way.
On aircraft, the magnetic compass is sometimes called the 'whiskey compass’ by pilots. The story is that it was called this as a reminder to pilots to fill the compass with alcohol instead of water due to its lower freezing temperature at high altitudes. When confronted with moral crises, a person may find themselves with either a frozen moral compass, or drowned in alcohol or other illicit substances. A situation of moral incoherence where there are no right answers can certainly create a sense of powerlessness, cognitive dissonance, anxiety, and depression. People who try hard to do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, to bring about good in evil times, to alleviate human misery in a cruel situation, to protect others from unavoidable harm in the face of maniacal forces, can experience some of the madness of this world of this world and internalize it.
Acceleration is one of the compass errors that I referred to earlier. Sometimes things move so rapidly in our situations, that like a plane reaches the sound barrier, we can reach an ethics barrier that causes the shock of a sonic boom. The wisdom we needed in the moment was just not there when we needed it, and was only apparent to us when we looked back on the past with the clarity of hindsight from the calmness of the future.
And yet sometimes the worst of situations can be a compass in and of themselves to a better situation, that point our way to new growth as human beings, in our hearts and in our souls.
We now turn to our panelists with the first question about where you got your moral compass from. And I would like to welcome Dr. Delia Opekokew, lawyer and distinguished indigenous-rights advocate. Virginia Gamba a special representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict, the former member of the Argentinian armed forces. And retired General Peter van Uhm, who is the Chief of Defense. And Niels Blokker, from Leiden University, professor of international law. And I'll begin by asking Delia, to open our conversation with the first question, Where did your moral compass come from?
Thank you. Thank you for that wonderful introduction. And thank you, General Dallaire, for being the person behind these discussions. My answer will be focused on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is related to the genocide and harms that were done against my people, the survivors and those that have died at those Indian residential schools. And I myself attended Indian residential schools for 11 years. So, my values and objectives that guide me, with respect to my morals, are based on the teachings of my parents and my community, before I attended Indian residential school. By the time I attended Indian residential school, their values, the Cree way, the traditional ways, were imprinted in me, so that I was able to survive with my own way of thinking, which is very different from, for instance, this forum, which is very literal. We're holistic. And of course, that meant that there was a real cultural shock for me in attending Indian residential schools. But because of the parenting and the community values that I had acquired, that helped me survive. Because many did not survive. Many of the survivors and those that have passed on did not survive to be able to be there for quality of life, or they perished because of the Indian residential schools.
For me, I lived on an Indian reserve, and this is where I am now. I am at the Canoe Lake Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan. I come from a family who survived on the land. And we hunted, fished, and camped, not only on the reserve but also outside the reserve within the treaty number 10 territory. And we lived a traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing, gathering medicines and fruit berries. And we also farmed. I started working, because when you're doing this type of work, even as a child, you have to start working. And so, I was taught how to work hard. I was taught how to survive in harsh elements because it can be very cold in northern Canada. But it did also bring joy, and a sense of wonder for the liveliness of the land and the fruits of the land and waters. We survived on wild game, fish, berries and medicines. We only spoke Cree. We raised horses, cows, chickens. And each summer cultivated two large gardens.
At the same time, my mother started to prepare me for having to attend residential school. There was no schools where I came from. And so she wanted me to be educated. And she taught me, started to homeschool me, before I attended school. She held me back so I didn't go in at a young age, as many did. Some attended as early as 3, 4, 5, 6. I was just turning eight when I attended. In the meantime, she had asked my aunt to teach me English so that I can survive at the school. On the other hand, at the community, I did witness some harsh lives, including a dysfunctional life. There was abuse, spousal abuse, that I saw, and that not only came from the dysfunction that many of my people acquired, because of how hurt and damaged they were at the school, but also generally the decolonization. As General Dallaire said: laws are there. Something can be done that passes as a law, because the legislation had been passed. For instance, the Indian residential schools were created by policy, and eventually became law under the Indian Act and Canada. And so, how the schools were created, was through the Indian act. And so laws were passed to destroy our way of life. And by the time I went to school, but before that, people had been colonized to a great extent, and they had lost many of the ways that they were taught to take care of their families and their children. And I saw that in action.
And at one point, when I was a teenager, in between school, I became very involved in protecting a victim. And that gave me a lot of strength. When you know that you can fight back, that really gives you confidence. And part of my ethics stems from that. But when I did go to school, I saw so much racism, discrimination, genocide, that I... the ways of survival that I had in residential sch—in my community, were a way that I survived. Because I knew that kindness was important. I knew that joy was important. And I knew that sharing was important, because of my parents and my family. Those were not the things we were taught at the school. We mostly saw... what I saw in my case was being educated in the non-indigenous way, to be ashamed of my own people, of my own customs, my own culture. And I became quite angry because of that. And I learned to manipulate, because I knew what the staff were doing to the children was wrong. And so my morals, my compass, continued into that life, into the school. And I was able to help some. But more importantly, I was, I think, a role model in many cases. Because my father, for instance, had taught me sports when I was a young child. So I participated in a lot of the activities that were available. And I got a sense of joy of that. And I'm hoping that I did lift other children, that even though there was some suffering, there were other things that happened where you could, in fact, run the fastest, you could compete, read, I acquired a love of reading and learning because of my mother's teachings and my aunt's teachings.
And I remember as I was washing the floors in the Indian residential school—because we were all had to be laborers, we were both students and also laborers at the school—and we spent—and these were not chores that children did, these were what laborers did. The boys, for instance, had to work at the farms with the cattle, with the horses making hay. They were working as adults when they were, like, ten, nine years old. And as children, we worked in the kitchen, we worked in the laundry. And I remember washing the floor with a brush. Because we didn't have mops, we had to do everything by hand. And my part of—the girls would be organized into rows so that they had one part to wash. Mine was always the poorest. Because I remember thinking, I shouldn't be doing this. I don't want to do this, but I'm being forced to do it. As I remember dreaming when I grew up, one of the first things I'm going to do, is I'm not going to do any housework. So I learned to not only enjoy some of the things, but I also learned to hate. And I think that's why I became a professional. And so, my moral compass—I don't know how much longer I have—my moral compass comes from the life I learned between the age of when I was born until I was seven. And it was from my parents and my community's teachings. I thought we were going to be given some signs as to how long we were to speak. So I'll finish here now, because I don't know how long I have.
Thank you. Greg?
Thank you very much, Delia. That was wonderful. I'd like to hear, now, from Niels Blokker. Please, if you could tell us a little bit about where your own personal moral compass came from.
Thank you very much, Greg, for your introduction also. And thank you, General Romeo Dallaire for inspiring these conversations. As you mentioned in your introduction, I'm a Professor of International Law at Leiden University. But for the purpose of this meeting, my contribution will focus on my experience in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The period between 2000 and 2013, first when I worked as a senior legal counsel, and then as deputy legal adviser.
You asked, "Where does my moral compass come from?" Well, my own moral compass is something like an inner voice, that tells me, what is the right thing to do? What is just, what is unjust? Where does this inner voice come from? I assume it is shaped by the way in which I was brought up, by my broader personal cultural background, and my life experiences. I do not have the perfect credentials for this meeting. Since I never faced it my role as legal advisor, moral dilemmas like those of General Romeo Dallaire, or others present here this conversation. But the organizers assured me that what I wanted to share could nevertheless be useful for this conversation. After having worked for 16 years in academia before 2000, I was curious to learn how international law works in practice. How is it made? How is it broken? And this is what I've experienced in my 13 years in the Dutch Foreign Office, advising on questions of international law.
As legal advisor in a foreign ministry, the main task is to advise the foreign minister and high policy advisors about questions of international law. These questions range from detailed issues of diplomatic law, treaty interpretation, etc. to methods of war and peace. You must give the best possible legal advice. This advice is not necessarily what a foreign minister likes. But the task is not to say or write what the foreign minister wants to hear, but what he or she needs to know. Legal advisors may feel a certain pressure to act like a corporate lawyer, to please the foreign minister, provide a legal underpinning, to use the legal toolbox for whatever the foreign minister wants to decide. But the job is to also be very clear about any red lines that international law may provide. After all, you are the 'legal' adviser. At the same time, you are a legal 'adviser', you advise. The minister decides. The minister is answerable to Parliament, you are not. Obviously it was international law, not my own moral compass, that dictated my legal advice. But in performing the functions of legal adviser, you may face certain moral dilemmas, as I will try to illustrate when we come to the next question that Gregory has asked us. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Niels. At this point, I'd like to call upon our next presenter, then, Peter van Uhm, to tell us a little bit about where your moral compass comes from. Peter, you may need to unmute there.
Something technical went wrong. I hope you can hear me now. Yes? Okay. Thank you, Greg. Well, same as Delia, my moral compass starts with my parents. My parents had a small bakery in a town in the Netherlands. And they taught us values and ethics. For instance, they taught us that we should have respect for other people. That we should take our responsibility for the task that we got as children in the bakery. Because if I wouldn't do my task in the bakery, now my daddy would have a problem the next day. So our parents started with this. And they also told the stories about the Second World War. They shared their experiences. And they showed us that we find our freedom, because a lot of other countries, the allies, took a lot of sacrifices. They took the sacrifices to give us back freedom, peace, and security. And they taught me and my brother and sister that these things are not for free, you have to do something for it. But they also told us that our own freedom, if you want to have it in the maximum, it affects the freedom of others. So it's not only about you, it's about the freedom of all of us. And these things I took along through my primary and secondary school. And in the Royal Military Academy, when I got my military education, they started to work more on values and ethics. And in the end, I got even more familiar and I started to understand them better. And so they, more or less, internalized into my body. That's all for now.
Thank you, Peter. And we'll next hear from Virginia, please. By the way, before we hear from Virginia, I added a little bit to her resume that didn't belong there. So I understand that she's not a former member of the Argentinian armed forces. But perhaps she wished at one point to be, of some sort. I don't know. Virginia, let's hear from you then about where your moral compass comes from.
Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here. Congratulations. I think [inaudible] Dr. Romeo and to all the panelists. [inaudible] And I'm glad I'm the last one to answer your question, because I think I have now the case to prove what I was going to say. That, in fact, all of us, are a mix. Our moral compasses all come from a mix, general beliefs, and our upbringing. And mine is the same case. You know, it comes from my beliefs and my family values. And particularly in that sense, my mother. So I think I'm a Christian. I believe in the existence of God—that is not a minor thing—I think it's, it's very important to know if you believe in God or not, and I do, so that helps a lot. As a Christian, I believe in the existence of God. And I also believe that we will have to answer to him one day. The best way to serve God is to serve others. And that one should not prejudge, and that one should always say the truth. I think I take that package from my beliefs. I think from the side of my long family tradition, best epitomized in my mother, I said—let's say inheritance—I really inherited a very strong commitment of service to others. And the idea of the need to protect others, the idea to sacrifice to help others, you know, a very strong sense of humor. And amazing resiliency. All the women for five generations in my family have been very strong. So we're very resilient. A real admiration for hard work, and the willingness to want to take the hard work. But I think the one thing that my mother gave me, that has been a curse and a blessing, depending where you want to see it, is empathy. I'm a very empathic person. And a great sense of solidarity. But she's also given me adaptability, the sense of fair play, she's—to this day, she is 95—she's strong, she believes in justice. She's a very just woman. I'm not as just, but she is. So that sense of fair play comes from her. A love of beauty. And then putting things in perspective. And she raised my brother and I as citizens of the world without any borders, or countries or allegiances except to the human race. And that's all I remember from all my upbringing. So there's always been like precepts and rules that helped in the upbringing, which was, you know, you belong everywhere. There's no one better or worse than you. Obey the law. Be gracious, and thankful to the lands that hold you as you go through life. Be loyal. And so I have a clear, a very clear moral compass, because I think it supports each other, you know, the belief, and the upbringing really assisted in the whole package. So very early, it was very clear on what to me was right or wrong. So, over to you.
Thank you, Virginia. That was excellent. We're now going to go on to our second question concerning ethics and morality. The question is, "How have you used your moral compass in a situation where it demanded some kind of an ethical or moral decision?" And you can think of a time in leadership or a situational moment where you used it, and it helped you to find the right way forward? We're going to begin this question by posing it to Peter van Uhm, to begin.
Yes, thank you, Greg. Well, this moral compass, I learned as a young officer already, that it can help you a lot, and especially in difficult situations where you don't have much time to analyze—what we call a split-second decision. And I'll just explain what happened to me. I was 21 years of age, being a platoon commander of 40 soldiers. This was not in a mission, it was just an exercise. And for three days, we were working hard and my soldiers were tired, their feet were hurting. And then at night, we have a real opportunity. We had a comfortable way out of the situation. There was one problem. This was not allowed to do. So all my soldiers looked at me, 21 years of age, and they thought, "Oh, Lieutenant, you're a great guy, let's hop on this car, and then have a nice opportunity and an easy way out." I had no time to think, but my belly, my gut feeling said no, you're not going to do that. So I didn't take the chance that we had. And I said to myself, let's go on, and their feet were hurting even more. And I had a whole life to consider why I said no. And in the end, I discovered that the easiest way out is not always the best way out. And in the end, it's all about reliability. Can you trust me or not? Can I trust myself? Can I look into the mirror? These small moments form your moral compass, and can help you even in difficult situations. And I know that General Romeo Dallaire has been in very complex, difficult situations. But it's also the small ones, where you make the moral compass of your soldiers or people around you. And I'll give you an example.
I was Chief of Defense, visiting our troops in Afghanistan. And I had ordered our troops a few weeks before to capture a leader of our opponents. And these guys have a lot of security around them. So this was a risky and complex operation. So I want to talk with this group, because they managed to capture this guy. While talking with about a hundred soldiers, one of the soldiers stepped up and said to me, "Sir, why are we making all this effort? Why taking all these risks? Well, I'm a sniper, let me lay there together with my mate, and we'll lie there maybe for a day. But at one point, this guy will come into the window, and then I'll take a shot at him." So what do you do? I could have passed, let this go. Then the soldiers would think ah, the chief accepts this, it's okay. So I looked at his soldier. And then I asked him, "When you look through your telescope, and this man comes into the window, and you see the face of this man don't you?" He said, "Yes." "Now I'm sure that you can hit him, because we trained you for that. But what does it do with you? Because what does it do with you when you see his face, it's on your eyeball. It's in your mind. And you know if you pull the trigger too early, because there still was a chance to take him alive." The soldier sat down, was nodding, he didn't think of what was right or wrong. At the end of this session, the soldiers, I said to my soldiers, "I hope that in future, you will all be a grandfather or grandmother. And when your grandchild is sitting on your lap, asking you, 'hey, granddad, granda, what did you do for my future?' I hope you can be proud of your answer." And then I looked at this sniper again. I looked him in the eye and I said, "And if you pull the trigger too early, you will not be proud of your answer." So, even in the small moments, it's important to focus on your moral compass, and lead your people in the right direction. That needs courage. And that word has been mentioned several times. I always said to my soldiers that this line between being courageous and being stupid, is rather thin. And most of the time decided upon afterwards. So be courageous, because it's much easier to explain that you took an action based on this information and this setting, then you have to say that you did do nothing. So, over to Greg.
Thank you, Peter, for that very profound sharing of your field experience, and how you used your ethics to help you make decisions. Sorry, General Dallaire. Did you want to speak into this a little bit?
Far be it for me to impose on a commander who's had the depth of experience that he has, but it's absolutely correct. Those small moments, of taking those decisions throughout your life, do shape the instinctive reaction in a moment of enormous dilemma and debate. To take, ultimately, the right decision and the courage to live with it. Even though at times a right decision may not be an easy one, nor one that can, in fact, make everybody satisfied with how you proceeded. Well done, sir.
Thank you, General. I'd like to now turn it over to Virginia, please, to share a time with us when you used your moral compass to help you make decisions.
Thank you very much. I don't think I have another dramatic example, because of the type of life I have. I am in a leadership position, and I'm in a decision-making position. And I'm in a position where, right now, for the last five years, my job has been to talk to the bad guys, I mean, the worst of the worst, those are my customers. And I have to convince about stopping the actions that they're doing, and stopping the violations that they're engaged in, perpetrating against children. So in that sense, a lot of the decisions I have already now today are already in the package of 'I am talking to a bad guy'. And so you know, where's your red line? What is what you actually do? So I think it has been really easy for me to use my moral compass in my present job, because I was always taught, and I believe that my right ends when the right of others begin. And that has made me a very good listener, which is something people are not normally. You know, we like to talk about ourselves, we like to think we have the truth, we like to impose our truth on other people. I'm not like that. I'm curious. I honestly want to listen, I want to understand where others come from. I always believed that there's not only one truth, there's many truths. It depends where you're sitting, that truth changes. And so it might be a true issue, something that actually, factually happened. But the way you interpret that issue will change depending on where you come from. So I think this is really—and that's something I've always known since I was a young girl—so I find that it helps me to be able to not prejudge a situation or a person when I walk in to a situation, and to try to find the common ground. What can be assisted, and what not.
I think there's always room for negotiating, and that's what I do. To try to improve a situation or prevent a tragedy from occurring. If this has already happened, what can we do to [inaudible] improve the situation now and to prevent it in the future. So I try to engage by using the value systems of the person I'm talking [to], and I think this is something I want to stress, the respect for the individual. That idea that none of us is better than anybody else. We're all here in the same boat at the same period of time, walking in the same valley of tears, whether you're rich, whether you're poor, whether you are, you know, black, white, Chinese, Christian, Muslim, we're here in this period of time, walking through a thorny path. Because no one has got an easy life. And that is the culmination. And seeing the person—no matter what monster you have in front [of you], seeing the person behind is the same thing as seeing the person behind the victim because the victim is a person, but also is a victim, and you have to go through, and you have to talk to the seed of that human being. So you have to try to make people understand in their own value systems, not yours, that it's in their best interest not to do something rather than do it. And so far, God help me, I've really been able to, in those engagements, I have been able, I believe, to do something good. The problem is I can never quantify, because I can quantify all the defeats I have. Because you can count them. But you can never quantify how many people profited from an engagement I had. And that, I think, is what keeps me going because it is that anonymous amount of people that otherwise might have been hurt, that I believe the use of my time, with my moral compass, really has helped.
There are red lights, we can discuss red lights, if you want to go straight to the point, I only have really three big challenges in using my moral compass in my personal life and in my professional life. And I think these ones are all related to my weaknesses. And so for me the biggest threats are three: it's Fear, it's Anger, and it's Sorrow. And people call me a very empathic, empathic person, I really have that problem. When I deal with refugees, when I deal with child victims, when I'm in the field and people beg me for food and water, and I can do nothing about it. You know, it's very difficult. So, if I get angry and lash out, and I want revenge, then I lose it. And I become as bad as the situation. So I can't afford that. If I break down in tears on the floor, many times that's exactly how I feel. Because I'm empathic. I don't float over people, I participate in their emotions. I'm like that. So if I just collapse and start crying, what good am I to anybody? So you have to be useful, you have to control that. And I think fear is something that you really need to control very well. Because I'm a naturally timid person, I'm naturally a shy person, and I'm scared of everything, even, you know, the -----. So I've always had to fight against fear. Because if someone knows you're afraid, you know, they smell it. And then you lost because your arguments are lost, you really, I think you are in a very vulnerable position when you show fear. At the same time, you have to face your fear. And that is my constant battle in this. I'm perpetually afraid, I have been threatened so many times, I have been hurt, my body is full of scars. But the point is, you don't, you can't be bullied. You have to have your message, you have to carry your message through, no matter what, no matter what cost, it's very important. It makes you reliable, it makes you consistent, you know, it makes you who you are. So I think fear and, and fury and sorrow are things that are my weaknesses, I'm naturally inclined to all of those. And so I have to always fight it. But so far, so good, I think I think it's good.
And the last one—oh no, my time is running out—is corruption. You would not believe the amount of times in my life people have tried to buy me off. Or to offer me honors, or to give me money. About the same amount of time that people have threatened to defame me, to ruin me, to ruin my career, to stop my work, you know, to fire me, things like that. Many, many times. And I think here, we have to put it in the picture, because the higher you go, you will find some of it happens with the military and the police as well. You know, a drug trafficker will come and offer money, but it's going to be "money or your life", you know, you take the money. It's this thing of today, particularly. So I think we have to talk about corruption, and here, the only recommendation I would strongly give, that has always worked for me, is to be a risk-taker. And to believe in yourself, to be true to yourself, no matter what the cost to yourself. And I've felt it. You can't worry about what others are going to think of you. Your reputation is stupid. I mean, it's between you and God. You know what you've done, who cares what other people think about anything? As long as you are true to yourself, because you're your only best friend. If you lose your best friend, then put betrayers aside, it's betraying you and your values and that's too high a price to pay. I wanted to risk-take. I'm tired of people talking about risk-taking. "Oh I'm a risk-taker, I'm a risk-taker." A risk-taker is willing to pay the price. Because if they lose, it will cost them. People say they're risk-takers because they think they're not going to lose anything. When I negotiate, when I engage, I know the risk I take. I'm willing to pay the price, but my price is minimal because I have nothing to lose. So not to be attached to material means, it's very important, you know, not pursue a life where you need a lot of things. Very important. It gives you a very large margin. When you have nothing to lose, then you go for it. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your journey on when you used your moral compass, Virginia, it was wonderful. I'll next call upon Delia, please, to speak for the next four minutes on how you have used your moral compass to help you make decision-making in difficult situations.
I have used my moral compass as I described earlier, in many ways, and again, I will focus on Indian residential schools. There was a class-action here in Canada, initiated by survivors against the government of Canada, which reached a settlement with the largest class-action compensation settlement at that time, and six areas of compensation, monetary compensation for common experience such as loss of language or culture. But the one I was involved in at one of the six was the independent assessment process. This was a tribunal, which heard from those claimants that applied, who had suffered sexual and physical abuse, and other wrongful acts. And before that, there was an alternative dispute resolution. So I worked in that area for 14 years as an adjudicator. We did have a guide to follow which I did as much as possible to, to follow. Well, you have to, as a lawyer, you know that you have to follow your terms of reference.
On the other hand, I used my ethics and beliefs, which you call moral compass, in the hearings to hear the horrendous wrongs, the facts of the horrendous wrongs. And I had obtained or received counseling, which really helped, because it helped me to focus on the claimant, not on my own feelings, or my own views. But to hear their stories to hear the evidence they were providing. And to understand, as they broke down, and to work with them, for them to, for instance, some of the things that happened to them are so horrible. In one case, one person [said], "I wanted to kill that person." I would say things like, "You were only a child, when this happened to you. This was an adult doing this horrendous acts against you, hurting you, in your whole body. You had a right to have those feelings, you had every right to feel that it was wrong, and that you want to hurt back. And so you should never be ashamed of how you felt. The things they did to you as a vulnerable child were horrendous."
And so, I worked with the claimants as they came along. And nobody puts themselves through our process, we find out as adjudicators, unless their story was really true. Because even though we were supposed to be less adversarial, they still had to prove their case, which meant that they had to open up and describe in huge detail, because we would ask questions of the exact abuse they suffered in order to meet the test that was required, and they're the guide. And so we triggered them, we just constantly triggered them. Some of them didn't come back from their trauma, some of them who had healed enough so that they had left their addictions, alcohol, drugs, and tried to have a good life, in fact, never came back. They returned to that, because we opened them up so much. And so, even though we did give money, and we did provide self-care funding so that they were able to get assistance after, it was still a harsh, harsh process. But at least they were heard. And that's what so many of them said, "I'm so glad that someone is hearing your story." And it was not just us, because the people that were in the room were Canada's representative, usually lawyers, the Counsel representing the claimant, the health support workers, some of the church representatives, and we would all tell them, "We apologize to you as a child of what happened to you. And many of them, I think, felt empowered by that process. It was not the best, but we did what we could. And in that whole period of time, my moral compass being in treating these people with the greatest of care With the greatest respect and dignity, it was so important to treat them with dignity. Because when they were children, they didn't have that. And that's how I used my moral compass.
Thank you for sharing your experience and your heart's journey, Delia. Lastly, I'll turn it over to Niels then, please, to share a time when you used your moral compass to help you make a decision.
Thank you, Greg. As I said in my work as legal advisor, I've never faced moral dilemmas like those of Gen Dallaire, and others present here. But it may be, nevertheless, useful to share with you my two most important experiences during the 13 years that I've worked in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As I mentioned, my main motivation in 2000, to work for the Dutch ministry, was to become familiar with practice after having been in academia for so long. I wanted to experience how international law is made and how it is broken. The two examples I want to share with you relate to this.
The first example. This is when I fully experienced how international law is broken. I was responsible for advising on the use of force. This is high politics. It is about war and peace, about life and death. In 2000 and 2003, I advised on the lawfulness of going to war in Iraq. Basically, the advice was that this would be unlawful without a new resolution of the UN Security Council, authorizing the use of force. But my government finally did not agree, and decided to give political, not military, support to the United States and others when they used force against Iraq in 2003 without a new Security Council resolution. My colleague in the United Kingdom, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, also advised that this use of force was unlawful. The UK Government disagreed and took part in the military operation against Iraq. Elizabeth Wilmshurst's moral compass told her that this was unacceptable, and she resigned from the Foreign Office. You can find her letter on the internet, in which she states that the unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to a crime of aggression. I did not resign. I did not feel an inner voice telling me that this was unacceptable. And this is because fundamentally, I took the view that my advice does not always have to be followed. The minister, the government, decides. Of course, I need to do all within my power to convince the minister, but the bottom line is that he or she may not want to follow the advice.
What may be difficult is that after the minister has taken a decision in which he or she does not follow the legal advice, the Legal Adviser also has the task to provide the minister with the best possible legal arguments for his position. So you are a bit like a chameleon, changing colors according to the circumstances. This is not at all opportunistic or unprincipled. It is simply the task of a legal adviser. If you do not accept that, you should not become a legal adviser. But it may be difficult to accept at times. As Elizabeth Wilmshurst showed.
My second example is where I fully experienced how international law is made. This concerned negotiations on the crime of aggression in the context of the International Criminal Court. When the ICC was established in 1998, there was full agreement that the court would have jurisdiction over three international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. It was also agreed that the court should have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. But it was impossible in 1998 to reach agreement over the definition of this crime and the conditions under which the courts should exercise jurisdiction over it. Since 1998, the negotiations on the crime of aggression continued, and I represented the Netherlands. These negotiations were extremely difficult, legally complex, politically sensitive, as it was usually summarized. A big two-week conference was organized in 2010 in Kampala. Although the goal was to reach agreement over the crime of aggression, no one of the more than 100 negotiators believed that this would be possible. At most, partial agreement on some specific issues was expected.
Nevertheless, completely unexpected, at the end of these two weeks there was an agreement, adopted by consensus. It is impossible to forget and difficult to describe the feelings of euphoria when this happened. One of the lessons I learned from this experience is that individuals matter, individuals can make a difference. Very difficult international negotiations such as these are not exclusively decided by power relations, state interests, etc. The right mix of individuals involved may make the difference, they may make possible what seems to be impossible. One example is the role of the delegation chairing these crime of aggressive negotiations. You may expect that this should be one of the strongest powers in the world, able to convince or enforce the agreements. So it may come as a surprise when I tell you that these negotiations were chaired by Liechtenstein, by the extremely able Liechtenstein ambassador to the UN, with an extremely able team. So let me leave it there. Back to you, Greg.
Thank you very much, Niels. We'll be moving along then to our last question. And this one is going to be one involving a situational focus. And we're going to ask our panelists, if they can describe a time when they or perhaps somebody they observed, had to struggle in a situation of moral ambiguity, where it was unclear what the right thing was to do. And when a situation where there was moral incoherence, decisional uncertitude and just a lack of knowledge, and how that was resolved. This one is a shorter question. It's a three-minute response from everybody. And I'm going to actually turn it over to Delia, please, for this particular... or did we lose... is Delia still on? Okay, Delia had to go. So we're going to then proceed with Virginia, please, with this question, thank you.
It's been a difficult time, you know, it's very difficult to come up with a good example of this. It's never happened to me. I've never gone through this situation, I've never lost, thanks be to God, my moral compass. It's always been very clear to me. Perhaps the best thing, I'm thinking as we go along, perhaps what I can do is describe a moment in time, an epiphany perhaps, that I had, that might explain better what I'm trying to say.
When I was about 29 years old, I had a revelation. And I was very powerful. I was an up-and-coming bright star in a democratic country that had suffered a lot, including a war, and I was like, 'it'. I was the 'it' girl, of the moment. I was horrified. I was horrified to see how superficially, how superficial decisions were taken. I think, you know, where is it right here, you know, should wake up, you know, transition, we have to stabilize democracy, we have to live near that. And I keep saying whoever is out there, I should wake up. And then I suddenly realized, there's no one in control. And it put things in such a perspective for me. I've never again, been able to look at presidents, or heads of state, or kings, or queens in the same light. Or the Secretary General, for that matter. All I know is that they're not in control. Because we're human beings, we have, you know, 15 minutes, and masses of information, decisions, policies, inheritance of commitments, national postures... and the same thing is true with communities. So ultimately, there is no human person that is in control. When I realized that no one was in control in my own country, it terrified me, because it suddenly shakes from under your feet the idea that there is an order, that there is a law. That someone actually knows of a cause and effect, that someone understands this. It pushed me to think, 'Okay, if no one is in control, you have to be in control.' And I decided, that day, that I was going to be in control of my own life, which meant that on little things, I will be fully responsible. And it was the sum of little things done in a fully responsible manner, in a small area that I could influence, that I would be accountable for. And it just became bigger and bigger with the course of time. To this day, I have a really big area. But perhaps that can reflect about a moment in time when you started thinking 'What is out there?' This is the epiphanies that you say, you know does God exist. I mean, does power exist, does authority exist, does someone really care? And this is where you have to rely on your moral compass, you know. What does it tell you? It tells you what to do, be responsible for your own life, and the lives of those immediately around you, and the lives of those entrusted to you, in your immediate surroundings. That's what you're going to do. And you have to remember that when you are here, the privilege of being alive, means a great responsibility. So when you're born, you inherit a meter of earth, which you're going to occupy for the rest of your life. And you're provided with the food that you will need from that meter of earth all the way down to the core of the planet, it's all yours, and all the air you're going to breathe, it's all up to the sky above you, one meter. But when you die, you know, I'm sure God is going to ask you, 'What did you do with the meter I gave you?' Because you have the privilege to be alive, you all have the privilege of being born. So many people did not. So why you, and what did you do with it? And I think for me, this is the thing that is more important than one example of one situation, I've been thinking.
Excellent. Thank you for sharing your observations, Virginia. I'll turn it over now to Neils, please, to describe a time of moral ambiguity that you or somebody you know may have faced and how they resolved it.
Thank you, Greg. It will not be much about myself, but further about people or stories that I'm familiar with. And for me, it has always helped a lot, that I tried to fully understand my responsibilities as a legal adviser, what I was expected to do, what I could do, and what I could not do, what I could not change.
And the two examples—one example I actually already mentioned, this was the example of my colleague in the United Kingdom, who could simply not accept that her advice on the legality on the use of force in the case of Iraq in 2003, was not followed. She found this unacceptable, and she had such strong feelings about this that her inner voice told her, "I need to resign, I cannot accept this." That was quite exceptional. I know of no other legal advisor that has taken a similar step. It was a courageous step. If you cannot accept that, that is what you need to do. There are more of these examples.
And a famous example, perhaps some of you are familiar with it, is what happened in the early days of the United Nations. And that was really a tragedy. One of the top legal advisors of the first Secretary General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie from Norway. One of his top legal advisors was an American, Abraham Feller. And he committed suicide, on the 13th of November 1952. This was three days after Trygve Lie resigned as Secretary General. And the main reason for this was, that he could no longer accept the enormous pressure resulting from this McCarthyism that we had in the United States. As a result of which the US government put a lot of pressure on the UN Secretariat to dismiss Americans that, allegedly, according to the American government, had Communist or socialist sympathies. And this, of course, was unacceptable for the UN, for the UN Secretariat, because these independent civil servants are independent, and the United States was forbidden to exercise such a pressure on the UN Secretary General. For the legal adviser, this top legal adviser, Abraham Feller, as a US citizen, he found this unacceptable. So, unfortunately, no other way out than committing suicide. And still I believe there is a reading room in the United Nations Secretary named after him. I'm not saying that the job of a legal adviser is always so difficult that you're faced with such consequences. But these are dilemmas that you can face in practice, and let me stop by mentioning these two examples. Thank you, Greg.
Outstanding. Thank you, Niels. Before we conclude with Peter, I'd like to request that General Dallaire share his thoughts. Oh. Okay, we'll go on to Peter.
Okay, Greg. In answering your question, I can only give you the most profound example in my life. On one day in the Netherlands, we had a big festivity because Peter van Uhm became the Chief of Defense. The next morning, I came into my office and my deputy was standing there. And I mean, he showed in his face that things were terribly wrong. But you don't think of your son. And my deputy said that in Afghanistan, two soldiers were severely wounded, and two were killed. And one of these two was my son. Then you will collapse, as simple as that. In the evening at our house, it was crowded, family, friends, they all want to be there for my wife and me. And my wife asked me, "Peter, please ask them to go because I need time for myself." So within 15 minutes, they cleaned the house, they all went off. And they had the television on. My wife and I, we weren't looking to the television, we were sitting in misery on our couch, and my moral compass shook. I said all the wrong things. And then on the late-night news show in the Netherlands, they started and they showed the pictures of our son. And his driver was killed, too. So you start watching television, and they were starting a discussion on whether I still could be the Chief of Defense of the Netherlands. And they didn't even have an idea on it, they have an opinion, they had a judgment on it. And I got furious. And because I got furious, my wife got furious. And it took us out of our grief. And we looked each other in the eye, and we said, "If they on the television are right, then we will not only lose our son, but we will also lose everything our son believed in, and we believe in. So this is not going to happen." So we decided that I would take on as Chief of Defense. I didn't know if I was capable to do it. But at least I would try. And after a few days, I saw, while arranging a funeral, I saw a few things that I didn't like. So I decided, 'I'm responsible, I have to do something.' And I decided to do a press conference. And I arranged it in such a way that the press conference was held at a moment that our soldiers in Afghanistan could lively see the press conference. Because I did it for our society, for our political advances, and also for my soldiers. And there I told that we did the right things in Afghanistan, and even in a right way, and we should stay on, helping the Afghan population. We should support them. And I told them that I would go on as Chief of Defense. Well, at least a few weeks later, I was in Afghanistan to face the troops. Soldiers, noncommissioned officers, officers, they came to me. They just nodded, took me by the shoulder, and some said, "Sir, what you said on this press conference, we will make it happen." Their moral compass was in a right way again, and I hope I contributed. But if everybody deals with this responsibility in this way, an individual can make the difference. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing those profound thoughts and moments and feelings from your life. This is edifying for everybody. We were going to do a question and answer period. But I think we're a little bit over time. So I'm going to go on with thanking the panelists, Peter and Virginia and Niels. Delia had to go to another Truth and Reconciliation event this afternoon, so she wasn't able to finish the talk with us. But I would like to thank the three of you for participating. And before we go on to the concluding things, I'd like to call upon General Dallaire, please, to share his thoughts.
What a stimulation. What a magnificent opportunity to live the experiences and the extremes that others have gone through, and to listen to how they've worked their way through it, and their responses to the challenges that they face.
First. To you Virginia Gamba. I have seen you face the Security Council and fight for the lives of children. You touch them, you feel them, you smell them, you hear them. And you bring that passion to that board, to that body, with sustained power and conviction and objectivity, because you truly fundamentally believe that protecting children, here and abroad, is critical to breaking the cycles of violence and creating, ultimately, atmospheres of peace. You commit yourself to those children and the future of humanity. That is quite a decision to give yourself and to put upon your family, but to give yourself that mandate. And one day you'll sit down, and I hope you will say that you were successful, yes, in moving those yardsticks, and that you will feel vindicated.
I think if I may to you, General van Ohm, your story, we know it well, we who served. We also know very, very well, the commitment you have given to not only the troops while you serve, but to the veterans who served under you and still are living the experiences of the injury, the moral injuries of these dilemmas that they've had to face in the field. As you've faced it, in garrison, and in fact, at home. And the difficulties you've had of trying to hold your moral reference to the soldiers who believed in you, to do the right decision in regards of the face of an enemy and a threat to your nation, at the price of—such a horrific price—of your own family. That is of enormous, enormous significance.
And so this brings me to Niels, because Niels opens an incredible debate on whether you resign or not, on principle, on belief. And I would argue that yes, that is possible, as some of us have found ourselves in such scenarios. However, if those who are with you trust you, if they believe in you, if they are committed to you, that you will continue to persevere, to convince, to change and so on. And if you pull out, it's sort of like abandoning, a bit, the troops in the face of the enemy. And so it's a very profound debate on whether or not you should actually consider resigning when so many count on you to hold, and to fight, and to sustain it. And I think General van Uhm, and both you have demonstrated that, and I think Virginia Gamba does it every day in that—at times, Byzantine—building, an organization in which she is committing her life. Thank you ever so much, all of you for having been with us today.
General, I ask you to say just a word, as well, in closing, about Truth and Reconciliation Day, and the privilege of having Elder Betty with us, and also Delia Opekokew. Before we shift on to some closing words, and then on to Shannon closing with us for the day,
I had notes for Delia. I'm sorry she left. Because what I wanted to indicate to her was the enormous depth of how the Aboriginal people, in their communion with nature, persevered to sustain their culture. And that emotional commitment to the way of life that is of their ancestors, and that could sustain them and advance them into the future. And how she and others are continuing to argue, objectively and with vigor, that that cultural framework is a part of the richness of a great country. And it's the richness of their nations that is making us more effective. And so to her and to [Elder Betty] Letendre, they were in a day of enormous, enormous hurt and pain. As we're seeing, 150,000 children, ripped out of the arms of their families, by a government that had, as a fundamental law at the time, that still exists, that this law, the Indian Act, the 19th century Indian Act, was written in order to assimilate these people. And me, as a French Canadian, I know only too well what the term 'assimilation' means to your frame of reference. So, to them, it is their day, indeed. Thank you.
Thank you, General. Greg? Eric and I would like to just close in thanking everyone here for participating with us. To our moderator, Greg Zubacz. Thank you for moderating, so beautifully, so masterfully, with everyone. To all of our panelists, Niels, to Peter van Uhm, to Virginia Gamba, to Delia Opekokew. We want to extend our profound gratitude. There are many words that we could say, in summary today, but the profundity of looking at those things that have shaped everyone's moral compass, that has guided different decisions, that have enabled people to be sensitive and intuitive, to the communities that they serve, to the people who they care for. To step forward into the sphere of influence and responsibility that is there as before them. Peter, your comments of the moral courage that it takes to be able to be a role model amidst the profundity of sacrifice, and pain, and the complexity of the situations that we find ourselves in. To be attentive to how that gets lived out in professional and personal contexts. Is nothing shy of noteworthy, nothing shy of acknowledgement and sincere gratitude and thanks. I'm going to turn it over to Eric, briefly, to just give us a lineup, a few words of where we're headed next before we give our very final word to Shannon, who will bring us back to a moment to reflect on the Truth and Reconciliation, Day, and to lead us into a song, in close. Eric.
Yes, thank you. I'll echo those words, Suzette. So, just where we're heading to. We have we have, after this session, five more sessions planned. The next two sessions being held the 13th and the 14th or October. On October 13th, there will be a Critical Conversation on moral injury and intergenerational trauma with General Dallaire. And we have amongst us Professor and Vice Chair of Psychiatry, Veterans Affairs and Professor of Neuroscience, Rachel Yehuda. Professor of Neuroscience, Canadian Central Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge. Gerlinde Metz. Executive Director from the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security, Shelly Whitman. And Professor of Children's Rights Law, Addis Ababa University, Benyam Mezmur. The conversation that day will be moderated by Professor of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Andy Greenshaw.
Our next day will be on October 14, and that will be a conversation on the repair of moral injury. We'll be hearing from a number of international experts in this area. Jacky June [ter Heide] will be joining us, as well as Dr. William Nash. And we'll be hearing from Tzeggai Berhe, as well as from Joseph Currier. The conversation will be moderated by Alexandra Heber, who's the chief psychiatrist for Veterans Affairs Canada. So we welcome you to enjoy those conversations, engage with us on that. In closing, we're going to turn over to Shannon Cornelsen. Shannon gave us a few words at the beginning, and we'll close with her final words and then lead into a song. Shannon.
Well, thank you for the opportunity today, on this first Truth and Reconciliation Day, to introduce this beautiful song that truly represents the teachings from our Elders. Today of all days, we're reminded to love one another because we truly are all one family. 'O Siem' was written by the multi[talented Susan Aglukark, and she performed this song with Indigenous children from our local communities. So I hope you can enjoy and truly value the message that she sends with this song. Thank you. Hiy Hiy.
We are all family
We're all the same
The fires of freedom
Dance in the burning flame
Siem o siyeya
All people rich and poor
Siem o siyeya
Those who do and do not know
Siem o siyeya
Take the hand of one closeby
Siem o siyeya
Of those who know because they try
And watch the walls come tumbling down
We are all family
We're all the same
The fires of freedom
Dance in the burning flame
Siem o siyeya
All people of the world
Siem o siyeya
It's time to make the turn
Siem o siyeya
A chance to share your heart
Siem o siyeya
To make a brand new start
And watch the walls come tumbling down
We are all family
We're all the same
The fires of freedom
Dance in the burning flame