PHOTO | PETER BREGG
Luciano Medechio and his children Victoria and Matthew, are survivors of an LRA attack in Kidi Boma, South Sudan.
Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire asks Anzoyo Tsukia, "Is Joseph Kony the devil incarnate?" A rosary hanging from her neck, she replies that Kony looks normal but everything he does is diabolical.
Tsukia is a former child captive of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group led by Kony, a warlord who terrorized Uganda for 20 years. Now on the run in central Africa, Kony has a $5-million bounty on his head and is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The conversation between Dallaire and Tsukia occurs in a scene from Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, a documentary about children forced either to fight as soldiers or to become sex slaves and "bush wives" during conflicts in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
The direct analogy with Satan is not far-fetched. The film mentions the tactics of the LRA, why it was so successful at guerrilla warfare and why Kony freely used child soldiers for 25 years. But the use of child soldiers extends far beyond the now-famous warlord.
Dallaire, as he treats each child interviewed as a soldier – a sign of respect for both the lives they've lived and the scars that linger – is haunted himself. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, under his command as force commander of UN troops, 800,000 people were slaughtered over 100 days while the international community looked the other way.
But this documentary is not a repeat of Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004), made by director Patrick Reed, who also directs Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children.
Despite appearances, this film is not an ode to the retired general as it follows him along some of the frontlines in Africa, meeting demobilized child soldiers and running the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers initiative.
This initiative aims to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers through research, advocacy and security-sector training. (For more information, visit www.childsoldiers.org)
It becomes apparent early on that the part of Dallaire that was forged in Rwanda cannot exist peacefully anywhere else, if peace is even an option. His obsession with ending the practice of child soldiers, in combination with his growing celebrity as an author on the atrocities of war, is what makes him the most effective spokesman thus far at calling international attention to the dire situation of children as tools of war and what can be done about it.
There are about 250,000 child soldiers in 30 conflict zones worldwide, according to a White Pine Pictures press release. Even government forces in some conflicts have used child soldiers.
This movie is almost completely void of graphic images, but enough horror lies in knowing that, below the normalcy of daily life, there is great tragedy. Behind the innocent faces of the kids who escape from the likes of Kony, there are great crimes committed both against them and by them.
But throwing children in jail is not the answer, says Dallaire. First, it's against the UN convention on the rights of a child, he told The Catholic Register. These children also had no choice but to do as their masters commanded and were often subjected to extreme psychological manipulation.
"They're going to have a hell of a rough time, depending on how their rehabilitation program goes and how they're reintegrated," said Dallaire.
"My concern is recruitment, it is trafficking where an ex-child soldier is a very valuable resource for other people. So you end up a Sierra Leone child soldier fighting in Côte d'Ivoire because they've got all kinds of experience."
The adrenaline rush of combat is stronger than sex, said Dallaire in the film. Indoctrinating children into this lifestyle is not just a crime against humanity, but a sin. The high element of sin, he said, also comes from the sexual abuse of girls.
"Although the use of child soldiers is a crime against humanity, that dimension (of sexual abuse) to me is worse than simply a crime. It is a sin because the impact of that is everlasting.
"You actually end up breeding children out of it. And the girls are totally rejected by their communities, their societies. They have been affected in their inner being as women," said Dallaire. "The International Criminal Court recognizes rape as a crime against humanity. They consider it torture."
The film does demonstrate, by example of those who are free, that the inherent goodness and positivity of youth still exists within.
Hope in this film also lies with the Catholic Church at the Holy Martyrs of Uganda Cathedral.
The "Catholic Church plays a vital role here, offering some serenity to a ravaged population," said Bishop Richard Mady of the Diocese of Doruma-Dungu.
Yet, serenity is constantly threatened. To fight back, some people in the most terrorized zones are mobilizing. In the film, one father organizes an attack on a band of LRA members to rescue his children. And other villages are arming the able-bodied – including the children.
By the end of the documentary, viewers will wonder if the use of child soldiers can be stopped without ending conflict first. But considering that warlords like Kony restock their armies with children, the answer may lie with keeping kids safe.