Reflections on the Roles of the UN and the
Canadian Government During the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide
Address by Hon. David Kilgour
7 April, 2007
Canadian War Museum, Ottawa
It is fitting that so many of us are commemorating the thirteenth anniversary of the genocide on the very day when the murder of more than 800,000 Rwandans over the ensuing 100 terrible days began.
If the international community as a whole is finally to cease re-interpreting our "never again" pledges, made following the Holocaust, Armenia, the Ukrainian famine, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda, as "again and again" in new catastrophes such as Darfur, we must constantly remember what happened to the Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus, who were abandoned by the UN and rest of the international community.
My first focus is the UN role in Rwanda and the source is the recently published book, The Best Intentions – Kofi Annan and the UN in an Era of American Power by James Traub. A journalist for the New York Times Magazine, Traub had good access to Annan and his staff since 2003; the book is excellent on numerous topics, including Rwanda. The key points it makes are these:
* When Annan, with little experience in peacekeeping, became the under-secretary-general for peacekeeping in early 1993, a number of crises were already underway. In one of them, Bosnia, where UN peacekeepers proved unable to stop an unspeakable massacre at Srebrenica and the killing of 37 people in a Sarajevo market, only NATO bombing for two weeks without UN Security Council approval persuaded the Serbs to sign a draft peace agreement. Traub concludes correctly that the UN "intervened timidly and clumsily" in the Balkans and did not intervene at all in Rwanda.
* Best Intentions describes the events in Rwanda which led to the catastrophe and then focuses on the January 11, 1994 "most notorious cable in UN history" from Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) to General Maurice Baril (UN Secretary General) Boutros-Ghali's military advisor, about hidden Interahamwe weapons, which some said could kill up to a thousand Tutsis in twenty minutes. Annan soon signed the never-to-be-forgotten response, directing that Dallaire do nothing "until clear guidance is received from Headquarters"
* The author is clearly sympathetic to Annan overall in the book, but he quotes his subject looking callous at least when in the overall context he asked him why he did not refer the cable to the Security Council: "Obviously we don't take pieces of cables to the Security Council." Annan then makes himself look both foolish and weak when he attempts to convince Traub that his inaction in Rwanda can be justified by the almost simultaneous problems in Somalia: "It was probably not a good call."
* Traub adds that the ultimate responsibility over what later happened in Rwanda was Secretary General Boutros-Ghali and that he, who "has never expressed remorse over any of the catastrophes that took place on his watch, blames the member states (and notes in his memoirs that throughout January he was 'away from New York and not in close touch with the Rwandan situation'). And the key member states blame the Secretariat for failing to keep them informed. Where did the buck stop? Nowhere."
* An independent inquiry into the UN's role in Rwanda later concluded that Annan's peacekeeping department erred in not bringing Dallaire's cable to the Security Council's attention. Even worse was its failure subsequently to press Rwandan President Habyarimana to take action against the militias. At the end of January, when Dallaire prepared a detailed plan to seize the illegal weapons, he received yet another cable from Annan, in effect telling him not to move. Dallaire later described this as "yet another body blow."
* When the mass murders and rapes began on April 7, immediately after Rwandan President Habyarimana's plane exploded from a missile hit, Dallaire was then told by Annan that he was not to side with moderate Hutus in the hope of helping them to stop the genocidaires. Two days later, compounding this irresolution, Annan told him that UNAMIR might have to withdraw from Rwanda. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, was soon going along with the Belgium Foreign Minister's request for a complete withdrawal of UNAMIR after Belgium's government had withdrawn its 1300 soldiers immediately after ten of them where killed by genocidaires. Traub notes that the US government was by then fully aware that "the killing was systematic and widespread." The then US ambassador to the UN Madeline Albright finally agreed to accept what she termed a "skeletal" force of 270 led by Dallaire to remain in Rwanda.
* Traub: "By the end of April, estimates of deaths had reached as high as half a million, and the newspapers and airwaves were filled with accounts of unspeakable savagery, and yet the UN continued to behave as if Rwanda presented a conventional problem of political reconciliation ...Boutros-Ghali did not use the word 'genocide' until early May..the Clinton administration was by then twisting itself into rhetorical knots to avoid using the word at all for fear of triggering the provisions of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which requires signatories to 'prevent and punish' such crimes."
The slaughter ended only three months later when Paul Kagame and his Rwandese Patriotic Front soldiers finally took the capital city Kigali, declared a cease-fire and formed a new government without international or UN help. In short, the roles of the UN Security Council, the member governments, the Secretary General and Kofi Annan during the genocide were all but unforgivable to the Rwandan people and many others across the world who thought that the UN under its Charter was supposed to represent all of its member states equally in peacekeeping crises.
Role of Canada
Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire was published in 2003 and is no doubt familiar to most of you. We can only wish that every high school and university graduate in our country and everywhere else had to read it. Some days, one wonders if any of the governments and diplomats dealing with the ongoing Darfur debacle-which has aptly been termed " Rwanda in slow motion"-even know that the book exists.
The thesis of Dallaire's book, of course, is that Rwandans and his small group of UNAMIR peacekeepers were abandoned by the UN and the international community, including the Canadian and other home governments. He makes many important points, but my time I'll only repeat two of them:
· Almost 50 years to the day that his father and father-in-law "helped to liberate Europe-when the extermination camps were uncovered and when, in one voice, humanity said, 'Never Again'-we once again sat back and permitted this unspeakable horror to occur. We could not find the political will or the resources to stop it…it is my feeling that this recent catastrophe is being forgotten and its lessons submerged in ignorance and apathy. The genocide in Rwanda was a failure of humanity that could easily happen again."
· Today, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it seems appropriate to refer to the title of the book and the concluding note of its preface. Asked if he can still believe in God after all that he saw in Rwanda, Canada's national hero writes: "…there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil…I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God."
Two Personal Observations
· First, Dallaire has said frequently that he thinks that a few thousand well-trained peacemakers could have prevented the massacre in Rwanda. The new Chretien government in office in 1993 clearly failed Rwandans, UNAMIR and Dallaire by not sending a decent contingent of Canadian soldiers with him. As Dallaire notes in the book, it is expected that the home government of every UN mission commander will send a respectable number to demonstrate that it is pulling its weight. How else can other governments be persuaded to send necessary numbers as well?
· And second, in the period 1992-1994, the Canadian Tutsi communities in Montreal and Ottawa sought repeatedly to raise awareness with the Mulroney and Chretien governments about what was being prepared in Rwanda with no visible success. As a Member of Parliament, I recall visiting the Pearson building with some them on two or three occasions. We'd leave shaking our heads at the indifference and general ignorance about conditions in Rwanda among supposed specialists in the Foreign Affairs ministry. After Kagame formed a new government, I recall that one of his ministers had considerable difficulty in obtaining a visa to visit Canada.
In conclusion sadly, we Canadians—aside from Dallaire, his colleague in Rwanda Major Brent Beardsley, Dr James Orbinski, who saved "hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people" (Dallaire) working at the King Faisal hospital in Kigali throughout the genocide, a group of brave and dedicated staff of Rwandan nationals at the Canadian mission in Kigali, and other mostly unknown persons (I recall for instance a Rwandan nun at settlement on the road to Lake Kivu telling me in 1997 that her life was spared by a mob coming to kill her because of the bravery of a Canadian priest who persuaded them to leave.)- We Canadians and all UN member countries have little to be proud of about our role in the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. Will we make up for it with our actions as we face future crises?