United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan - fresh from the triumph of brokering the Iraqi deal, and cruising through his African tour with the air of a savior come to rescue his beloved continent from the folly of its ruler - suddenly faces the cruel prospect of being cut down to size. An article in the New Yorker alleges that his failure in 1994 as head of the UN peacekeeping operations to intervene, despite detailed advance warnings to his office of the planned bloodbath, was a crucial factor in the genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsis by the Hutu junta.
The warning came three months before the slaughter from Annan’s commanding officer in the field. It alerted his office not only to the planned massacres but also to a death threat to the Belgian UN peacekeeping troops. The New Yorker report - on May 3 - cites a fax dispatched by the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, major-general Romeo Dallaire, to the UN headquarters on January 11, 1994.
The general was explicit in his warnings, claiming that his information was provided by a former member of the security force of the Hutu dictator, president Juvenal Habyarimana. The informant was then employed by the Hutu extremists to prepare a list of Tutsis to be murdered. He was also asked to assemble militias bloodthirsty enough to carry out the planned extermination without hesitation. The militias were given the name of Interahamwe - ‘those who kill together.’
Dallaire warned in his fax that the plans were at an advanced stage and could be implemented quickly unless urgent action was taken to stop it. He quoted his informant as saying that ‘in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to a thousand Tutsi.’ And since the informant was prepared to help the UN force to raid the Hutu militas’ weapons caches, the general proposed to mount such a raid in the next 36 hours.
But the reply to this offer was swift and negative: ‘don’t do it.’ The UN force had no mandate to carry out such operations.
The New Yorker even produces the reply to the general from Annan’s office. Dated January 11, like Dallaire’s fax, and signed by Annan’s aide, Iqbal Riza, it simply instructs the field commander to report his information to the ambassadors of France, Belgium and the US, and to ‘assume that Habayarimana is not aware of the situation’ and should ‘immediately look into it.’
It was on April 6 - three months after Dallaire’s urgent warnings and the response of Annan’s office to them - that the Hutu extremists seized control of the government and began the systematic murder of Tutsis. The following day, they captured 10 Belgian peacekeepers and killed them, fulfilling the general’s both prophecies. Annan later refused Dallaire permission to testify before a special commission established by the Belgian government to inquire into the affair.
The magazine’s revelations came as Annan reached Nairobi, Kenya, on May 4 as part of his eight-State African tour, and on the eve of his visit to Rwanda. Confronted with allegations, the UN chief dismissed them as ‘an old story’ but sought to blame the international community for the failure to avert the genocide.
‘The failure to prevent the 1994 genocide was local, national and international’ he said, adding that the failure included important nations with the power to make a difference. ‘No one can deny that the world failed the people of Rwanda, but the critical issue is not how to apportion blame with the benefit of hindsight.’
According to UN officials quoted in the International Herald Tribune on May 6, it was the Clinton administration which effectively blocked international involvement for months, even after the bloodbath had begun. Clinton apologized for his country’s role in the genocide in vague terms but failed to admit special responsibility. France was also deeply involved, and has now set up a parliamentary commission to inquire into its role.
But Annan is not willing to remark on the extent of Washington’s involvement and would rather shrug off the accusations levelled at him than reveal the details that might explain, though not absolve, his criminal failure to intervene. Even when he went to Rwanda and was greeted with abuse by Rwandan officials and legislators he would only speak in general terms.
On May 7, when he visited one of the genocide sites, he told a group of survivors that the ‘international community could not muster the resources or the will to come to Rwanda’s aid.’ He would not simply go into details or mention any of the members of the UN security council by name.
An article in the Herald Tribune on May 9 - quoting close aides of the UN secretary-general - supplies an interesting explanation for his behaviour: ‘Simply put, Annan took the abuse to shield the US. It was the Americans, still stinging from their failed peacekeeping operation in Somalia in 1993 who had resisted getting involved in the Rwandan killing in the spring of 1994 until it was far too late to save most of the genocide victims.’
The UN secretary-general, who is from Ghana, had no doubt his own unstated reasons for allowing hundreds of thousands of fellow Africans in Rwanda to be massacred in deference to the Americans, as he has his own motives in continuing to cover up for them. But this robs him of any authority, or credibility, to lecture African leaders, as he has done in his recent report on putting their house in order and ending the numerous wars that take a heavy toll of their people.
Some concern for the sanctity of African lives!
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1998