The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda: Peacekeeping Operations in the 21st Century
“If the UN has a ‘responsibility to protect’, it must also have a ‘capacity' to protect.” - Annual Review of Global Peace Operations, 2008.
General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian who served as Force Commander of UNAMIR in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, wrote of his experiences in his book 'Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda'.
His story is one of the struggles of the UN troops to uphold the values of the United Nations in the face of overwhelming logistical difficulties, ill-trained troops and an ill-defined mandate. Events transpired against a backdrop of political manoeuvring cumulating in the murder of up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus within a period of only 100 days.
The question of Western responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda weighs heavily on the minds of many.
We ask what role did nations such as France and the U.S. play in preventing the necessary intervention on the ground? Did we apply lessons from Rwanda when faced with a deteriorating situation in Sudan in 2003?
From an operational and logistical viewpoint, where did things go wrong? What has been and can be done to ensure the success of future Peacekeeping missions?
The Collective Will
‘To save succeeding generations from the scourge of War’ - Charter of the United Nations, 1945.
Enshrined in the preamble of the United Nations Charter lays one of the fundamental ambitions of the UN. Practical implementation of this objective, however, has been fraught with difficulty.
Established to intervene in regions of instability and war, as mandated by the UN Security Council, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has assumed a leading role in hands-on efforts by the UN to mediate and assist peace-efforts on the ground. Peacekeeping Forces are tasked with an immensely difficult catalogue of responsibilities including civilian protection and even nation building in often-harsh climes.
Indeed, many look upon the success or failure of Peacekeeping Operations as the success or failure of the United Nations itself.
Hence it is nation states, under the umbrella of the United Nations Security Council, that act in defence of civilians not protected by their own governments in times of crisis. The execution of such mandates falls to multi-national Peacekeeping forces under the DPKO.
‘The question of Western responsibility for
genocide in Rwanda weighs heavily on the
minds on many’
It is clear that a successful intervention requires that both of these components function. Has this taken place in the past, and will it occur in the future?
One could claim that theory and practice have diverged as states have failed in their ‘responsibility to protect’ on numerous occasions.
The ‘responsibility to protect’, often tagged with the catchy R2P, strengthened as a concept in response to events in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s.
In essence, a state has a responsibility to protect its civilian population from mass atrocities or human rights violations. This charge is essentially opposing the fundamental right a state has to determine its internal affairs, or state sovereignty.
‘R2P affirms the collective responsibility of
the international community to act in times
In practice R2P provides a legal and ethical framework within which bodies such as the UN, or indeed another state, may intervene in a humanitarian crisis with or without the consent of the host nation state.
In effect, R2P affirms the collective responsibility of the international community to act in times of calamity, so what happened in 1994?
Rwanda in the 1990s was a volatile nation resulting from tensions between two ethnic groups: the minority Tutsis and the then ruling Hutus.
Belgian colonial rule differentiated between these two groups in the 1920s based on superficial physical differences, designating the Tutsis to be the superior race. This ensured that Tutsis had better career prospects and access to educational opportunities.
‘Many look upon the success or failure of
Peacekeeping Operations as a success or
failure of the United Nations itself’
In 1959, the Hutus were responsible for extensive rioting and proceeded to marginalize the minority Tutsis. The Hutus were then to take control of Rwanda when the Belgians departed in 1962, remaining in power until 1994.
Mandated to oversee the implementation of the Arusha Accords, and intended to oversee the formation of a power-sharing Hutu-Tutsi government, the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) went to Rwanda under the command of General Romeo Dallaire in 1993. Originally UNAMIR was to supervise the installation of members of the Tutsi tribe into the existing Hutu government.
Violence escalated, however, as it slowly emerged that extreme Hutu factions had no intention of sharing power. Dallaire found himself, with an ill-trained, ill-equipped force, in the midst of rising tensions in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. Soon evidence emerged of targeted killings of both Tutsis and moderate Hutu leaders. Subsequently ten Belgian soldiers, ordered to protect the new Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana (a moderate Hutu), were found dead at the hands of Hutu Rwandan government forces.
Dallaire pleaded to the UN Security Council for reinforcements and logistical support but his plea was rejected, largely based on a US reluctance to risk the lives of their soldiers on foreign soil. He despaired; even requests for basic rations were difficult to obtain under the ‘pull’ system at the UN.
‘Dallaire found himself, with an ill-trained, illequipped
force, in the midst of rising tensions
in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali’
Belgian troops, the best-trained men on the mission, began to evacuate as the situation deteriorated on the ground. Dallaire attempted to provide a safe-haven for thousands of vulnerable Tutsis and Hutus in urban areas but, due to a lack of working equipment and manpower, he was not able to prevent mass-murder in rural areas.
Not mandated, and expressly forbidden by headquarters in New York, to use force, marauding and murderous gangs roamed the streets of Kigali. Before long chaos reigned in the capital.
In his book, 'Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda', Dallaire gives a vivid and shocking account of the hardships, injustices and shear mismanagement endured by his mission in Rwanda. While acknowledging the dedication of contingents such as the Belgians, Ghanaians and Tunisians, he strongly criticizes the Bangladeshis in their preparation and commitment to the mission. Both the DPKO and troop/equipment contributing countries are exposed for their lack of planning and forethought.
Furthermore, Dallaire blasts the inaction of the UN Security Council and notes the lack of practical commitment to such missions from Developed World States in terms of troops and equipment.
The need for a robust mandate, under constant review in response to events on the ground, and an adequately resourced DPKO to execute that mandate is the resounding message behind Dallaire’s harrowing tale of his inability to save those expecting him to rescue them.
The UN was in Rwanda in 1994, why did one million people die?
Victims of Vetoes
So what happened in New York during the summer of 1994?
Under international law and the 1948 Genocide Convention, in order for the UN, or another entity, to send forces into another nation state to prevent mass murder the situation must fall under the legal definition of genocide.
Long a contentious issue, the 1948 Convention defines genocide to be "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
France, having long-standing close defence and trading links to the ruling Hutu forces, used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to stop an invocation of this convention claiming that many had died as casualties of the ongoing civil war, not as victims of mass butchery.
Eventually a French force did go into Rwanda, known as Operation Turquoise, as international outrage grew and it became clear that UNAMIR had neither the means nor the mandate to intervene in the killings.
British investigate journalist Linda Melvern argues that records show that the then French President Francois Mitterrand feared an Anglophone plot by the Tutsis, in cohorts with the Ugandans, to turn French-speaking Rwanda into an Anglophone state. She concedes, “the French did create a safe zone, but this allowed the political, military and administrative leadership of the genocide to flee”.
The United States failed more by inaction than feat to prevent events unfolding in Rwanda. Refusing to contribute manpower and, supporting the French in a refusal to employ the term ‘genocide’, the Americans stalled until it was too late to meaningfully intervene in the conflict.
The West failed to act in Rwanda. Did we do any better in Sudan?
Conflict in Darfur began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur took up arms, accusing the government of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. Between 2003-2008, it is estimated that up to 400,000 people have been killed.
The US has termed the conflict genocide but the UN has resisted, claiming events in Sudan do not fulfil the legal requirements for genocide under the aforementioned Convention.
Nevertheless, a 26,000-troop hybrid African Union-UN Peacekeeping force called UNAMID arrived in Sudan in late 2006. Ironically, this force comprised a sizable contingent of Rwandan troops eager to prevent a repeat of events in 1994.
In a turn of events, it was the US and France pushing for an intervention in the face of resistance from China and Russia, these latter countries having economic interests in the region. No veto was employed however at this juncture, largely due to international pressure originating in outrage at the previous inaction on Rwanda.
Crucially, the mission in Sudan was mandated under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, thus permitting military and non-military action to "restore international peace and security". This was in direct opposition to the restrictions placed on the ‘peaceful’ mission to Rwanda under a Chapter 6 mandate.
‘The French President Francois Mitterrand
feared an Anglophone plot by the Tutsis, in
cohorts with the Ugandans, to turn Frenchspeaking
Rwanda into an Anglophone state’
Pronounced to be ‘foreign invaders’ by the Sudanese government, directly targeted by militia forces and plagued by financial and organisational difficulties, this hybrid force has, however, been credited with some success in stabilizing the situation in Darfur.
Diplomatic games aside, it is the Peacekeepers on the ground who face the grim reality and daily grind in foreign climes.
The Men in the Blue Helmets
“The planning of peacekeeping operations is the ultimate challenge because you never know where you have to operate; you never know what they want you to do; you don't have the mandate in advance; you don't have forces; you don't have transport; and you don't have money! We always have to start from zero. Each and every operation that we start, we start with nothing.” - Major-General Frank van Kappen, Military Advisor to the Secretary-General, March 1997
The Blue Helmets initially enjoyed success in the field of Peacekeeping Operations since the inception of the DPKO in 1961.
But as demand for Peacekeeping missions swelled and resources and available manpower dwindled, the 1990s saw UN intervention fail in some of the bloodiest conflicts in the remotest parts of the World.
A case that still resonates to this day is the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I) in 1992 when the UN attempted to monitor a fragile ceasefire in the Somali capital Mogadishu following the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
Tasked to both increase security in the capital and provide humanitarian relief, UNOSOM failed to quell violence in the region and thousands of people starved due to inefficient food distribution mechanisms. Indeed troop strength never reached mandated levels as hostile local forces targeted the Peacekeepers directly.
‘The mission in Sudan was mandated under
Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, thus permitting
military and non-military action to "restore
international peace and security"’
Finally, a multinational force under American leadership took over in 1992 (UNITAF) that paved the way for the establishment of UNOSOM II in 1993, mandated to ensure a secure environment for delivery of humanitarian supplies.
Violence escalated, however, culminating in the Battle of Mogadishu (1993). Ultimately, all efforts on the part of peacekeeping forces to mediate on the ground failed. All forces retreated by the end of 1994 – the UN missions to Somalia ended in unmitigated disaster.
And then there was Rwanda.
One man felt the weight of the world on his back, how did he cope?
Pointing the Finger
While popularly lauded as a man thrown to the lions with his hands tied behind his back, there have been those who have questioned General Dallaire’s handling of the situation in Rwanda.
Retired Maj. Gen. Lew MacKenzie, leader of the UN force in Sarajevo in 1992, contends that "in some circumstances, ill-conceived and impossible to execute orders ... should be ignored or disobeyed." An inexperienced commander, faced with risking the lives of his men without a clear mandate, Dallaire refused to disregard orders from New York.
Dr. Francis Deng, a former Sudanese diplomat and current UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, said recently in London that “in the end it was up to commanders in the field” to respond to events on the ground.
Was this perhaps a veiled criticism of General Dallaire’s actions?
Dr. Deng went on to comment that, in particular, Rwandan Peacekeepers had acted somewhat differently during their mission with the African Union more recently in Sudan. This AU force, however, had the benefit of hindsight and the backing of the international community to prevent and intervene where possible in Darfur and throughout Sudan.
‘In the end it was up to commanders in the
field to respond to events on the ground’
Far from decision making in the field, many operational and logistical issues dogged Dallaire’s forces in Rwanda and currently plague the AU in Sudan.
Two far-reaching studies, looking at reform of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, have been undertaken in the past decade. These are the Brahimi Report in 1999 and the reform strategy Peace Operations 2010 in 2006.
Show us the Money … and the Men
Both of these reports identified key structural and operational areas within the DPKO requiring reform. The commitments, or lack thereof, of troop and equipment contributing countries are also highlighted.
There are a growing number of contributors of military staff, but most UN Peacekeepers are provided by a core group of developing nations including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Nepal and Rwanda.
Not one of the P5 Nations, those holding a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, is a major-troop contributing nation.
Indeed, the former DPKO Under-Secretary-General, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, has emphasised that such provision is the “collective responsibility of Member States. Countries from the South should not and must not be expected to shoulder this burden alone”.
Furthermore, due to the fact that countries with a low GDP contribute the most troops, problems arise in the levels of troop training and subsequent issues on the ground when they are deployed in tandem with highly trained troops from developed countries.
Pushing and Pulling
Dallaire spoke of burst tyres in Rwanda, and no tape to fix them. In the midst of anarchy, his UN volunteers desperately tried to repair the holes with homemade gum.
There has been much criticism of the UN ‘pull’ system where requests must be made for everything down to toilet paper and matchsticks. A ‘push’ system would anticipate such demands and supply missions accordingly.
A UN logistics depot for military equipment and troop supplies was established at Brindisi, Italy in 1995. Although progress has been made in development of mission supply chains, several issues have nonetheless afflicted both the missions in Rwanda and Sudan.
‘Not one of the P5 Nations, those holding a
permanent seat on the UN Security Council, is
a major troop contributing nation’
Notably, prior to mandate, supplies must be available to Peacekeeping Operations during the frantic pre-mission planning phase. The arrival of incoming materials must be assured by, and domestic transport on the ground must be organised in tandem with, local factions. In essence ports must be open and roads safe to use.
Failing any of these steps, the equipment simply does not arrive at its destination. This is what happened, and is currently occuring, in Rwanda and Darfur.
A UN Standing Force?
For over a decade now, there have been calls for the establishment of a Standing UN Rapid Reaction Force composed of personnel from all member states ready for rapid deployment in times of crisis. Indeed, Trygve Lie, the organization's first Secretary-General suggested it in 1948.
‘In the midst of anarchy, his UN volunteers
desperately tried to repair the holes with
Progress has been made towards this goal as the Danish government in 1996, in co-operation with thirteen regular troop contributors, has organised a multinational Stand-by High Readiness brigade (SHIRBRIG). Recently closed due to EU pressure for the establishment of similar European force, SHIRBRIG successfully participated in multiple UN-mandated missions.
Fears, however, of logistical and financial difficulties in addition to a more general reluctance by states to contribute manpower to UN missions has stalled progress towards a cohesive UN force.
“There is an urgent need for a UN Emergency Service - a dedicated, multidimensional ‘UN 911’ that can address human needs, including protection, security, health and hope. This service should be composed of military, police and civilian volunteers that are recruited globally, selected for high standards of professionalism and commitment, and then directly employed by the UN.” - Dr. Peter Langille, Center for UN Reform
Twenty-first Century Peacekeeping
The future success of the DPKO in Peacekeeping Operations, and indeed the United Nations as a whole, depends not only on the ability for this body to reach consensus on
matters of international security, but for the Member States of this body to commit both men and resources in support of mandated activities both within and outside the realm of peacekeeping.
Failure to do this would indeed signal a lack of confidence on the part of Member States in the United Nations to fulfil its role as global mediator and peace-broker.
It is therefore imperative that those who constitute the World’s leading powers, particularly the USA, Russia and China, extend a material hand to the United Nations and refrain from employing their elevated status at the UN merely as a tool for diplomatic games in the greatest of arenas.
Neave O’Clery is a Doctoral student in Bio-mathematics at Imperial College and Co-founder and Editor of ‘A Global Village’. She is also Secretary of the IC MUN Society and Deputy Director-General of Model European Union 2010 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.