Friday, 30 November 2007

Lessons from Rwanda V: Recognise a mistake and react quickly

When Gen. Dallaire was first sent to Rwanda to plan the UNAMIR mission, he was told by Maurice Baril, the senior military officer at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), not to recommend a brigade-sized deployment (4,000-5,000 personnel). The UN finally settled on 2,500, but it took many months to approach full strength, and even then the quality of the troops was mixed and lacked logistics support – they had too few vehicles, almost no working Armoured Personnel Carriers, only a couple of helicopters for only a part of the mission, and no heavy lift capability. As the war recommenced and the genocide began, rather than reinforce the mission, the UN wound it down.

A fortnight after the bloodshed had begun, and with tens of thousands already slaughtered in the streets and tens of thousands more cowering in UN compounds being protected by lightly-armed troops and unarmed military observers, Gen. Dallaire again reported to the DPKO:

“I received no solace when I raised the reinforcement option. Maurice [Annan and
Riza] simply responded that I should not expect anyone to wade into the mess in
Rwanda. The reinforcement option would never see the light of day, and that was
it… Early in the morning of April 22, [my military assistant] brought me… Security Council Resolution 912. The Council had finally voted for the skeleton force option. The resolution’s phrases were pure UN-ese: ‘…having considered…express regret… shocked… appalled… deeply concerned… stressing… expressing deep concern… concerns… strongly condemns… demands… decides… reiterates… reaffirms… calls upon… invites… decides to remain actively seized of the matter.
“As I write these words I am listening to Samuel Baber’s Adagio for Strings, which strikes me as the purest expression in music of the suffering, mutilation, rape, and murder of 800,000 Rwandans, with the help of the member nations of the only supposedly impartial world body. Ultimately, led by the United States, France and the United Kingdom, this world body aided and abetted genocide in Rwanda. No amount of its cash and aid will ever wash its hands clean of Rwandan blood.” (Shake hands with the Devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, pp322-3)
The slaughter would go on for 100 days, yet 15 days in the UN passed up the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of lives. Both Dallaire and Colonel Luc Marchel, the Belgian contingent commander, are clear that with four or five thousand well-equipped troops they could have imposed order on the warring parties and intervened to stop the slaughter. Marchel goes further: had the NATO nations that evacuated their troops in the second week then transferred the 1,500 well-equipped Belgian, French and Italian troops (plus 250 US marines to which Dallaire refers), “It was enough people to cease the situation inherent and to save the peace and to save the life from thousands of human beings.” (Frontline: The Triumph of Evil, interview with Col. Luc Marchel).

Marchel’s solution (I have not yet reached the conclusion and established whether Dallaire agrees) is “to have a standing force ready to move and ready to be on the ground as soon as possible.” But as even he admits, “we need a political will.” It is unlikely that national governments will hand their troops over to the UN with a clear writ to use them as they will, but if they would at least be more willing to deploy them when emergencies arose – be more willing to expend “blood and treasure” for the sake of peace and humanity – such terrible crises could be avoided in the future.

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