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The UN involvement (or lack thereof) in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Erika, United States Jun 21, 2004
Human Rights , Peace & Conflict , Genocide   Opinions
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In 1994 and the years leading up to it, Rwanda was involved in a civil war between its two major ethnicities, Hutu and Tutsi. The world was well aware of the situation, yet failed to react appropriately when the Hutu began deliberately and methodically massacring all Tutsi. The call to murder on sight all Tutsi men, women, and children was broadcast over one of the two radio stations in Rwanda, yet neither the international community nor the United Nations intervened to stop this offence. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t use military force to stop the genocide, they could have at least stopped the radio broadcasts. This would have greatly decreased the murders in and of itself, since lists of Tutsi names, addresses, and license plates were broadcast over the air). This is just one example of how the Rwandan genocide was so obvious, and yet it was allowed to run its course, where it preceded to brutally murder Tutsi at a rate five times that of the Nazis. It is not that the United Nations didn’t want (in their hearts) to save the people being hacked to pieces with machetes. The United Nations simply is not built to handle a genocide crisis effectively. The UN failed to successfully intervene in the mass genocide because it lacked an objective or proper view of the crisis, the funds, supplies, and skills needed to intercede, relied too much on precedents, ignored precious warnings and was (and is) a faulted structured system in general.

Part of the reason that the United Nations could not stop the extreme Rwandan murderers was that its members didn’t accurately perceive the threat, then the actuality of genocide. This may have been caused by the fact that the Hutu and the Tutsi had been involved in a civil war since 1990, and the killings were shrugged off as war casualties. The Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, was a rebel army of exiled Tutsi, and were fighting against the Hutu government in place, run by President Habyarimana. Canadian Major General Romeo Dallaire was the commander of the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in Rwanda. This force was called the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, or UNAMIR. The United Nations and General Dallaire both thought (at first) that the killings were politically motivated, not genocide. On April 6th, 1994, the day President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and blamed on the RPF and Tutsi were blamed for this. However, Habyarimana’s successors, who went on to carry out the genocide that Habyarimana had helped to plan, had carefully hatched out a plot. First, they killed the moderate Hutu people who would oppose the killings and stood in their way. Then they went on to kill any and every Tutsi they could find. So the United Nations did have a small period of time in which they could claim to have been confused over whether or not it was a genocide occurring, if one ignores the warnings they had received earlier. But ignored warnings were not the only way in which the United Nations inappropriately viewed the situation in Rwanda. L.R. Melvern is an investigative journalist who researched the Rwandan genocide and interviewed many members of the United Nations, governments, spectators and victims. “True, there was a civil war, but preoccupation with that blinded most commentators, governments, the UN Secretariat and Security Council to the fact of the genocidal killing perpetrated by one of the parties to the civil war,” Melvern said. The member states of the United Nations had blurred views and attitudes towards the genocide. “Burundi had just blown up, and 50,000 had been killed in just a few days. So when the [presidential] plane went down, we actually expected around 50,000 plus dead. Can you imagine having that expectation?” stated Dallaire. The United Nations shouldn’t have been aiming for less than 50,000 dead. They should have been aiming for none. Even the Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had said that, “Rwanda was considered a second-class operation; because it was a small country, we had been able to maintain a kind of status quo.” So does this mean that the 800,000 people being killed were second class? This is a violation of the Universal Charter of Human Rights that the United Nations itself created.

The limits imposed by the United Nations on the mission in Rwanda were partly to blame for its failure. A Chapter VI mission is meant to be a pacific settlement of disputes. In it, the United Nations (under Articles 33-38 of the Charter of the United Nations) may “recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment” in a dispute. The decision to make UNAMIR a Chapter VI mission was acceptable before the genocide began, but the fact that it remained so until it was too late is not. The decision to leave the Rwandan massacres under this chapter seems ridiculous considering the fact that the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations states: “We the peoples of the United Nations determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the United Nations’ definition of human rights. In it, “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and… have pledged themselves to achieve… the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Furthermore, it clearly states under Article 3 that “everyone has the right to life” and in Article 28 that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”. Therefore, the killings were violations of human rights, and the UN should have intervened in a manner that would prove the Charter of the United Nations true. It was a major mistake to create the mission under a Chapter VI mandate. Gerard Prunier, an Africa scholar and journalist, even defines UNAMIR as “the powerless UN ‘military’ force which watched the genocide without being allowed to lift a finger”. “I spent most of my time fighting the heavy mechanical UN system with all its stupidity… Seeing to the most immediate needs stopped us from seeing what was reserved for us in the future,” said General Dallaire. Instead of fighting against the leaders who were encouraging and demanding genocide, Dallaire had to fight his own people, the United Nations.

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