Failure of the United Nations Mission in Rwanda: presentation

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Defence and Military Veterans

22 February 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


22 February 2005
failure of the United Nations Mission in rwanda: presentation

Chairperson: Professor A Asmal (ANC)

Documents handed out:
The Helpless General (as reviewed by Madeleine Albright)
African Armed Forces: Journal [email]


General Romeo Dallaire, Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide addressed the Committee about his experiences. He elaborated on some of the reasons that had led to the failure of the UN mission in Rwanda. He urged Africans to take heed and pursue a leadership role in bringing solutions to the problems of the continent.

The General also asserted that South Africa had a vital role to play in establishing and maintaining peace on the continent. European and other Northern countries did not have any interest in Africa because they did not see any material goods that would benefit their economies. The African Union thus should be very careful to not create a sense of failure in Darfur, because it might be a disaster for the organisation and the continent.

Members were very appreciative of the General’s input and raised questions about the rehabilitation of child soldiers, the proliferation of small arms in Africa and South Africa’s role in continental peacekeeping operations.


Chairperson’s introduction
The Chairperson welcomed Lt. Gen. Dallaire, who was currently a visiting lecturer at Harvard University. Dallaire had commanded the United Nations peace-keeping operation in Rwanda and subsequently wrote a book on his experiences, ‘Shake Hands With The Devil’. The General had not only lived through the genocide, he was presently living the intellectual, moral and ethical consequences of the event. He continued that the African Union had decided to maintain five battalions in the Great Lakes region. The role of these battalions would be largely to keep the peace, an effort strongly supported and led by South Africa.

General Dallaire’s presentation
General Dallaire stated that recent history dated back to the end of the Cold war. The end of the Cold War meant the end of classic war and classic peace. Classic war meant soldiers waiting to be instructed by their governments to find solutions to issues that could not be resolved through diplomatic means. He described the Gulf War, the war in Yugoslavia and the Iraq war as scenarios of classic warfare. However, he further stated that the world had entered another period outside of the classic war period. It was the period of conflict where those involved were not usually dressed in uniforms as soldiers. In this period the population was now the instrument of war to create advantages on one side or the other. He further stated that classic peace keeping was another area in which countries were demonstrating enormous initiative. Classic peace keeping was also referred to as United Nations Chapter 6 peace keeping. It involved two opposing sides engage in warfare being assisted politically and involving a neutral force to keep the peace until political solutions were reached.

The mission in Rwanda in 1993 was therefore a Chapter 6 mission. The rebels and the government forces had come to a standstill after a peace agreement in Arusha. There was a demilitarised zone and the Chapter 6 mission that he had led was mandated to observe and report. The mission had no authority to protect or intervene with force. As such, the mission was a failure because that mandate simply did not exist anymore in the classic sense. All prior missions of the UN in other parts of the world were Chapter 7 missions which meant the ability to use force, intervene or protect.

Conflict was spreading in Africa at the same time when the West was becoming more Euro-centric. However, the world entered an era where two general methodologies of conflict came about. There was the humanitarian catastrophe that turned into a security situation in Somalia. In the face of this situation, Western countries abandoned Somalia because they felt that it was of no strategic value. In the Rwanda case, it was the reverse. A security problem degenerated into a humanitarian catastrophe. The new weapon system where fighters were not technologically equipped was also coming about in the new era. It was in this same era that the use of child soldiers began - the bulk of which exist in Africa. The general then questioned how possible it was for a modern soldier of sound conscience to shoot and kill men who used unconventional weapons such as machetes, or children who held guns on the battlefront. It was a new threat in the new era. He asserted that horror was being used as a primary weapon in the new form of warfare. In some instances in Africa, villages were wiped out completely by soldiers so to create fear within the people. These factors and many others contributed to the fact that those who went into war zones to help also became targets.

The September 11, 2001 attack on the United States killed 3,000 people and scared the whole world but when 8 million people were killed in Rwanda the world sat back and watched. The war in Yugoslavia also made headlines and the West was quick to respond. He concluded that the bottom line was that Rwanda had nothing to offer the Western world in terms of material goods. For the West, only black people existed in Rwanda and they were not as important as the white people in the United States and Yugoslavia to merit extraordinary effort to save them. However, Western countries have individual interests or guilt that may prompt actions from them periodically. The British in Sierra Leone and the French in the Ivory Coast were classic examples of these individual efforts based mostly on guilt. The unfortunate aspects of these acts were that it undermined the United Nations and humiliated its operations and forces.

Commenting on Darfur in the Sudan he stated that if the African Union mission in the region was just observing and reporting, the problem would not be solved. The organisation stood the risk of failure in the region. Conflict prevention in the new era meant having the capability to intervene. Conflict resolution was a long term process that required long-term commitment. In the crisis scenario what was needed most was capabilities. Diplomatic, political and humanitarian capabilities needed to be integrated in order to solve problems. The new era needed army Generals with the capabilities to fight wars, but they also needed the ethics and skills for conflict prevention. General Dallaire further suggested that adding seats to the United Nations Security Council, that was the major concern of African countries presently, would not solve the problem. What was needed was a new middle power that would lead a whole range of other powers to influence the big powers. South Africa was in this leadership position and must not be consumed by events taking place in the region.

Mr G Koornhof (ANC) thanked the General for his heroic role in Rwanda and described him as a modern day hero. He asked for the General’s comments on South Africa’s intention to ratify the protocol on the use of children in warfare, and the United Nations protocol on the issue as it was at the moment. He also asked about the current role of the UN peacekeepers in Congo.

The General stated that he had launched research on how to eradicate the weapon system and neutralise the doctrine of the use of children as combatants. He commented that while there were some efforts being made in rehabilitating child soldiers, one of the most important aspects that needed attention was the child leader. Children that have been commanders of forces would find it very difficult to assimilate into their societies and take orders from adults. The ensuing result would be to make themselves available for another fighting force. As such, one of the great weaknesses of the rehabilitation of child soldiers presently was demobilisation that did not reintegrate them fast enough. There was a need to create an institution that would regenerate these former child soldier leaders into future leaders to fully utilise their potential for societal gain.

The protocol he stated was good but not substantial to solve the problem related to child soldiers. One thing that needed to be done was to create juvenile courts. This court would constructively and psychologically rehabilitate the children and make them future assets instead of being aggressive in nature. On the Congo, he stated that it was difficult for any commander in the field to perform his duty without the proper troops or tools. Until the UN troops were given the proper tools to confront the obstacles in the Congo, they would continue to look like idiots.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) wanted to know the general’s views on the potential of Africa in creating hope for its people in this new era.

The General responded that there were efforts to integrate development and diplomacy so as to give broader access and responses to countries that were undergoing crises. Development was a continuum that needed to be integrated with capabilities. Unless International Development was moved to the main stream, efforts to lift development from merely eradicating poverty to a more humanistic approach of giving hope and aspiration to humanity were in question. If 80 percent of the world population was in poverty and only 0.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of developed countries was being made available for development work, the desire to raise humanity to a reasonable form of life was not achievable. All developed countries needed to make International Development a main-stream effort. If this was not done, the rage of anger coming from the Muslim world in the form of terrorism could be seen from Africa as well. Regional co-operation from African countries was necessary to build the kind of efforts that were needed. Regional isolation would only make the problem worse.

Mr L Diale (ANC) requested the names of countries that were supplying weapons to African countries. He also asked why the United States had not got involved in Rwanda and why the US was bullying the rest of the world. He also asked about the US action in Iraq.

The General stated that the proliferation of small arms had been going on since the end of the Cold War. Weapons produced by developed countries were used for about 25 years and sold to responsible government in developing countries. But because these weapons lasted for about 100 years, it was very difficult to know what happened to them later. Also, there was massive production of weapons by many developed countries beyond their own needs. During the war in Rwanda, three elite units had new A K 47 rifles. Also during the war, there were over 100 000 new machetes made in China that were distributed. There was now an estimated 640 million small arms in distribution. Weapons were acquired not only by illegal means, but also by legal means because of the overproduction by developed countries.

The United States was not involved in Rwanda because it consisted of Black Africans who had nothing to sell. The war was characterised as tribalism. When a similar situation developed in Yugoslavia it was characterised as ethnic cleansing. The issue in Iraq could have been avoided if the middle powers had intervened.

The Chairperson cautioned Members to limit their questions to the General’s presentation. He stated that one of the largest sellers of arms in the world had been the Apartheid government. The government had sold US$100 million to the Hutus in Rwanda and some of these arms were still used during the war.

Mr M Sayedali–Shah (DA) asked about the structures and processes involved in affecting changes in mandates from the experience of the General. He also wanted to know if the same structures and procedures were currently in place as they were during the General’s operation in Rwanda.

General Dallaire responded that there was the recognition that between the Security Council, the Secretary General, and all the Departments within the United Nations, there was a very loose and impossible accountability process as far as methodology was concerned. In this regard, there were lots of limitations on the Security Council to go inside the Secretariat to order people to give them information. The recommendation now was to introduce a formal process of information-flow and decision making with accountability flowing from all the Departments, the Secretary General and the Security Council.

The situation as it applied to Rwanda was confusing. Given the fact that there were 16 missions going on in the world, the person responsible for Rwanda at the UN had 3 other missions going on at the same time. The fact that there were no structured method of choosing special representatives and force commanders in the field, created a credibility problem. Persons with credibility and knowledge were needed to select representatives.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) stated that the General’s presence in the country was very important. He asserted that the President was doing exactly what the General was recommending by travelling around Africa to bring about conflict resolution. But criticism from the opposition for wasting time and not solving domestic problems was regular. He also stated that the issue of child soldiers was because poverty was a major issue in Africa.

The General stated that Mr Ntuli’s point about the socio-economic conditions surrounding child soldiering was quite correct. One other reason why child soldiering was becoming common was because there were no more adults. HIV/AIDS had wiped out most of the adult population.

Ms X Makasi (ANC) wanted to know if there were trained police in Rwanda.

The General responded by saying that peacekeeping responsibilities were basically coming from countries in the North. Countries that had the resources to do so usually did it under the UN banner without the necessary skills of conflict resolution. As such, the situation was more complex. Conflict resolution missions did not necessarily mean combat missions.

The Chairperson thanked General Dallaire and stated that the General was a very effective speaker who managed to keep the attention of everyone. He urged the General to take an interest in the people of Africa rather than just the geography during the rest of his stay on the continent.

The meeting was adjourned.


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