10 years later: Rwanda inaction was U.N. failure

What others say

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2004

Yesterday, on the 10th anniversary of the worst episode of racially motivated killing since World War II, the United Nations, which ignored the massacre when it occurred, sponsored a function in Geneva to discuss how to respond to such events in future. At that event, the Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed a plan of action to prevent them. Two weeks ago Annan, who was head of the U.N. peacekeeping department and one of the bureaucrats who failed to respond to increasingly frantic calls for help at the time, accepted institutional and personal blame for the slaughter.

Similar hand-wringing and breast-beating by others in positions of responsibility at the time have been recorded in countless newspaper articles. But although all agree that something must be done to make sure anything similar does not happen again, a prospect Annan describes as ''frighteningly real,'' the difficulties that prevented prompt, effective action then continue now. ...

The reluctance to intervene had various causes. America had just withdrawn in disarray from Somalia after its U.N.-sanctioned aid mission went terribly wrong. The Europeans either were compromised by previous commitments to the Hutus, such as the French, or else not interested. The Belgians, who had once ruled the country, did send a small force, but promptly withdrew it when a few of them were killed. All were disinclined to interfere in what could be described as the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

But the greatest failure was with the United Nations, whose bureaucrats were paralyzed by indecision. ... It was an illustration of the hard fact that unless one or more of the large nations is prepared to act, usually the United States, with or without allies, the tendency is that nothing will be done. ... But the capacity of the U.N. to frame a doctrine that would enable outsiders to act decisively and swiftly in such crises, especially where the strife is entirely internal and national sovereignty might be invoked, is not much further ahead.

The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand - April 8

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