Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Should Canada return to peacekeeping? Remembering Rwanda

Last week, World Report considered Jack Layton's position that Canada's role in Afghanistan today should build on our strengths and reputation as a peacekeeping nation.
We reminded ourselves of four essential characteristics traditional, Pearsonian peacekeeping has: first, a ceasefire was normally in place, but a peace treaty had not been negotiated. Second, all parties to the conflict gave their consent to the introduction of peacekeepers. Third, peacekeepers neither needed nor were allowed to use force for anything but self-defense. And fourth, peacekeepers maintained strict neutrality toward all local parties and combatants.

Then we turned to the Somalia affair, beginning with the deployment of Canadian troops in 1992. The torture and murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian peacekeeper followed in 1993. That incident continued to gnaw at the Canadian psyche for another 4 years. It was a scandal as potent and damaging as the Sponsorship Scandal.

In short order, despite two successful terms, Brian Mulroney, his ambitious young successor and Defence Minister, Kim Campbell, and indeed the Progressive Conservative Party were all but wiped off the political map of Canada.

After several years growing in the dark, evidence of the crime's full magnitude finally forced the Chretien government to call an inquiry, disband the Canadian Airborne Regiment, take the culprit to trial, and then in 1997, before it had finished its work, to cancel the inquiry.

In October 1993, just as the wheels of these particular events were beginning to grind, the Security Council passed Resolution 872 establishing the UN Assistance Mission to Rwanda, or UNAMIR, commanded by Canadian General Romeo Dallaire. With hindsight, we can see in our minds eye the events that followed much as we might watch the unwitting Oedipus as he was about to meet his father walking along the road to Thebes.

By now the basic outline of the genocide is familiar to most Canadians--Dallaire's ill-fated fax to UN HQ, the killing of the 10 Belgians, the withdrawal of all but a few hundred peacekeepers, the preventable slaughter of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days. From April 6 to mid-July and it was over.

Preventable. That is the word used in the title of their report by the Panel of Eminent Persons the Organization of African Unity selected to study the genocide and tell the world how to keep such horror from happening again.

"There were a thousand early warnings," they say in their report, "a thousand early warnings that something appalling was about to occur in Rwanda. If not a genocide, it was at least a catastrophe of so great a magnitude that it should command international intervention. As we shall see, that intervention was utterly inadequate, largely owing to the political interests of the Americans and the French" (OAU Preventable Jul 7 00).

On January 11 still almost four months before the April 6 start of the genocide, General Dallaire sent the controversial fax to his superior, General Baril, at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. The day before, an informant close to Hutu Power extremists in the Rwandan government revealed that the militias he was charged with training had been formed for the extermination of Tutsis.

In a meeting with with Belgian UNAMIR officers he had informed the UN officials that he quote “disagrees with anti-Tutsi extermination...cannot support the killing of innocent persons.” endquote Dallaire's fax states that quote “Since UNAMIR mandate he has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali. He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1000 Tutsis.” endquote

The informant offered to take UNAMIR officials to caches of guns and said that the interahamwe, the militia of the ruling MRND party who were planning the mass killings, had 1,700 men scattered in groups of 40 around the capital. Hoping to provoke a civil war, they planned to go after the Belgian troops. quoting the fax again "...a number of them were to be killed and thus guarantee Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda.” endquote (Qtd in OAU Preventable Jul 7 00)

Dallaire requested permission to seize the weapons and protect the informant and his family. The information and request were discussed by key members of the UN staff and then ignored. Motivated by the desire to avoid "another Somalia," Dallaire's superiors prohibited him from taking any action. (Haynes Feb 27 02)

The international community's desire to avoid another Somalia was almost certainly motivated by the deaths of American soldiers in the Task Force Ranger operation about three months before. Another 24 Pakistani soldiers had been killed in Somalia and another 50 wounded trying to shut down [Mohammed Farah] Aidid's pirate radio station immediately prior to the Task Force Ranger fiasco, but this is almost never mentioned. The Canadian experience also is seldom mentioned. But all these events were weeping in the background when the Rwandan genocide erupted.

The OAU Panel confirms that "The murder of the 18 American soldiers in Somalia indeed traumatized the US government. The Rangers died on October 3. The resolution on UNAMIR came before the Security Council on October 5. The following day the American army left Somalia.... Presidential Decree Directive 25 (PDD25) effectively ruled out any serious peace enforcement whatever by the UN for the foreseeable future."

Other details may be less well known. There is, for instance, a substantial chapter in the OAU Panel's report called "What the world could have done." To read briefly from that chapter quote

"Dallaire has always insisted that with 5,000 troops and the right mandate, UNAMIR could have prevented most of the killings. In 1998, several American institutions decided to test Dallaire's argument. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the US Army undertook a joint project to consider what impact an international military force was likely to have had.[8] Thirteen senior military leaders addressed the issue, and a report based on their presentations as well as on other research, was prepared for the Carnegie Commission by Colonel Scott Feil of the US Army. His conclusion was straightforward: 'A modern force of 5,000 troops...sent to Rwanda sometime between April 7 and April 21, 1994, could have significantly altered the outcome of the conflict... forces appropriately trained, equipped and commanded, and introduced in a timely manner, could have stemmed the violence in and around the capital, prevented its spread to the countryside, and created conditions conducive to the cessation of the civil war between the RPF and RGF.' (Feil Apr 98 qtd in OAU Preventable Jul 7 00)

Clearly this would not have been a classic peacekeeping operation.

The OAU Panel acknowledges quote
that this was a strictly theoretical exercise, and it is easy to be wise after the fact. On the other hand, [they say] we have no reason to question the objectivity of this analysis or of any of the participants. Neither they nor the author seem to have had a vested interest in this conclusion. Moreover, even those analyses that have recently stressed the logistic complications in swiftly mobilizing a properly equipped force do not deny that scores of thousands of Tutsi, “up to 125,000,” might have been saved at any time during the months of the genocide.

Today we can say that the US Congress has declared the massacre in Darfur to be a genocide but once again international action has stalled. At the same time the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience, in cooperation with Angelina Jolie and the International Crisis Group, has launched an online exhibition about the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Since 1998, more than 3.5 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo....More people have died in this conflict than in any other since World War II but it has received scant attention."

Our priorities are elsewhere.

This week (June 26-July3), when Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor announced helicopter purchases, the view was widely pumped out that those choppers would never see Afghanistan. The Globe and Mail observed that quote "the military aircraft likely won't be available before Canada's dangerous mission in Afghanistan concludes in 2009." CBC said of the helicopters in particular that they quote "aren't likely to be available in time to serve in Afghanistan." The Toronto Star said the new choppers "will arrive just as Canadian troops are pulling out of the troubled country."

All this is wishful thinking, plain and simple. Canadian generals have said that operations in Afghanistan would require at least a decade. That takes us to 2016, seven years after the new helicopters arrive. When Colin Powell was in Canada this spring he estimated 20 years. Serious planners advising the Canadian oil industry have said to expect the Global War on Terror to last for several generations, and statements by prominent neoconservative advisors to the White House can reasonably be interpreted to mean that the Global War on Terror will be a permanent feature of life in 21st century democracies.

Let's not deceive ourselves. The United States has effectively withdrawn from UN peacekeeping operations and its allies in NATO, including Canada, have followed suit. NATO has enlarged its scope and appropriated the PR glow of the peacekeeping vocabulary, while its members leave the real traditional Pearsonian peacekeeping to Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Uruguay. Each one of those countries contributes more peacekeepers to the UN than all 26 of the NATO member nations put together. (Robinson Boots May 17 06)

If Canadians want a return to peacekeeping as a national policy, then to make it work we will have to face the reasons why traditional peacekeeping failed--not only how we have failed, but also how the international community has failed us and more important how it failed and continues to fail the people of the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Hear the broadcast.

See also Part 1 "Should Canada return to peacekeeping? Remembering the Somalia Affair"Recommend this Post

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