ABC Radio National – Background Briefing: 21 February 1999

[This is the print version of story]

Program Transcript

Bronwyn Adcock: In the space of just 100 days in 1994, around 800,000 people were murdered in a systematic and vicious genocide. This crime took place in the small central African nation of Rwanda. The rivers of Rwanda clogged with mutilated bodies and churches and schools filled with thousands of corpses.

At the same time, the United Nations troops were pulling out of Rwanda. It was a massive failure on the part of the United Nations.

Five years on, evidence of that failure is growing, as it’s revealed the United Nations had been receiving accurate information about the planning of the genocide.

Michael Hourigan: I just can’t tell you just how stunned I am, that in 1994, more than three months before the genocide, they were able to look in on the preparations for the genocide.

Bronwyn Adcock: Michael Hourigan used to be a Crown Prosecutor in Adelaide. He arrived in Rwanda several years after the genocide as a UN criminal investigator, looking for the perpetrators of the genocide.

He was appalled, not only by the extent of the atrocities, but by his stunning discovery that the UN was receiving accurate information that a genocide was being planned. He’s now one of a chorus of voices from around the world pressing for a full inquiry into the United Nations involvement in Rwanda.

Belgian Senator, Alain Destexhe is another.

Alain Destexhe: I just cannot understand why the UN cannot be made accountable for these kinds of things. I mean a major genocide happened, up to 800,000 people have been killed. This would remain a major event and tragedy in the history of the 20th century, so the victims and also the public, deserve to know the truth.


Bronwyn Adcock: Hello. Welcome to Background Briefing. I’m Bronwyn Adcock.


Louise Mushikawabo: I can tell you, I’ve been to several funerals in Rwanda after the genocide, and you hardly see anyone cry. People don’t cry at funerals any more. They’ve seen I think the worst that any human being can see, and for a lot of people life is worthless, life is nothing.

Bronwyn Adcock: Louise Mushikawabo is a Rwandan woman, who like so many, suffered an immense loss in the genocide. Louise left Rwanda for the United States as a post-graduate student many years before the tragedy. However, her family remained in the country.

The horror for many Rwandans began in the early hours of the morning on April 7th, 1994. The night before, a plane carrying the President of Rwanda and the President of the neighbouring Burundi, was shot down.

The Hutu extremists connected to the Government of Rwanda used this crisis to unleash their genocidal plans: to exterminate all Tutsis and any moderate Hutus. Well-trained and armed militias, called the Interhamwe, fanned out in the capital setting up roadblocks to find and kill any Tutsis. Death lists were ticked off in what was a highly planned exercise.

The genocide soon spread throughout the rest of the country, as some of the civilian population were co-opted into the slaughter. They too picked up their weapons, usually machetes, and began killing.

What happened in Rwanda was not a spontaneous outbreak of violence. It had been under preparation for months, preparations made in the presence of two-and-a-half-thousand UN peacekeepers. UN troops had informants from within the Interhamwe who were telling them about the plans. This information was being sent to UN headquarters in New York.


Reader: Force Commander put in contact with informant by very, very important government politician. Informant is a top-level trainer in the Cadre of Interhamwe armed militia. 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.

Bronwyn Adcock: This cable warning of the organisation of a genocide arrived in New York on January 11th, 1994, three months before the genocide. It was sent by the UN’s Force Commander on the ground in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire.

Dallaire and his force of UN peacekeepers were there to monitor peace accords. Instead an informant was telling them about far darker plans. Dallaire wanted to take action by raiding the stored weapons, ending his cable to New York with:

Reader: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s go.

Bronwyn Adcock: But there was no will. This cable went directly to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, DPKO. The head of this department at the time was Kofi Annan. Annan refused General Dallaire permission to act. The critical information in this cable was only given to the Embassies of the United States, France and Belgium in Rwanda. The United Nations Security Council was never told. In fact this cable remained a secret till it was leaked nearly two years after the genocide.

Today the UN says it was an error of judgement not to take that cable more seriously. Kofi Annan is now the Secretary-General of the United Nations. His spokesperson is Fred Eckhardt.

Fred Eckhardt: Looking back to the early days of ’94 when we first received the famous cable of January, I guess we can say now that had we known how serious the intentions were, and how well organised the opposition was, we should have made a lot more noise than we did.

Bronwyn Adcock: Evidence is mounting however, that the UN should have known just how serious the intentions were. The cable of January 11th is not an isolated piece of information. A wider picture of the UN’s knowledge is now emerging.

Australian investigator, Michael Hourigan is one of those adding to this picture. He first became involved in Rwanda as an investigator for the International War Crimes Tribunal. Michael Hourigan soon realised that far from being a spontaneous tribal bloodletting, the genocide was a highly organised affair, connected to the Rwandan Government itself. His far bigger discovery, however, was that prior to the genocide, officers from the UN peacekeeping operation, UNAMIR, were speaking to a number of high level informants. These informants were giving inside information about the planning of the genocide.

Michael Hourigan: We learnt that the Belgian contingent, 500 members of a parachute regiment that were there, made up the United Nations forces. They themselves had an active G2 Intelligence Division, and they were also running, or monitoring, a number of informants, and were gathering information. That information was about arms caches, the information was about political unrest, some attacks or murders on some people.

Bronwyn Adcock: These informants were predominantly from within the Interhamwe, the militia group primarily responsible for organising and carrying out the genocide.

Michael Hourigan discovered cables and intelligence reports from the time, written by UNAMIR soldiers. These documents report on the preparations that began from January 1994 onwards.


Reader: The distribution of weapons on an individual basis to Interhamwes started again during the first week of January. The arms caches have even found their way into the huts of displaced people and war refugees.

1700 Interahamwes have been trained in locations belonging to the governmental army outside the capital, and dispersed in groups of 40 in Kigali.

There is evidence to demonstrate the activities of death squads. Their leaders are very influential members of the army and the governments. The list of members is available.

Bronwyn Adcock: On another occasion, intelligence found vicious anti-Tutsi propaganda. The following is a document that threatens people who were going to attend an opposition party meeting. You’ll hear the word ‘Inyenzi’: this is an extremely derogatory word for Tutsi. It means ‘cockroach’.

Reader: We don’t like the Inyenzi’s arrogance. We release this last communique to say good-bye to you Tutsis who don’t listen, who are big-headed.

Bronwyn Adcock: It then warns that they will be taking note of who goes to the meeting.

Reader: Those whose pictures are taken, don’t cry, don’t complain, don’t say you are not Inyenzi, because we have seen you

Bronwyn Adcock: It then calls for anti-Tutsi support.

Reader: Your presence is required because DDT will be distributed to everybody. This will be used to kill Inyenzis.

Bronwyn Adcock: As well as discovering documents, Michael Hourigan interviewed some former intelligence officers. One officer told how in January of ’94 three months before the violence broke out, one of his Interhamwe informants came to him with a death list. The list contained the names and addresses of people who were to be eliminated. The list asked people to add extra names.

The intelligence officers told Michael Hourigan that all the information gathered on the ground before the genocide was sent in cables to New York.

Michael Hourigan: Intelligence officers told me that this was part of daily traffic to New York, that this type of intelligence about training camps, about selective killings, political destabilisations, secret arms caches, this information was going to New York, to the Department of Peacekeeping.

Bronwyn Adcock: However, as the following months would reveal, this information did not surface from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Michael Hourigan: So here you’ve got a military body, on the ground, identifying disturbing developments, not rumours, so there’s certainly serious things happening on the ground in Rwanda, and the United Nations could have been and should have been, in a position to have firstly, given their troops an adequate mandate, could have given their troops adequate resources, and also just been lying in wait.

Bronwyn Adcock: Another investigator who worked with Michael Hourigan in Rwanda, was Jim Lyons. Before going to Rwanda Jim Lyons spent 25 years working for the FBI. His experience investigating in Rwanda has left him in no doubt about what was known.

Jim Lyons: it was no secret that the genocide was going to occur, it was just a matter of when it was going to start. In addition, Rwandan radio, RTLM, and to a lesser extent Radio Rwanda, were broadcasting anti-Tutsi rhetoric, and the radio was daily broadcasting anti-Tutsi propaganda. So that, coupled with the storage of weapons, the training by the Interhamwe and some radio broadcasts that were intercepted from Bagasora’s command, it was pretty clear that the genocide was about to take place.

Bronwyn Adcock: Jim Lyons.

One of the documents discovered by Michael Hourigan spoke about the activities of a death squad. The document names the members of the group and says they are planning to murder the only Tutsi Cabinet member, Mr Lando. The document is dated February 17th.

Louise Mushikawabo: On the morning of April 7th, which is the morning following the downing of the presidential aircraft, my brother, Lando, and his wife, two children and my mother who was staying there at that particular time, were shot down by the Presidential Guard of President Habyarimana at that time. The house had been surrounded very early in the morning, I would say 5am Kigali time, and that I guess was several hours after the plane was shot down. And so my brother and his family and our mother and another young relative who was there, were all killed, shot by bullets, on April 7th, 1994.

Bronwyn Adcock: Louise Mushikawabo was unaware of the February document until she met Michael Hourigan last year.

Louise Mushikawabo: I have to tell you I was very shocked, and I don’t get shocked very much after the genocide, but it was still shocking to know that someone within the United Nations system had such crucial information, including names of the killers of my brother, and never ever approached my brother and told him what was going to happen. Because to me, everyone knew in Kigali that Lando was threatened, he was on top of the list, but it’s a different thing to hear rumours from the streets of Kigali and having the authority to do something, at least not even before doing something, just to warn, to give a warning, a clear and precise warning to a person that you know for sure, that he’s in danger. It was a shock to me, that document is still a shock to me today.

Bronwyn Adcock: UNAMIR had been providing protection for Mr Lando in the months leading up to the genocide. He was obviously at risk because of his political position. According to Lando’s gardener, who survived the attack, those UNAMIR troops ran away when the Presidential Guards arrived that morning. However, Louise doesn’t feel they are to blame.

Louise Mushikawabo: I don’t know, it would make me feel better if they had opposed some kind of resistance or tried to do something, it would make me feel better. But I’m not so angry at them; I have to say I’m very angry at the UNAMIR leadership before April 7th.

Bronwyn Adcock: Because of the document?

Louise Mushikawabo: Because of the document and because of the clear warning they had, and they did not pass it on to my brother. April 7th in the morning I think to me was too late to do anything, there was no way my brother could have escaped.

Bronwyn Adcock: After leaving Rwanda, Michael Hourigan prepared a report for the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight.

Michael Hourigan: I did prepare a memorandum to that office, and in that document, among other things, I shared with them the whole story about the failure of the United Nations to effectively use the incoming intelligence in 1994, and that there was, I believe, a looming crisis for the UN, that it was going to be revealed that there was in fact more than the January 11th cable, through General Dallaire to New York that the genocide was coming, and that I identified in the document that there were a number of warnings that had gone to New York and that they had gone unheeded. And I said, among other things, that that should be investigated, that there were questions to be answered there. A footnote to my memorandum was the comment made by one of my supervisors in that office, that the information was explosive and should be investigated. My understanding was that this information was never followed up.

Bronwyn Adcock: So do you know what happened to your report?

Michael Hourigan: I believe it has been filed.

Bronwyn Adcock: Michael Hourigan.

Extensive evidence of clear warnings about the genocide has also been discovered by a Belgian Parliamentary Inquiry. The Inquiry found 19 documents that mentioned either plans for destabilisation, or the likelihood of large-scale massacres.

Belgian Senator, Alain Destexhe.

Alain Destexhe: We have established clearly that not only the Belgian authorities, but also the French and the Americans and the United Nations had very specific information at least three months in advance. I mean it was not only one piece of information, it was a whole set of evidence that a genocide was being under preparation. The cable of 11th January is only the last piece of evidence; there was a whole range of evidence which was there. What is just not understandable is that that cable was not analysed in light of all the other elements which were at the disposal of the UN and the Belgian authorities and a few others.

Bronwyn Adcock: Before becoming a Senator, Alain Destexhe worked as a doctor in Rwanda; he left the country just one week before the genocide. He agitated successfully for the Belgian Inquiry and found, like Michael Hourigan, that informants were telling Belgian intelligence sources about plans to exterminate Tutsis.

Alain Destexhe: The basic problem was that apparently nobody in the international community was in the mood to be prepared for the magnitude of a genocide.

Bronwyn Adcock: Close observers of Rwanda say the roots of the genocide go back as far as 1990. However there is a crucial factor that goes back much further than that, and that is the origins of hatred.

Early this century, European colonisers decided that based purely on physical appearance, Tutsis were superior to Hutus. Their finer features, smaller noses, and height, were thought to look more European. So the Belgian Administration issued identity cards, clearly marking someone as a Hutu or a Tutsi, then set up an administration that favoured Tutsis at the expense of Hutus. This created ethnic tension, where there was none before.

When in 1990 a group of Tutsi exiles called the Rwandan Patriotic Front, invaded from Uganda, the Hutu government responded to the prospect of sharing power by exploiting the ethnic difference. Hutu extremism that was viciously anti-Tutsi flourished.

Alison Des Forge is an historian and a consultant on Rwanda for the US-based Human Rights Watch.

Alison Des Forge: I don’t think that the intention was genocidal as such in 1990, but from 1990 to 1993, people were beginning to explore that idea, with a series of small-scale massacres, and from 1993 on, clearly a small group of people were determined to carry out a genocide. We had been investigating and reporting on these massacres, and I say small-scale because they involved hundreds rather than thousands of people. We had been working on that since 1991. In 1993 a group of international human rights organisations did a joint investigation of the situation, and at that point, we began to talk about acts of genocide.

Bronwyn Adcock: There was also a report from a UN Special Rapporteur at this time, that concluded there was evidence of genocidal behaviour. This report was ignored.


Bronwyn Adcock: Violence persisted for the whole of 1993, despite a peace agreement between the Rwandan Government and the RPF. However, according to Alison Des Forge, events took a more dangerous turn towards the end of the year.

Alison Des Forge: The blatant proclamation of an attempt to use ethnic violence to short-circuit the peace came at the beginning of November and early December. At that point the radio, which was known as RTLM, that radio began at the end of November, and early December, to talk very openly about organising both the slaughter of members of the political opposition and ethnic killing.

Bronwyn Adcock: Radio Mille Colline, or RTLM, blasted out its message of hate in the months before the genocide. An ostensibly private radio station, it was however, connected to the Government. For months before the genocide, it told Hutus all over the country that the Tutsis wanted to take over, and it was a case of kill, or be killed. Once the genocide started, the radio was instrumental in the organisation. It named people to be killed, it broadcasted where Tutsis were hiding, and it encouraged people to go out and kill.


Reader: The proof that we will exterminate them is that they are only a single ethnic group. Just look at one person, their physique and their physical appearance, look at their cute little nose, and then break it.

Finish them off, exterminate them, sweep them out of the country because there is no refuge, no refuge then!

Bronwyn Adcock: By the end of 1993 the atmosphere in the capital, Kigali, was tense. December that year was Louise Mushikawabo’s last Christmas with her family.

Louise Mushikawabo: I went to Rwanda for Christmas in 1993, and that was about four months before the genocide, and I could clearly feel that something was deeply wrong. For example, many young people in the Kigali neighbourhoods, various Kigali neighbourhoods, were talking about training in secret camps outside of Kigali, and of course they would come back to their homes and tell their friends whether they be Hutu or Tutsis, who did not belong to those youth militia groups, about their activities, and that was very scary to me.

Bronwyn Adcock: And did you know what they were training for? Did you have any suspicious?

Louise Mushikawabo: Actually I had suspicious, although I did not fully know, I guess I underestimated the power of evil at that time. I knew people like my brother were in danger because he was the only Tutsi Cabinet member at that time; he was a prominent businessman, so he was a target. But I never thought it would extend to just about every Tutsi in the country, including babies and old people, and handicapped people. I never thought it would go that far. It’s something that still amazes me today.

Bronwyn Adcock: While preparations for the genocide gathered pace in Rwanda, the decision makers in New York remained apparently oblivious. Despite the clear warnings being provided, the UN Security Council continued to monitor the peace accords, ignoring the real problem.

One of the members of the Council at the time was New Zealand. Their Ambassador on the Council, Colin Keating, says the official ‘country reports’ out of Rwanda were not alarming.

Colin Keating: The country reports were fairly positive. They were saying the parties were genuinely committed to peace, that the UN peacekeeping mission would make a difference, and we should actually go along with it. Now once the UN force was there, once there was a special representative permanently on the ground, the reports tended to show procrastination, deadlines, milestones for completion of various steps in the peace process were being missed, but they were generally being put down to the inherent difficulties of the issues rather than lack of goodwill. And there was some reports of violence, but it tended to be characterised as banditry or robbery, rather than ethnic violence or a continuation of the fighting which had been part of the civil war that was previously going on.

Bronwyn Adcock: Did the Security Council discuss the possibility of ethnic killings, of massacres, of organised violence?

Colin Keating: No, that never came on to the agenda at all, until the actual events occurred.

Bronwyn Adcock: Was there anything to indicate in terms of information coming in to the Security Council, that this was a possibility?

Colin Keating: No, as I said before, I think really the information suggested that there was banditry, that there was ongoing sporadic fighting, but it was more in the character of skirmishes related to the civil war, rather than any suggestion that the civil population as a whole was at risk.

Bronwyn Adcock: New Zealand wasn’t the only member of the Security Council who was unaware of the true situation Rwanda. Spain’s Ambassador on the Council at the time was Juan Antonio Yanez-Burneuvo. He’s now surprised by the extent of information that was available before the genocide.

Juan Antonio Yanez-Burneuvo: I’m very surprised that all this is known now, because I don’t remember receiving any – not only within the Security Council, but also outside – I don’t remember receiving any of that information until we were practically in the middle of everything. What I distinctly remember of those first weeks and first months of ’94 is that the main thrust of the concern expressed by the Secretariat, by the Secretary-General, was about the delays in the implementation of the agreement, the delays by the parties in establishing a transitional government, and also related to that, the deterioration of the security situation especially in Kigali and around Kigali. But without, as I say, any inkling that there was preparation for a genocide or anything like that, no, not to that extent, no.

Bronwyn Adcock: There was a massive reluctance from the United Nations to ever get involved in Rwanda in the first place. Peace-keeping in 1993 had become an unattractive prospect: 18 US peacekeepers had been killed on a mission in Somalia, and the costs of mounting a mission had risen dramatically. According to Alison Des Forge, these pressures had a negative effect on the way the UN approached Rwanda.

Alison Des Forge: The initial force, the initial recommendation from the military experts was that the force should be 8,000 soldiers. They eventually reduced that to 5,000. But the US, as the leading force for economy at that point, was asking instead of 5,000 that the troops be limited to 500, which was in fact a ridiculous number. The compromise eventually put 2,500 soldiers in the field, but they were far short of what was needed, once the crisis developed into something other than a simple peacekeeping exercise.

Bronwyn Adcock: Political pressure to close down the mission to Rwanda started not long after the troops were deployed. Within the Security Council, the major western powers were pushing for a withdrawal because the Rwandan Government and the RPF were not meeting their peace deadlines.

The Hutu extremists knew about these discussions because by a twist of fate, one of the Members of the Council that year was Rwanda. Colin Keating thinks perhaps the interests of the big powers and the Hutu extremists inadvertently coincided. They both didn’t want the UN in Rwanda.

Colin Keating: I think the presence of the UN, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see now, was a nuisance, an irritant as far as Hutu extremists was concerned. It may well be that they were actually strategising to encourage the UN to leave, and that perhaps missing some of the deadlines in the peace process negotiations may well have been part of the strategy to encourage the UN to pack up its bags, declare it as a hopeless case, and for them to get on with whatever they intended to get on with.

Bronwyn Adcock: The tenuous nature of the UN presence in Rwanda, while known to the Rwandan Government, was not known by ordinary people in Kigali. Louise Mushikawabo says people felt safer because of the UN presence.

Louise Mushikawabo: At that time, at least the people that I know, thought the threat of major violent movement, was not likely because of the presence of the UN. When I was there for two or three weeks, I saw UNAMIR troops basically every day; they were in downtown Kigali every day and different neighbourhoods. And there was a sense of, I guess, a false hope of reassurance for a lot of people who at that time were threatened enough that they could have fled the country, so a lot of people trusted and believed in the power of the United Nations at that time.



Newsreader: Tensions are high in the Central African Republics of Rwanda and Burundi today following the assassination of the leaders of both countries.

Vox pop: Many atrocities have been enacted in the immediate vicinity of our house.

Reporter: Altogether it’s estimated that more than a million people have been forced from their homes by a campaign of butchery that shows no sign of ending.

Reporter: UN observers were held back at gunpoint by these marauders and people in army uniforms while people were being hacked to death. And only after they had finished hacking the people were they allowed to go in and help the survivors.


Reporter: In Rwanda itself, the atrocities continue, without regard for age, sex or innocence. One little boy and his sister are all that’s left of a whole family. He is six years old; they tried to cut his head off.


Bronwyn Adcock: When the genocide was unleashed on 7th April, many nations launched fast and efficient operations into Rwanda to rescue their foreign nationals. Within weeks, the Security Council was pulling out peacekeeping troops too. Only 250 stayed behind.

Alison Des Forge.

Alison Des Forge: They wanted to get the hell out of Rwanda. They wanted nothing to do with this problem. They wanted to remove themselves from it as far as they could. The initial reaction in the Security Council was complete and total withdrawal. Knowing full well, that that would condemn to death tens of thousands of people who were at that point dependent upon UN protection.

Bronwyn Adcock: The slaughter of the first few weeks was almost unimaginable; thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people were being killed every day. However it took the Security Council nearly one month to officially acknowledge that what was happening was in fact a genocide. Colin Keating:

Colin Keating: I think there came a point where the testimony from the NGO community and from the media, made it quite clear that genocide was going on, there was no doubt about that. It was a question of how you described it in diplomatic language, which for us seemed rather absurd, to be arguing about the diplomatic language. It was actually better to condemn what was happening.

Bronwyn Adcock: The Secretariat of the United Nations was also slow in acknowledging the reality of Rwanda. Several weeks into the genocide, the then Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros Ghali, described the killings as being started by ‘unruly elements of the Presidential Guard’. Alain Destexhe:

Alain Destexhe: This is another fact which I cannot understand, is that in the light of all the information that the Secretariat had got for months before the genocide, it’s not understandable that they didn’t immediately conclude that a genocide was under way. So from the first day, from the 7th and the 8th April, the UN knew that large scale massacres were going on. And if you put that in relation with the information you had before, I mean you should have immediately concluded that this was a genocide. And then despite these kinds of warnings, despite the cable of 11th January, when the genocide actually started, nobody is using the word for a few weeks. How strange is that?

Bronwyn Adcock: According to Alison Des Forge, no-one wanted to use the word because no-one wanted to be compelled to act according to the Genocide Convention, the Convention drawn up after the Nazi Holocaust when the world was still saying ‘never again’.

Alison Des Forge: Everyone understood that using the word would then create an expectation that those obligations that all of our governments had signed on for, that those obligations would in fact be met, and that they would act to stop that genocide.

Bronwyn Adcock: The genocide in Rwanda only ended with the RPF successfully took over Kigali and gained control of the rest of the country. By this time around 800,000 people had been killed and more than a million refugees had fled the country.

Five years on, and Alain Destexhe and the victims he represents, are lobbying for a full independent inquiry into the role of the UN in Rwanda. He believes there are still many questions unanswered.

Alain Destexhe: We believe, I mean the victims of the genocide, myself and a few others, we believe that there is a need for an investigation inside the UN system, because we got access to the archives of the Defence and Foreign Minister in Belgium, the French Parliament did also an investigation, but really nobody knows exactly what happened inside the UN system.

Bronwyn Adcock: The United Nations has consistently refused access to their files and blocked any attempts to investigate their actions in Rwanda. Michael Hourigan and Jim Lyons came up against this reluctance to be scrutinised when they tried to access the intelligence cables sent to the UN.

Michael Hourigan: When we approached the United Nations to gather more of that type of information, the United Nations told us that it wasn’t available, that they didn’t have it, that if they had it, we could have it. I made a request of one of my senior investigators, Jim Lyons, an FBI investigator, who was going to New York on a duty trip, to go to the Department of Peacekeeping and make a specific request to gather all the military Intelligence Office intelligence reports.

Jim Lyons: So I did travel to New York to get that information. I went to UN headquarters, I was treated actually like I had some kind of communicable disease.

Bronwyn Adcock: In what way?

Jim Lyons: Well, I was avoided, I was left hanging around for a day, where no-one would pay too much attention to me. But they finally agreed to give me the files, and I went through those files. It was supposed to include those daily situation reports, and well, we got some of the reports, but obviously there were some missing.

Bronwyn Adcock: How do you know?

Jim Lyons: Well there were days in the files when there were no reports, and we knew there were daily reports, and we knew there were usually two reports daily.

Bronwyn Adcock: Did you ask to see all the files?

Jim Lyons: I did, yes, more than once. And then when I left, I asked for copies of the reports that I read that I did want to have copies of, and I was told I was not able to copy anything, and that if I wanted copies, I should have Judge Goldstone who was the Chief Prosecutor at The Hague at the time, send a cable to Kofi Annan requesting copies, but I had to identify each report that I wanted in the file. And I did that, and the reports, even the ones I requested, were never received let alone the ones that I never saw.

Michael Hourigan: And I can tell you at the end of it, at the end of a year-and-a-half of effort, my team never received one document from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping.

Bronwyn Adcock: UN spokesperson Fred Eckhardt says there is a very good reason for this.

Fred Eckhardt: Well for the same reason that anyone else would have difficulty: this documentation is really not just ours, we’re keeping it on behalf of the governments who are the members of this organisation, and the people that we work for. Normally we don’t make this documentation available to the public for something like 30 years.

Bronwyn Adcock: With all due respect though, these are not members of the public, these are criminal investigators, who are hired by the United Nations to try and work out who committed the genocide.

Fred Eckhardt: Yes I know, but you’re talking about evidence that would be placed in the public domain, so the net effect is the same. We had to ask ourselves, well in the case of the tribunal obviously we want to co-operate with them to the fullest, we want them to succeed in convicting as many of these killers as they can. But at the same time we had a professional obligation to protect the confidentiality of our documents.

Bronwyn Adcock: The UN has also prevented any of their staff testifying before any of the inquiries that have been held. This includes the UN Force Commander, General Romeo Dallaire, despite Dallaire saying he wants to be allowed to testify. Dallaire is a crucial figure in this story, he was in charge of the UN’s operations in Rwanda, and was there before and during the genocide. He is also the man who wrote the January 11 warning.

The UN did provide a written submission of their version of events for the Belgian Inquiry. However their original submission was strongly criticised by Dallaire. In a confidential letter to the UN, Dallaire accused them of crucial omissions in their report, in particular, omissions regarding what the UN knew before the genocide began.

General Dallaire wrote that he was concerned about:

Reader: The apparent avoidance of any reference to our knowledge of the potential for ethnic killings.

Bronwyn Adcock: In a thinly veiled threat, General Dallaire concluded his letter with:

Reader: The decision to leave out this information could cause significant embarrassment to the UN, should my response ever be accessed or released to the media. I believe there are legal and moral obligations to not knowingly mislead or misinform anyone. I have fully advised the UN on these matters and should I be called to testify at any legal proceedings, I will answer questions as fully as possible.

Bronwyn Adcock: Dallaire’s suggested changes were partly included in the UN’s final submission to the inquiry.

Last year, General Dallaire was called as a witness before the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, though restrictions were placed on him by the UN. His evidence was stunning. In an emotional testimony, General Dallaire said all he needed was a well armed force of 5,000 men, and he could have stopped the genocide in a week. He described his experience as an unimaginable exercise in frustration. The experience has had a profound effect on General Dallaire.

Alison Des Forge: He has talked about being suicidal, about needing psychiatric help to deal with the enormous burden that he feels as a result of this experience; he, like many people who have dealt with this tragedy, could probably say, as one diplomat said to me about the situation, ‘Rwanda has seeped into my soul.’

Bronwyn Adcock: Last year, Kofi Annan visited Rwanda for the first time since the genocide. He was met with hostility, the President and several other senior politicians boycotted a reception in his honour. Much of the animosity came after he said in a speech that the horror of the genocide came from within.

Fred Eckhardt explains this view.

Fred Eckhardt: Because we don’t have an international SWAT team to send into a crisis situation like that, you have to say that a society’s responsibilities start at home, that it was Rwandans who killed Rwandans, it wasn’t the outside world.

Bronwyn Adcock: Today Rwandan jails are overflowing with more than 100,000 people accused of taking part in the genocide.

Alison Des Forge says there are complex reasons behind the actions of so many people who picked up their weapons and went out to help the extremist militias: fear, poverty and coercion were all part of it, she says, but the most important factor is the legitimacy the genocide was given.

Alison Des Forge: The people outside of that initial small circle of real fanatics, the large number of participants, I’m convinced, had to decide repeatedly, what kind of role they were going to play in this genocide, how far they were going to go. I think they had to get up in the morning and decide what they would commit themselves, and what they would permit their authorities to direct them to do. Some people would accept killing young men whom they could imagine might be soldiers in disguise, but would not kill infants or old women. Some people would kill lay people but they wouldn’t kill clergy. People had different points where they defined what they would or would not do. It wasn’t a spontaneous kind of once-and-for-all mechanical reaction, it was a human phenomenon, and in this very complex situation, the realisation that the directors of the genocide were supposed to be the legitimate authorities in the country, that played a role in people’s decisions. Now did they really believe their authorities? Did they really think they were legitimate? At some level, maybe yes, and at some level, maybe no. But it gave them a cover, it gave them a way to hide from themselves the horrible-ness of what they were doing, and in this, the international community had a very important role to play. Because we allowed the charade to continue. We allowed the game to be played with this government presenting itself as a legitimate government on the world scene, and we said not a word. The representatives of Rwanda continue to sit at the table of the Security Council, the innermost Council devoted to establishing and maintaining peace in the world, and there they sat, from beginning to end. What was worse was the Council received on the 17th May, a delegation from Rwanda that included the head of the political party most blatantly carrying out the genocide, and these two men who had come from the capital of a country that was executing genocide, were allowed to sit at the table of the United Nations and to make a presentation in which they attempted to justify what they were doing. And when they were finished, eight of the 14 other nations at the table had nothing critical to say. But the end result of it was that the perpetrators of genocide could return home, having been to New York, and the propaganda radio could talk about their successful visit to the United Nations. The Rwandans who were facing daily decisions about what to do must certainly have taken into account this toleration, this acceptance on the part of the rest of the world.

Bronwyn Adcock: So why did the UN fail Rwanda so badly? One explanation, says Colin Keating, is that Rwanda didn’t lie within the national interest of any major powers. Therefore, it didn’t matter.

Colin Keating: There are some operations and some places where bad things happen, where no country has really got a major national interest. And you are then left with the situation that peace and security will only prevail in some parts of the world, and other parts of the world will not have the support which they’re entitled to expect from the United Nations. There are some shades of that in the Rwanda situation, Rwanda really did not matter very much to any countries, and there was a sense that because the UN had got its fingers badly burnt in a number of other places, that Rwanda was just too much of a risk.

Bronwyn Adcock: Observers of Rwanda now say the warning signs of a catastrophe are starting all over again. Arms are flooding into the region, and ethnicity is being increasingly used as a political ideology. At the end of last year, an International Commission of Inquiry came back to the Security Council with dire warnings, not just for Rwanda, but for the whole region. It concluded:

Reader: The situation in the Great Lakes region is rapidly heading towards a catastrophe of incalculable consequences, which requires urgent, comprehensive and decisive measures on the part of the international community. The danger of a repetition of tragedy comparable to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 but on a sub-regional scale, cannot be ruled out.


Bronwyn Adcock: Co-ordinating Producer is Linda McGinness; Research by Jim Mellor; Technical Operator, Mark Don, and readings, Simon Bissell. The Executive Producer of Background Briefing is Kirsten Garrett.

I’m Bronwyn Adcock.

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