A friend drew my attention to an ABC PM program on March 30, with reporter Mark Colvin. It concerned Rwanda: the mysterious shooting-down of an aircraft carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi; the consequential three-months non-stop slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis by Hutus, a death rate faster than that attributed to the Germans in the destruction of the Jews in World War II. So Colvin called Rwanda the “last true genocide of the 20th Century”.
But his story also related to Kofi Annan, then head of the UN Peacekeeping Department. He was later to be promoted to the position of UN Secretary General. For his sterling performance vis-à-vis Rwanda?
It is now nearly 10 years since the plane with the two presidents was shot down and Colvin asked Michael Hourigan, a former Adelaide Crown Prosecutor who then became a UN war crimes investigator in Rwanda, if Annan’s expressions of regret over what had occurred are sufficient.
Hourigan said certainly not. The UN had a garrison of Belgians in the Rwandan capital Kigali and “its commander, General Dallaire, repeatedly and forcefully asked for more troops which he insisted would act as a clear signal for the Hutus that the world would not stand by and watch them murder their brothers and sisters”.
The UN response was to withdraw half the garrison, and the mass slaughters started almost immediately.
During the hundred days of slaughter and until it stopped, says Hourigan, “consistently, repeatedly people like Kofi Annan failed to act. I think there can be nothing else to do for that person either to resign themselves or be replaced.” And, added Colvin, the United Nations’ own internal inquiry actually did blame Kofi Annan and the unit he led. “Yes,” replied Hourigan, “the Carlson Commission did just that.”
As to the mystery of the plane and the slain presidents, Hourigan revealed that he led a team in Rwanda for the tribunal investigating the crash. “I was stunned to find that at the end of the year of our investigations, when we were getting close to, we think, solving it, that the UN shut my team down and shut these investigations down.”
When he met his chief prosecutor, Judge Louise Arbour, “She said the investigation of the crash was not within the tribunal mandate and the inquiry was to be shut down. Yet for nearly a year we had investigated with her knowledge and blessing.”
Anyway … the French judge, Brugure, who is also heading the terrorist investigations has found that the serving Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, was responsible for the aircraft’s destruction, and that there had been political interference in the working of the tribunal, just as there had in the months leading up to the genocide of 1994.
There are no moves to hold Kagame accountable and, anyway, the UN War Crimes Tribunal which has cost over $670 million, has tried just 19 people in the past 10 years. These trials now appear to be over.
On the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Annan blessed the new amity of Hutus and Tutsis, and remembered the dead. The genocide in fact stopped when the Tutsis gathered their forces, counterattacked and were driving the Hutus back.
Then UN troops appeared to cover the retreat of France’s friends, the Hutus. France had armed the Hutus before the genocide and continued to supply them throughout the genocide. Allies, you might say.
The stalemate which followed then produced the “UN-brokered peace” – and Paul Kagame still rules.
Hourigan is puzzled that, considering the activity generated to track down the Lockerbie bombers and to find the people responsible for war crimes in Sierra Leone and Liberia, a veil of silent inactivity has descended upon Rwanda and the role of certain European states. And of the UN, which had monitored Rwandan radio, which was “priming the Hutu population with violent racist propaganda against the Tutsis for months before the plane crash”. Then came the unchecked genocide.
Hourigan feels that the key to this is the absence of accountability inside the United Nations and of “major national players”, some inside the Security Council.
Hence the longstanding pessimism of the US to get the UN to reform even their elementary functions, or for their office-holders to be held accountable for anything. So … the US must, if necessary, go it alone. And, along with many of us, she asks, “Would you accept a second-hand resolution from such people, or a binding convention?” But meantime, Paul Kagame prospers. Indeed I saw him opening a new memorial to the victims (courtesy of SBS) only a few nights ago.
The French and their friends keep themselves busy, and Kofi Annan continues a UN Secretary-General. And 800,000 Rwandans lie under the sod.
- Max Teichmann