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April 22, 2004

Captain Mbaye Diagne

I am republishing this post from the lost Mk. 1 version of the Shotgun. This is for everyone at the IAEA and other international organizations nominally dedicated to helping people out. Keep your eye on the ball people.


"Ghosts of Rwanda" represents the best of PBS' Frontline series. Anyone who thinks the barbarism in Fallujah could be assuaged by withdrawal of Coalition forces should watch this show. Anyone who thinks the word "barbarism" is more offensive than the murder and desecration of free people should be ashamed. Anyone who cannot find the word "evil" in their vocabulary may not be capable of that emotion. But that shame is nothing next to what we should all feel for standing by as genocide was perpetrated in Rwanda. Canadian General Romeo Dallaire sums it up with brutal clarity.

"I'm sure there would have been more reaction if someone had tried to exterminate Rwanda's 300 mountain gorillas," he said.

So much for the United Nations. So much for international law. So much for the international community. 800,000 people were murdered. And still the only thing that matters to so many people is marching in the streets against... against what exactly? Against civilization. Too many of those outraged by the toppling of dictators could not find Rwanda on the map.

One story stands out. A Senegalese peacekeeper saved a hundred, as many as a thousand, lives by escorting some of the few Tutsis left in Kigali away from one of many Hutu Einsatzgruppen. Captain Diagne saved these lives against the express orders of the United Nations. Remember that the next time someone suggests that parliament of dictators has the moral authority to point fingers as as it chokes back the lobster and champagne.

When plans were first discussed for evacuating U.N. personnel, the rule was that no Rwandans, staff or not, could be taken along. Colonel Balis stated that he questioned Dallaire twice about the directive and was told, “Orders from New York: No Locals.” The rules were not always followed, even by the authorities in New York or by some U.N. agencies. ... On April 7, the Senegalese Captain Mbaye Diagne and a U.N. employee named Le Moal rescued the five children of Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana, who then left the country through the efforts of a French professor, André Guichaoua, who was in Kigali at the time. Throughout the next weeks, Captain Mbaye became virtually a legend among Rwandans for his bravery and inventiveness in saving people and in deterring soldiers who sought to enter the Hotel Mille Collines at night to kill those whom he had saved during the day.

Captain Diagne was killed by shrapnel at a checkpoint and the UN could not offer him the dignity of a body bag. He deserved better.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 22, 2004 05:40 AM

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Rwanda is a particularly bad example to bash the UN about, as it was to a large degree US lobbying against UN action that tied things up until it was too late.

Rwanda was a travesty. Everyone there deserved better, not the least Dallaire. A large chunk of the blame for inaction lies squarely on the shoulders of US policy, though they are certainly not alone.

Posted by: Jeremy Beam at April 22, 2004 11:33 AM

Sooner or later the U.S. to blame for everything, right? I'd like to think that the lion's share of the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of one Mr. Kofi Annan, who was (not coincidentally) Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the time the Rwandan massacre took place. And (not coincidentally) good Mr. Annan conspicuously declined to appear at ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of the genocide earlier this month.

It's hard to see how, exactly, that manages to be the fault of Americans. America does not control the UN as a puppet, otherwise it would have been very easy indeed for George W. Bush to get his UN resolution supporting war in Iraq. And we all know he got it, right? Right? Uh...

Posted by: Chris Taylor at April 23, 2004 02:00 AM

No Chris, just because the US screwed something up doesn't mean it is a witchunt. The history of the Rwandan tragedy is quite well known --- while you might like to believe the blame lies with Kofi Anan, it simply isn't so. It is rather sophmoric to take my position on a particular incident and try to attach it to a straw man of 'The U.S. is to blame for everything.' Did you actually read what I had written, especially the part about 'a particularly bad example'? Believe it or not, along with the unambigously good things and the more hman mediocrity, the US like other states is capable of actions that are stupid, or evil, or both. Who would've thunk?

Think about the assymmetry in the cases you state. The US couldn't get agreement on Iraq because it doesn't control the UN, true. However, through security council *veto*, among other tactics, they could (and did) stonewall progress on Rwanda.

I am not able to access my references just now, but a moment with google would have helped you understand this situation. Here are a couple of starters (I've only skimmed the first).

summary in 'the atlantic'

NSA report of 1994


Posted by: Jeremy Beam at April 23, 2004 09:04 AM

Let's take things back a notch, Jeremy. Leave out the snide remarks and focus on the essence of the argument.

You argue that the United States knew about the genocide and did nothing to stop it. Believe it or not, I agree with that assessment one hundred percent.

But where we disagree is in the measure of culpability. Sure, the United States voted to end the mission and stop funding. But the possibility of funding withdrawal always exists under any UN mission. It always has. Let's remind ourselves that these were Canadian and Belgian soldiers on the ground. They are our soldiers. They are *our* responsibility, even when they are loaned out to the UN. What did our national command structure do to support and reinforce our own soldiers on the ground? Nothing worth mentioning. What did Belgium do? Ditto. We accepted the UN drawdown and meekly went along. And unlike America, our own men and women were under fire. What does that say about us?

Leaving our soldiers at the mercy of UN politicking is a horrible idea, and Rwanda is the best example of why that is so. Canadian soldiers should operate in Canada's best interests, only where we are prepared to shoulder the logistical costs of deployment and political costs of seeing our sons come home in body bags. If we aren't prepared to support our deployed troops ourselves, morally, economically, and with appropriate equipment (whether or not the UN pulls its own weight), then maybe we have no business sending our troops out there in the first place. Our people joined the Armed Forces to serve Canada, not the United Nations. Their trust is in Canadians, not the Directorate of Peacekeeping Operations.

America had no combat forces in-theater. We did. So when it comes to Rwanda, I lay the blame at the feet of the mandarins in New York and Ottawa, who think nothing of placing our men and women in harm's way with only the flimsiest assurances of support.

Posted by: Chris Taylor at April 23, 2004 11:56 AM

Ok, Chris; glad you have modulated your original tone, i.e. the snide remarks, and happy to agree.

You seem to have missed the main point. It is not surprising that you agree that the US knew about the genocide and decided to do nothing --- this is well documented. This was not an evil act; selfish perhaps, or practical, whichever way you want to look at it. The evil was, in fact, the actions taken to keep others from helping. Yes, of course several countries should have told the US to get stuffed and did something anyway.... but that doesn't change the moral bankrupcy of this policy. The US didn't merely vote to stop funding and withdraw... they asserted they would use veto to block any security council approaches, they lobbied and/or bullied other countries into `staying out of it'.

In any case, the failure of the UN to be able to deal with this is hardly surprising. Lets not be hypocritical here --- we designed the UN to fail in exactly these sorts of ways. Without some sort of outside push, the institution has no ability to deal with a crisis like this. That is a singular failing of the western powers.

On the other hand, I strongly disagree with you assertions about the role of Canadian troops (I am not, in fact Canadian). That sort of parochial and thinking is the primary barrier to a strong, workable interational peacekeeping force --- which *is* in the best interests of Canada. I expect we differ on this view.

Posted by: Jeremy Beam at April 23, 2004 09:29 PM

I don't want to give the wrong impression with above, Canada certainly shares some culpability -- as you say, Canadian troops were on the ground and Ottawa didn't support them. This wasn't the US alone, certainly. On the other hand, attempting to pin the blame on Kofi Annan is, at best, naive.

Posted by: Jeremy Beam at April 23, 2004 09:34 PM

The BBC reports on another culpable party.

"France became close to President Habyarimana's government shortly after independence and replaced the ex-colonial power, Belgium, as Rwanda's main western backer.

When the Tutsi-dominated rebel army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), first launched its war against the Hutu authorities in the early 1990s, France sent soldiers to Kigali.

The French helped stop the RPF advance and then stayed on, officially as military advisers right up to the start of the genocide.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle says it is no secret that the French had officers attached to train and arm Rwandan military units which subsequently committed genocide."

Posted by: Nicholas Packwood at April 24, 2004 11:05 AM


Canada has no obligation to spend her blood and treasure on the misadventures of the UN, an organization that consistently over-commits and under-delivers. If the UN and people like yourself really want to see the nations of the world dedicate time, lives and dollars to transnational organizations, then those organizations should be responsible, effective and accountable. The UN is manifestly none of these; and its lack of responsibility is the primary reason I am now one of its skeptics. I once thought it was an exceptionally worthwhile organization, but when I see it spend extravagantly on remodelling its headquarters, but pinch pennies when spending for AIDS treatment in Africa, then I can hardly get excited about it. And let's not even begin to debate whether countries like Cuba and Zimbabwe have any right to be a party to the UN Human Rights Commission.

With regard to Kofi Annan, if he did not want any of the blame, perhaps he should have resigned following the Rwanda debacle. I'm afraid no amount of sophistry will persuade me that the head of the organization bears no responsibility for the wrongdoing of its components parts. If your department utterly fails at a task or project, and you are the project manager, then the moral thing to do is acknowledge your culpability and take the heat. Even if someone else in your team is directly responsible for that failure. Your job was to oversee the successful completion of that project -- including such routine contigencies as schedule deviations, budget cutbacks or overruns, resource allocation problems, and employee fecklessness.

In this case Mr. Annan utterly lacked the political courage to fight for his mission and give it a chance to see a successful conclusion, despite significant (but not insurmountable) roadblocks put up by the Clinton Administration. Mr. Annan lacked the courage and moral fibre to take responsibility for his directorate's failure, and still does to this day.

On that point, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree.

Posted by: Chris Taylor at April 26, 2004 06:57 PM