Rwanda and Srebrenica

Rwanda and Srebrenica

Rwanda and Srebrenica:

While examining the evolution of UN peacekeeping two cases stand out. Out of the more than fifty cases since 1945 these two cases calls for special attention and that is the genocide that happened in Rwanda in 1994 and the brutal killing of about eight thousand Bosnian Moslems in Srebrenica in Bosnia in the year 1955. These horrendous events occurred when Kofi Annan, was the Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping. These two events symbolized some the all-time low in the post–Cold War history of UN peacekeeping.


The Rwandan genocide, which was also genocide against the Tutsi, an ethnic community, lasted for 100 days. In this large scale massacre around 80, 00000 people were killed. The ruling Hutus party instigated the civilians to use any weapon to kill even if they were neighbours. Rape was rampant too. At the end of 100 days there were countless orphans and widows and there were many who were infected with the HIV virus. One of the greatest peacekeeping the United Nations failed and it was the most shameful let-down in the twentieth century.

  • UN did not supply Rwanda with enough peace keeping forces.
  • Even when the genocide began the Security Council of the UN refused to strengthen its force.
  • The Secretary General and his team of the UN were either unwilling or unable to act to stop the massacre.

So lack of sources and lack of a will was the reason why UN could stop the genocide in Rwanda and will always remain a blot in the pages of UN. The UN is still fighting with the legacy of the sheer size of this evil act.  This act put to the test the importance of the existence of the organization as an institution of justice in international affairs. The former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote, “The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was one of the greatest tragedies since the Second World War.” An Independent Commission of Inquiry was formed by then Secretary General Kofi Annan in 1999 to investigate the genocide in Rwanda stressed, “The international community did not prevent the genocide, nor did it stop the killing once the genocide had begun.” In a short period of one hundred days in 1994, about 800,000 members of Tutsi community were massacred by Hutu extremists. Hutu moderates were also killed in this genocide.



Historical Background

There is a historical background to the civil conflict that took place in Rwanda. Tutsi was favoured by the colonial powers like Germany and Belgium that had ruled Rwanda. Tutsi were subsequently overthrown by the majority Hutus in 1959. There were intermittent bloodbaths between the two ethnic groups. The descendents of the Tutsi who were exiled started an attack on Rwanda in 1991. In 1993 the UN’s help was sought to maintain peace there. Another primary reason for the conflict in Rwanda was also caused by the pitiable state of the political economy there. Rwanda was chiefly an agricultural country and was one of the most overcrowded countries on the continent.

Failure of Measures in Rwanda

The UN Security Council had sanctioned a UN peacekeeping force for Rwanda, known as the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1993, to supervise a peace agreement of the Arusha Accords that had been formed between the two fighting ethnic groups there. UNAMIR was entrusted to create a protected zone in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

The whole UN operation in Rwanda, suffered from a clear lack of political will. The only country of the permanent members of the Security Council that stood out was France. There was precedence or a history to the Rwanda debacle. US troops were positioned in Somalia to maintain peace. They were there as US troops and not as a part of UN. The militia of Somalia loyal to the self-proclaimed president Mohamed Farrah Aidid attacked the US troops and eighteen US soldiers were killed. US went back on its policy of “assertive multilateralism”. US congress and the people of US did not want US to participate in the peacekeeping operation. US went against Clinton administration and decided to take part in any peacekeeping operation only if it was closely related to their national interest. With this as precedence US did not participate in UN’s efforts quell the revolts. A new Presidential Decision Directive was issued while the Rwandan genocide was on.  This directive restricted the participation of US in future peacekeeping operations. So in the case of Rwanda US did not show or use its military prowess. This weakened the UN troop. US also preferred to supply troops for high risk military operations undertaken by NATO rather than the UN.

The result was an unwillingness to supply UNAMIR with the equipment and financial resources that it needed. The person in command of UNAMIR was a Canadian, General Romeo Dallaire, and he wanted a military force of forty five hundred in Rwanda. The United States projected that a force of one hundred was enough. The Security Council called the operation in Rwanda as human interference and it was not ready to term the massacre in Rwanda as genocide. In other words the Security Council was unwilling to acknowledge that the genocide was a systematic, planned extinction of the Tutsi community, who were in minority. There was enough intelligence evidence to prove that the inner circle of the president of Rwanda was arranging the annihilation of the Tutsis. General  Dallaore had received this information as early as January 1994 from a reliable and highly placed person who served as an informant in the government of Rwanda. Dallaire sadly noted that if UNAMIR had five thousand soldiers it could have averted the genocide.

The Force of UNAMIR

The history goes that the Security Council did not give the needed resources to UNAMIR so it was not able to protect the civilians and the refugees who wanted help. To add to this UNAMIR was stationed in Rwanda as a traditional peacekeeping force that was created within the tenets of chapter VI. As a traditional force it could not use force except in the case of self-defense. Also the mandate of UNAMIR did not take into consideration the changing situation in Rwanda. When the Security Council realised the seriousness of the situation, as killings were happening uncontrollably, the force was brought the UNAMIR force to 270 and they had a mandate for mediating and bringing an end to the dispute. Furthermore UN was overseeing the operations in Bosnia and Somalia and this work had started in 1993. Bulk forces were diverted to these places. In Somalia too US met with a setback and this made US very wary of sending troops to Rwanda to quell the terrible trouble there.  Secretary General Boutros – Ghali felt that United Sates had a large responsibility in the genocide in Rwanda. He went on to complain that the Security Council was giving more attention to Europe and less to Africa. It was not surprising that US did not like what Ghali said and made sure that he was not elected for a second term as the secretary general. As the situation got worse UNAMIR was replaced UNAMIR II which was a bigger force of 5500. This was also a conventional peacekeeping force under the terms of chapter VI. However this full force was deployed. Still  laer Security Council authorized the French to execute the chapter VII mandate through “Operation Turquoise”. Though there was some element of French interest in this move, this operation did save some lives.

Lessons Learnt

There were many lessons learnt from this dark moment of the 20th century.

  • United States was very powerful and lack of will on its part can have long ranging effects.
  • UN did not possess enough intelligence to analyse the political situation and warn about the impending danger.
  • UN had to strengthen its capacity to to prevent conflicts by heightening preventive diplomacy.
  • The worst was the lack of political will to address an issue.
  • National interests must not come into the forefront when international problems are being addressed.

An Independent Commission of Inquiry was created Kofi Annan, the new Secretary General which concluded that to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, the UN peacekeeping force has to be present in Rwanda and at the same time the International Tribunal for Rwanda also had to work towards this. Many thousands of Rwandans were arrested and were tried too. However the transitional trials that were conducted were criticized especially in its application.


Another equally shocking setback in the history of UN peacekeeping is the so called “ethnic cleansing” that occurred in city of Srebrenica in July 1995. Srebrenica was in the former Yugoslavia. Srebrenica in Bosnia fell to the Serbian forces and they went on rampage of ethnic cleansing. This horrendous act was also termed as genocide by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Around eight thousand Bosnian boys and men were killed in the most brutal fashion. It was described as “truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.” All this happened with a Dutch contingent of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) present in Srebrenica. Srebrenica and many other Bosnian towns and cities were declared as safe area by the UN in 1993. It was modelled after the safe area shaped in Northern Iraq for the protection of the Kurds. After the Gulf War the Kurds were in danger from the Iraqi government and now they had been given enough protection. However the concept of ‘safe area’ was not very clear as it was something done ad hoc when there was a call ‘to do something’. Many opined that it was an ill-conceived reaction by the Security Council. The blanket of ‘safe area’ proved to be a disaster for the people of Srebrenica. The members of the UN did not provide the UN PROFOR with enough force and other resources needed to protect the people in the ‘safe areas’. The Serbian troops flaunting all rules attacked the ‘safe areas’ and they attacked the Dutch troops as well and took them as hostages. The UN criticised the Security Council very openly and the UNPROFOR was withdrawn from Bosnia and was replaced with the strong military force of NATO in 1995 as this was the result of Dayton Peace Accords.

Reasons Attributed to the Failure in Srebrenica

  • UN, it is argued, did not imagine that Serbs were capable of such barbarism and UN attributed this reason for the failure in Bosnia. The severity, brutality and the cruelty perpetuated by the Serbian forces was beyond all expectations that they believed such barbaric acts were seen for the first time after the WWII.
  • The UN was severely criticized for not getting the airpower of NATO in place to stop the advancing Serbian forces. It was not really for UN to put in place an effective peacekeeping force as the peacekeeping operations were becoming more complex and these operations had to be done as per the civilian decision.
  • UN also had the handicap of dealing with the bureaucracy of New York in deciding about the use of air power.
  • Also Boutros Ghali, had noted in his memoirs that Dutch Minister of Defence vetoed bringing NATO’s airpower as Dutch troops were captured by the Serbs and he feared that air strikes might injure his men. Using air force meant large scale destruction and such an attack would seal the chances of attaining a peaceful settlement for the conflict.
  • Bosnians turned the Vance-Owen Pact which was pact break down Bosnia into many cantons. Boutros Ghali blamed the US for encouraging the Bosnians to repeal the pact. This support was an incentive for the Bosnian Serbs to attack the ‘safe areas’ which was created by the UN Security Council in 1993. It is another factor that the designation of ‘safe areas’ was ill defined and poorly conceived.
  • Another reason for failure in Srebrenica was the ideology of the UN which stated that it would not involve in military action which had ‘culture of death’ as the UN had to act as an unbiased force and could not engage in war-making.
  • Boutros-Ghali noted that, “the UN forces in the ‘safe areas’ were there as peacekeepers, and they had neither the authority nor the means to do battle with the parties to the conflict.” To attack in a peacekeeping area UN had to change the rules of engagement and the mandate. But there was no will to do that and the resources of the Dutch in Srebrenica were not sufficient to combat the Serbs.
  • While the Serbs had heavily armed one to two thousand soldiers Dutch had only three hundred combat soldiers. With this small army Dutch forces could stop the advances of the Serbs. In August 2001 some action were taken for the genocide in Srebrenica.

The International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Radislav Krstic in The Hague. He was the Bosnian Serbian general under whom all the atrocities were being committed and he was sentenced to forty years in prison. This was the first action taken for the genocide in Srebrenica. Along with this Yugoslavian (former) president Slobodan Milosevic was also placed on trial at The Hague for crimes perpetuated in Srebrenica.

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