Bloody Peacekeeping

Rwanda the Australian Contingent 1994-1995

Rwanda has long been not only the name of an African country but also a kind of symbol of the inaction of the world community and the helplessness of UN peacekeepers, who, by the circumstances, have witnessed the genocide. Rwanda’s UN assistance operation has become one of the organization’s most unsuccessful missions in its history. One of the most important reasons for this was the reluctance of an organization in the face of the world’s most powerful countries to interfere with the bloody events in Rwanda.

It has been 26 years since the darkest day in Rwanda’s history happened, the April 7th, 1994. For 100 days of genocide from 800,000 to 1 million people, which is 20% of the total population of the country died.

Image source: NYT

The mistake that has been done by the most powerful countries in the world cannot be undone. Also, the reason why they did not do anything in time remains still unknown. Why did they not stop the genocide from the beginning of which they were repeatedly informed? Why did not they help those who needed help? Before the genocide has happened there were a lot of problems which the world community could have solved in order to avoid the slaughter but they did not do (Leitenberg, 1994, pp.6-14).

First of all, the interethnic conflict was created a long time ago by Rwanda’s authority by introducing identity cards that specifically indicated the ethnicity of the country’s resident, but also relied on the Tutsi representatives in Rwanda’s leadership. Outrage among the Hut escalated and eventually broke out in a series of uprisings in 1959. From 1990 begins active growth phase of confrontation and hostility between Tutsis and Hutus. The conflict took the form of armed strife until peace agreements were signed in August 1993. From this, it follows that the Rwandan government knew about interethnic problems and clashes (which in the future resulted in genocide) but decided not to do anything (United Nations, 2016).

Secondly,  there was a violation of the arms embargo by Israel, Belgium, South Africa, France, Spain, which can be interpreted as the countries’ complicity in the genocide. For example, the latest weapons export license was issued by the Israeli Ministry of Defense in October 1993, almost six months before the start of the massacre. Separate deliveries went between May and July, in the midst of events. Seven deliveries of light weapons arrived from Israel through Albania between April and July 1994 for use by the “police”.

Thirdly, the UN’s countries were informed and asked about help not once. On 14 June 1993, a letter from the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations was sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, requesting the Security Council to adopt a decision on a joint request by the parties to the conflict as soon as possible. On 3 August 1993, the President of Rwanda, again requested the UN Secretary-General. Only between 19 and 31 August 1993, a United Nations intelligence mission was sent to Rwanda.

Image source: Forbes

Another big mistake that was made by the world community is that in proposing the format of the operation Romeo A. Dallaire noted the need for an operational capacity of 4,500 peacekeepers. Officials of the UN Secretariat reduced the number twice before it was announced to the members of the Security Council even though the US Central Intelligence Agency reported an imminent threat, with potential casualties of around 500 people (Freudenschuss, 1994, pp. 492-531). Thus, in November 1993, there were two attacks on civilians on the outskirts of Ruhengeri (north of the country). As a result, 60 people were killed. It became apparent that the UN operation in Rwanda needed additional capabilities to monitor the situation with full effectiveness. After that in 1994, the UN made the same mistake by reducing the number of people in UNAMIR to 270. This decision was taken despite the fact that the UN was receiving new reports on the extent of the conflict in Rwanda, which was absolutely classified as “genocide”. The former ambassador of the Czech Republic recalled that about 80% of the time of the Security Council meetings was devoted to the question of how to withdraw peacekeepers, 20% how to reach a ceasefire, and not a single minute was spent discussing genocide in the country.

On November 23, 1993, the Operation Commander-in-Chief sent a draft UNAMIR Rules of Use to the UN Headquarters, requesting their approval by the Secretariat. Particularly important in this project is paragraph 17, a rule that allows missions to respond to crimes against humanity and other types of abuse responding with the use of force. Romeo A. Dallaire has not received any formal response from the UN.

Last but not least, on January 11, 1994, Romeo A. Dallaire sent a telegram to New York entitled “Request for the Protection of an Informant.” In particular, the informant reported on plans to kill opposition MPs, provocations against Belgian peacekeepers, and, if necessary, their killings. Thus, the Belgian contingent could have been removed from the country. An informant also reported that 1700 people were trained by the Interahamwe (armed group) in Rwandan government troops’ camps, dispersed in groups of 40 in Kigali territory. The informant pointed to the existence of the main concealment of the weapon that he was willing to show. Unfortunately, the UN did not do anything in this situation either.

The situation in Rwanda has turned catastrophic. Within 7 weeks 250,000 to 500,000 of the total population of 7 million people were killed. Hypothetically correlating this data with the population of other countries, it would mean the deaths of 2 to 4 million people in France, 5 to 10 million citizens of Brazil, or 9 to 18 million US residents (Mediaport, 2019).

The UN assistance operation in Rwanda has become one of the organization’s most unsuccessful missions in its history. One of the most important reasons for this was the reluctance of an organization in the face of the world’s most powerful countries to interfere with the bloody events in Rwanda. At the end of the twentieth century, the UN was overburdened with peacekeeping missions that had been accomplished through the efforts of peacekeepers in 16 peacekeeping operations. Some of them were obviously seen as more of a priority by the permanent members of the Security Council.

In all the circumstances described above, particular attention is drawn to the fact that the UN was still represented in Rwanda by a small operation of about 500 people (United Nations, 2016).

The main problem in this situation was the inconsistency of the chosen methods with the real state of affairs. When genocide is systematically carried out in a country its organizers must be combated not through a peacekeeping operation. Unfortunately, only at the cost of thousands of lives, the lesson was learnt about the shortcomings not only of the peacekeeping system but also of the forms and methods of UN action in general.


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TCH (2019) Майже мільйон жертв за три місяці. Як руанда оговтується від одного з найстрашніших геноцидів в історії людства  1st July 2019. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 17th September 2019].

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Alona Kosiuk

Alona Kosiuk works as a research assistant at the Cold War History Research Center

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