Melvern, Linda. A People Betrayed: The role of the West in Rwanda´s genocide. Zed Books, UK.

I recently read a comprehensive history of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and I was drawn to read a history of the Rwandan genocide by the experience of the current UN—sponsored occupation of Haiti. There are important lessons and parallels between the two experiences.

In 1994, the United Nations Security Council stood by while more than one million Rwandans were killed in a planned genocide by a regime that received important backing from the U.S., France, Belgium and Egypt. The regime acted in the name of a fictional “Hutu” nationality against a minority people called “Tutsi”. Killings on a massive scale began in April of that year and only ended with the military and political defeat of the “Hutu Power” regime by the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The human misery continued because the new government inherited a shattered country, and some one million people were driven out of Rwanda into a barren region of Zaire by the genocide regime in order that it could preserve a population base.

I knew the rough outlines of the genocide. What the book reveals is that not only did the UN Security Council and its member countries stand by before and during the genocide, they gave active military and diplomatic support to the genocide regime. France and Egypt provided arms. France and the Security Council maintained their diplomatic recognition of the regime until its dying days. With Security Council backing, France intervened in late June with a 2,500-member military force in order to salvage the remnants of the regime and impose a “coalition” regime on the Rwandan people, that is, a government of the RPF and the architects of the genocide. (The RPF flatly refused).

Canadian General Romeo Dallaire was the head of the UN´s “peacekeeping” contingent in Rwanda. It arrived in the summer of 1993 and numbered 2,500 troops. It did not have a mandate nor the resources to intervene and stop the genocide when it began in earnest in April 1994. In fact, as the killings mounted, Belgium, the former colonial power, pulled out the remainder of its armed forces. (France had withdrawn in late 1993). Dallaire is treated as a folk hero in Canada and internationally for his apparent efforts to stop the genocide. I think the adulation is undeserved, for several reasons.

One, if UN forces were truly interested in stopping the genocide, they would have aided the patriotic forces in the RPF who were attempting to do just that. But Dallaire always couched his appeal for stronger UN intervention as a measure to “separate two warring sides.” In other words, he sought to preserve elements of the genocide regime in the form of an imposed coalition government, the same goal that France attempted in June. The RPF never received support nor cooperation from UN forces.

Two, Dallaire travels and speaks widely on the Rwanda genocide. And what is his message? That the UN, the very agency that “betrayed” the Rwandan people, as the title of the book under review states, should be strengthened and reinforced. He is an enthusiastic proponent of the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine authored by the ideologues of his government (Dallaire is a member of the unelected Canadian Senate).

Dallaire has unique insight and information of the events that transpired in Rwanda. He knows first—hand of the cruel betrayal of the Rwandan people by the U.S. and France in particular, not to speak of the UN Security Council. Does he condemn this betrayal? Only in the vaguest of language. Meanwhile, he preaches forgiveness and renewal of confidence in the governments and international institutions that betrayed.

If Dallaire were sincerely interested in averting future Rwandas, he would denounce the “betrayals” of other peoples by the Security Council, including in Haiti. There, in early 2004, the Security Council sanctioned the violent overthrow of Haiti´s elected president and other governing institutions, and then recognized an appointed and illegal regime that perpetrated widespread killings and human rights violations against supporters of Haiti´s democracy.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the role of the UN in today´s world. “Peacekeeping?” “Responsibility to Protect?” This book is a reminder of how poisonous are these doctrines. Beware of their proponents.

Filed under Book Reviews, Linda Melvern