Wednesday, April 07, 2004

"I was only following orders"

I will let this post stand for historical purposes, but say here that no negative imputation on the person of General Dallaire is intended and any impression to the contrary I may have conveyed, I deeply regret. I do not regret the assertion that this deployment was a mistake. I can't bring myself to honestly say, "well done" and if we could do it all again, we'd do it the same way.

Peace award-winning General Romeo Dallaire was raked over the coals at the International Conference on Genocide, held at Kigali, Rwanda in the very country  where his United Nations Command had failed to prevent a massacre of 800,000 people. He was asked by angry participants how he could have let the very thing he was charged to prevent happen without resistance. He blamed the Britain, France and the United States for not coming to his aid.

"You, me, my forces, were abandoned by our own countries and the international community," the retired Canadian Armed Forces lieutenant-general told the International Conference on Genocide, being held in Kigali as part of events marking the 10th anniversary of the slaughter. Gen. Dallaire, who was head of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time, used his scheduled five-minute talk to give a forceful half-hour explanation of his actions 10 years ago. "There exists no country today that, 10 years later, has the right to wash its hands of Rwandan blood, by simply saying 'sorry' and giving money," he told the mostly Rwandan audience. "It comes back to Rwandans to make sure they [other countries] never forget they are criminally responsible, I will use the term, criminally responsible for the genocide." ...

He faced two specific attacks yesterday, one from a Belgian academic who questioned why he did not disobey orders from UN headquarters and do more to protect civilians, and another by a Belgian doctor-turned-legislator who said Gen. Dallaire should have resigned when it became clear the UN Security Council would not appropriately support his mission. ...

Gen. Dallaire angrily denied the charge. "With no resources to sustain a battle, I would have become the third target, the third force in the battle, and as such would have been free game for the other side to eliminate the force in total," he said, explaining why his troops did not engage Hutu militias to defend Tutsi civilians who sought shelter with the peacekeepers.

Dallaire's statement is astounding on three counts. First, it is a candid admission that the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission was wholly unprepared to fulfill its mission. Even had he been prepared to disobey the United Nations instructions to sit on his hands, Dallaire is arguing he did not have the military means to be more than a sacrificial force. The second is that he accepted this lunatic mission, by his own description little more than an imposture or a fraud, and reposed on it the credulity of an entire African nation. The third is his revelation that criminal responsibility lies, not with the men who shot, hacked and stabbed thousands to death, but with the American taxpayer who did not do enough to restrain them, as those who are responsible for naughty children. That said, Dallaire has admitted that he unit he commanded could not and it would not fight. It would be cruel to compare this hapless man, left to finger his peace medal in lieu of a reputation, by comparing him to military worthies of the past. There is no point. But if the 800,000 deaths and General Dallaire's humiliation are to mean anything then at least the world should never again commit the mistake of entrusting the survival of a country to the United Nations.