At the time , how did you rate the chances of success with the United Nations
mission (UNAMIR) in Rwanda?
We rated the chances as fair, simply because the successes ... really depend on
the will of the parties. If one or both wish to sabotage the agreement, there's
nothing we can do to stop that. We've seen the situation in Angola, now, as an
Can you remember the circumstances of the night in January 1994 when the
coded cable from your force commander in Rwanda landed on your desk?
I was in my office ... and I believe if I remember correctly, it was brought to
us by the military advisor, the General Baril to whom it had been
addressed by General Dallaire ... and we went over it.
It alarmed us, it alarmed us. But there were certain clarifications that we
felt were essential ...
Was this a normal kind of cable from the force commander?
There are a number of cables that we get of this nature, but not of this
magnitude. Not with such dire predictions. But obviously this was from one
source and we had to ask the mission to find out how reliable this source was,
particularly since in the cable itself, after the 11th of January, General
Baril had said that he was not sure whether ... since the informant was
connected to a high political personality, whether a set-up, as he said, was
being prepared for that political personality. All these contradictions were
there, so we had to be sure that there was substance to it. It was alarming.
Now it had predicted that these killings would start in a matter of days. As
weeks pass, the killings, yes, were occurring. There was an atmosphere of
widespread violence, but there was no dramatic increase. What was predicted in
this cable did not happen for several weeks, and I think we were all caught
unawares when the situation just exploded on the 6th of April.
What did you tell your force commander to do about the informant that
It's not only the force commander. The title of the mission is United Nations
Assistance Mission in Rwanda, to assist the parties in implementing the
agreement that they had signed. So, we said, "Please go to the president
[Habyarimana], because we assume he does not have this information. Go to the
president, tell him what information you have, and say that we will be watching
the situation very carefully and we would expect him to take steps to prevent
any such actions being taken, such as the distribution of arms."
As important, if more important, we asked him and the head of the mission--who
is the special representative, who also went to see the president--to see the
three ambassadors who were very closely associated with the agreement and its
implementation. That was Belgium, France, and U.S. They were actually given
copies of the cable. And so the parties directly concerned in Kigali, which is
the U.N. mission, the president, and three ambassadors, had this information
and were closely monitoring events. As I told you, over the succeeding weeks,
there was no dramatic change in the situation. The violence did continue, but
more or less at the same level.
When the force commander wanted to go on arms raid in those circumstances,
how did you react?
We said, "Not Somalia, again." We have to go by the mandate that we are given
by the Security Council. It's not up to the secretary-general or the
Secretariat to decide whether they're going to run off in other directions.
You thought this could be another Somalia?
Oh yes, Somalia was always there in any operations that involved risk.
So don't have another Somalia.
Unless it's within your mandate. And it was not.
And that was your worry. This could have been another Somalia?
Absolutely. Now in Somalia, those troops--U.S., Pakistani--they were acting
within their mandate when they were killed. Here, Dallaire was asking to take
such risks going outside his mandate. And we said no.
So you told the force commander not to go ahead with the raids on arms
caches that he was planning that night. Wasn't that a mistake?
No, I don't think that was a mistake. We are given a specific mandate by the
Security Council. These troops are not our troops. We have to borrow them from
governments, who give them in the context of that mandate, for the tasks to be
performed in that mandate.
One of the tasks was to make the capital Kigali a weapons-secure area, and
that's precisely what the force commander surely wanted to do there.
Certainly. He has to assist the parties in making it a weapons-secure area, not
go and recover weapons himself.
But in this case the parties may well have been, as he hinted, some of those
who were hiding the weapons.
And that is why we went to the president who was one of the parties who had
signed the agreement.
But wouldn't that be telling exactly the person who was in on the conspiracy
that you knew about it?
This was a person who was assassinated so that the genocide could begin.
But his camp and those around him were part of the conspiracy.
Oh, his camp, yes, but we were dealing with the president. He was the authority
who had signed the agreement, who was responsible for implementing the
agreement. We could not have kept him in the dark.
Did you tell Mr. Kofi Annan about the cable from the force commander?
Mr. Annan was head of the department. He used to see the cables. Yes, we must
have briefed him the following day or maybe a day or two later.
... After you had told the force commander not to do anything.
Absolutely. I was in charge of the mission and I decided on what instructions
So the decision not to act, the responsibility rests with you.
Those were the instructions that went under my signature, yes.
Do you regret what you did?
Of course we do. We regret, in hindsight, that we did not interpret the
information in that cable to be the truth.
How do you think you should have interpreted it?
Now, let me say one thing. We can't pretend that this was the only source of
information, this cable. As I mentioned, the cable, itself, was given to
various people in Kigali, various governments. These governments and other
governments had their own sources of information, of intelligence. As events
unfolded, what I recall the scene to be is that everyone involved was
preoccupied with a political solution. A transitional government should have
been established by the 31st of December. Here we were going through January,
February and March, without this government. This was the first priority, and,
clearly, when I looked through the cables last night, it comes out very clearly
that the conviction was that if they had a political solution, then the
violence would subside. In other words, the violence was not connected to a
planning of a genocide, nobody saw it like that. It was seen as a result of a
The cable was quite clear. The cable said that the informer had been trained
to exterminate Tutsis. That wasn't political, that was a kind of genocide,
Look, since the 1960s, there have been cycles of violence--Tutsis against
Hutus, Hutus against Tutsis. I'm sorry to put it so cynically. It was nothing
new. This had continued from the '60s through the '70s into the '80s and here
it was in the '90s ...
[What] of the point, that you should have seen it coming, that it had
happened before? And here was the detail that proved it was going to happen
again ... on an even greater scale.
Look, this was one of the worst instances of violence and killings that had
occurred after the Second World War. All of us deeply regret it, all of us are
remorseful about it, anybody who had anything to do with it, and that means the
international community, not just the United Nations. The information was
there. There were two stages where we failed. Yes, we failed.
One was to correctly interpret the information, and as I say, we were not alone
in that. Secondly, when the enormity became obvious on the 6th of April, to
have the political will to do something about it. You know very well that when
the situation exploded, what was the reaction? If the political will had been
there, it should have been to strengthen the mission, give it a stronger
mandate and try to stop these killings. Instead, the strongest contingent was
immediately withdrawn and the Security Council put the decision to reduce this
mission to less than 10% of its size.
Just to be clear, you were saying that Mr. Kofi Annan, who was at that time
head of peacekeeping, future U.N. Secretary-General--he did back you in your
decision not to act on the force commander's cable?
Yes, he did. And I think you should ask the reason why. As I was explaining to
you, the troops we get are for a certain purpose. Let me read to you the
mandate we were given, "Contribute to the security of Kigali through the
weapons-secure area established by the parties. By the parties. Monitor
observance of the cease-fire agreement and the demarcation of the demilitarized
zone. Monitor the security situation. Investigate non-compliance. Pursue with
the parties. Report to the secretary-general."
Now in addition, a fact extremely important, of which you are aware, was the
Somalia Syndrome. We're talking about this cable having come in January. Three
months before in October, 18 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Somalia and that
led to the collapse of the mission. Three months before that, 24 Pakistani
soldiers had been killed. Both occasions, similar operations--one trying to
occupy a radio station, the Americans trying to recover arms--precisely what we
faced in Rwanda. We were cautious in interpreting our mandate and in giving
guidance because we did not want a repetition of Somalia, casualties,
fatalities, some on soldiers that were there for a peacekeeping, not a
You said to the force commander, "The overriding consideration is the need
to avoid entering into a course of action that might lead to the use of
This mission was never designed to resort to the use of force. The missions
that were designed to resort to the use of force were the missions in Somalia,
which had tanks, artillery, helicopters.
What was the point of sending soldiers if ...
And the mission Bosnia, which had the same. There was a distinction between
peacekeeping operations--there has to be a peace to keep--and peace
enforcement operations, under what is called Chapter Seven of the charter, [is]
where you do give enforcement responsibilities, and therefore the equipment,
the personnel required.
Weren't you desperate to avoid the use of force because you didn't want to
irritate the Americans?
Absolutely not. That was not the reason at all. I've just given you the reason,
which was Somalia. We could not risk another Somalia as it lead to the collapse
of the Somalian mission. We did not want this mission to collapse. And
secondly, going back to your question, the simple fact that soldiers go with
light arms doesn't mean that those light arms are for offensive operations.
Those light arms are for authority and for self-defense. Those are the primary
reasons that these lightly armed troops are sent as peacekeepers and not as
peace enforcers. That's a very important distinction.
What was your immediate reaction when you heard of the plane crash on April
That was April the 6th ... our first reaction was, "Well, it was a crash." We
thought it was an accident. We didn't know it was shot down, that only became
apparent later. And it's never been proved, but I think everybody believes that
it was a missile that shot him down, and that was the trigger for this
Incidentally, in the cable ... he says that there are seven extremist factions
of this party which are out of the president's control. So it's obvious that
the president had signed this agreement, had shown that he was going to
implement it. These extremist factions did not want to see the Tutsis back in
Rwanda. You had an advanced battalion of the Tutsis force already in Kigali.
The others were supposed to come from Uganda and obviously these people decided
that they were going to put an end to it. And it appears that even the
government did not know.
Would you permit me to read something? This is a cable ... 15th of February
from the head of the political head of the mission I should say, from the
special representative. Also with some attachment from General Dallaire, where
he says that, "Since last week, a significant change of attitude has occurred
in the government leadership responsible for security. Specific requests have
been made to UNAMIR for assistance in security operations to recover arms and
So obviously they were becoming very worried. But they did not seem to
anticipate that the aim was to wipe out 10% of the country's population. Then
in the same cable, please note this because you're asking why we did not
authorize General Dallaire to take this action, "Neither the Rwandan army nor
the gendarmerie have the resources to conduct by themselves a cordon and search
for weapons and ammunitions in Kigali, even less in the rest of the country."
They had requested UNAMIR to assist them in conducting such operations in order
to reduce the proliferation of weapons and grenades. The army numbered then
32-35,000 and Dallaire was saying it doesn't have the capacity. The
gendarmerie, as I recall is around, 20,000. They don't have the capacity to do
it, and they are asking UNAMIR, who at that time had about 1,500 to take the
responsibility. We could not permit it.
And please remember that in the event when the situation exploded, it was not
firearms that caused the deaths of tens and hundreds of thousands. It was
machetes and clubs. The cable of 11th January referred to Kigali. The killings
occurred all over Rwanda, with machetes and clubs. To have had to have stopped
the genocide, we would have had to have a force in every hamlet, in every
village, where neighbors were killing neighbors. So, you see, we did not see
the situation at the time until it explode. But once it exploded, had we tried
to pre-empt it, or to deal with it after it exploded, it would have needed a
very large, powerful well-equipped force for enforcement operations with the
mandate and the political support and will of the international community.
On April the 8th, your man on the ground told you that a very well-planned,
organized, deliberate campaign of terror was taking place. He said there was a
ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing and terror. Did you tell the Security
I saw that in one of the cables I saw last night. Now, as I told you, in the
month leading up to this horrible event, everybody was concentrating on the
political aspects, including the special representative. I've looked at his
cables, I've looked at the records of his telephone conversations. There was no
reference to an impending genocide, or that these killings--this term of ethnic
killings and ethnic cleansing had been there for a long time and it was
adopted, of course, from Bosnia. Ethnic cleansing does not necessarily mean
genocide, it means terror to drive people away.
But there was no hint of this in what you were briefing the Security
Not that I could find. Yes, that phrase was there. But all the reporting, the
assessments that we got, with the exception of this phrase, from the special
representative and the force commander, were "resumption of conflict", the
cease-fire has broken down and our first priority is to reestablish the
So you're saying your man on the ground got it wrong?
Oh, yes, even they thought ... there was confusion, there was confusion.
Mr. Kovanda, [Czech Ambassador to the U.N. 1994] who was the senior member of the Council at the time, said "The
Secretariat was not giving the full story. It knew much more than it was
letting on, so members like us did not appreciate the distinction between civil
war and genocide." He said, "We were not getting the viciousness, the unfolding
genocide from the person who briefed them," which was you.
The term genocide did not, I recall, emerge until May. Ethnic killings, yes,
but as I said ethnic killings was a term that had been used throughout, because
they were ethnic killings since 1960. It was nothing new that had emerged. I
don't recall what notes were given to me to read, I couldn't find them because
I was trying to look for them last night. Possibly we did not give all the
details. And if we did not, I really can't tell you what happened then to
prevent us from giving those details. I really can't.
Details of the massacres being planned?
Not planned, but quoting from the cables. Perhaps we did not take that
particular quote from the cable in the briefing that we gave to the council,
because I told you, the entire impression that we got from the ground was that
this was a breakdown of cease-fire, except for that one sentence, which I
recall now after seeing it last night.
So do you believe the briefing you were getting from the ground in
retrospect was wrong.
Oh, absolutely, in the first week... we did not realize what was happening ...
But just to be clear, you had been warned that there were people being
trained to kill Tutsis at the rate of up to 1,000 every 20 minutes. You'd been
warned that there were weapons distributed throughout the capital, and now here
you were getting cables talking of a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing and
terror. I mean, surely, it wasn't very difficult to realize that this could
have been the start of an unfolding genocide.
...It may not have been very difficult and maybe we made a second mistake, but
certainly in the first few days, neither the people on the ground except for
that one sentence, or we here, knew that this was a planned genocide. We knew
that the plane had crashed, and we thought it was an accident. We knew that
fighting had resumed and we all viewed it as a breakdown of the cease-fire.
Do you think that was a mistake that cost lives?
Obviously it did. It cost lives, but I'm not sure that it was the mistake
itself. ... With all due respect, those who were responsible for the loss of
lives were those who had planned the killing. They are responsible for the loss
of life. We did not anticipate that this was going to happen. Yes, we made a
mistake. We deeply regret it. We failed there. And in the first few days, no,
we did not realize this was a genocide. We thought it was the breakdown of a
But you did have men on the ground. Why didn't you tell them to open fire to
The first reaction of the troops on the ground was to try and save whomever
they saw in danger. General Dallaire was one of our most courageous commanders,
and he did what he could, first to get his own people to safety, naturally,
but then to use his armed soldiers to try and protect civilian lives. They did
not need any orders for that, they did that automatically.
Was it within the mandate to open fire to protect civilians?
Not strictly, but in a situation like this, if they were to have done it nobody
would have blamed them.
So they could have opened fire to protect civilian lives.
I believe some of them did.
Well, not very many of them.
No, not very many, but not because they were told by New York not to fire.
They appear to have thought that they didn't have permission from New York
No. We should not mix up things like using offensive operations to recover
weapons, and using weapons to protect lives. They're two different things. They
did not need instructions from New York. They have their weapons, those weapons
are loaded, and ... while lives are threatened, in self-protection or to
prevent loss of other life, they could have opened fire. This is in the broad
rules of engagement that apply to all peacekeeping operations.
So you're quite clear that the men on the ground and the force commander did
not need to seek permission to open fire to protect civilians?
Not in those conditions. We can imagine those conditions. It was chaos, people
were being killed, they were rampaging ... and it was in Kigali, remember that
we were concentrated in Kigali and just near the border, near Uganda. So they
did what they could. They shepherded civilians into stadiums, into churches,
into schools, they guarded them. And they risked their lives, and if I
remember, some lost their lives.
But the United Nations soldiers on the ground told us that one reason they
did not open fire was because they didn't have permission.
I cannot understand that. I do not recall and as I said, I was in charge of the
operation. I cannot recall a request coming in from the field that [said],
"Hell has broken lose around us, can we open fire?" and a cable going back and
saying, "Let hell run it's course, don't open fire." I do not recall this.
So why then, did your soldiers, your troops, who were guarding VIPs on that
night of April 6th-7th, why did they allow those VIPs to be killed?.
For example, Monsieur Lando.
I'm sorry, but I really cannot recall those circumstances. We know that the
main battalion was withdrawn, I believe, on the fourth day or the fifth day. I
think we have to remember that this was a completely chaotic situation. We know
that ten Belgian soldiers had been killed when they had been surrounded by
overwhelming force. In that situation, perhaps, and I'm just speculating, the
soldiers who happened to be on duty then found that they could not do anything
and that they'd better give up.
Another example. Over 1,000 refugees took shelter at a United Nations
troops compound guarded by Belgian soldiers who then abandoned them, went to
the airport, left them to die. How do you feel about that?
Just as anyone who had any responsibility for this would feel. Terrible, sad,
but I was not on the ground, I don't know what the circumstances were. Maybe
those Belgian soldiers also realized that resistance was futile. It's quite
possible. Maybe you feel that they should have gone down firing and been
killed. Well, I do not know whether their commander gave them the order to
withdraw, or whether they themselves decided. They certainly didn't telephone
They told us that their hands were tied, because they, for example, needed
the permission--express permission of the Secretary-General of the United
Nations, your boss--to fire their heavy machine gun. Is that correct?
They may have said that. I don't believe so, no. The force commander has very
wide authority ... he had sought, in the case of the recovery weapons, to go
beyond the mandate where we stopped him, but otherwise he has very wide
authority, depending on the situation that develops.
Were you surprised that General Dallaire was not using force more often to
In the first two days.
I went to Kigali, I went to Rwanda in May, a little over a month after this
happened. I saw our troops, which by then had been reduced from 2,500 to 400,
not simply protecting people in schools and stadiums, but sharing their rations
with these people because they had no other food. I saw soldiers with just one
armored car outside the stadium, nothing else. They were risking their lives,
they could have been overpowered. But that was a month later. I was not there.
I cannot speak for the soldiers or their commanders who were on the ground. I
can only speculate and I have done that already. So take that at face value, as
speculation as to what went through their minds, what orders they received, why
they acted as they did.
When you were told by the Security Council to downsize the United Nations
troops in Rwanda, in the middle of the genocide, how did you feel?
The secretary-general presented three options ... the first one to strengthen
the mission. More than double it. And I think that it was 5,000 or 5,500. The
second was to withdrawal all together, and he clearly recommended against that.
He said he preferred the first. But if the first was not to be approved by the
council, he said, "Then let us," (because it was still being treated as a
breakdown of the cease-fire until a week or two later) "let us leave a mission,
a small contingent there, to protect out political presence which will try and
reestablish the cease-fire." And the council decided precisely on that and
reduced the authorized strength to 270 from 2,500.
In the Secretariat, you thought it was not the right decision.
And we come back to the point I made earlier about political will. If the
political will was not there when we had this catastrophe before our eyes, I
very much doubt, in the shadow of Somalia, whether the political will had been
there on the basis of one cable to say, let us increase the force, let us more
than double it and give it a peace enforcement mandate, which means risking
lives and risking what happened in Somalia. That simply was not going to
I'm sorry, but I have been in this business a bit longer and we knew what the
atmosphere was. Both Somalia, with what was going on and Bosnia, and may I just
come back to that and speak about preventing genocide, using weapons to prevent
loss of life. What happened in Rwanda was a frenzy, a paroxysm of terror which
lasted three months. In Bosnia, for 30 years we watched it on television. It is
there that ethnic cleansing was born, and we knew what Serb terror was ... do
you think information was lacking those 30 years before action was taken? Do
you think the capacity was lacking and NATO on the ground, NATO in the air, and
NATO on the sea? No, what was lacking was the political will, which was
mustered 30 years later when the situation had reached a level where public
opinion would not accept it. And that political will was also lacking in
You sat there in the Security Council watching the leaders ... do nothing.
Why were they so hesitant to help?
What we call the Somalia Syndrome. What we call the Mogadishu Line. Casualties
were not acceptable. Casualties appeared on television screens ... you will
recall when the American soldiers were killed and that was simply not
acceptable, and so those risks were not to be taken again.
When the resolution was given to go ahead with what's called UNAMIR II, with
a stronger mandate and more troops than UNAMIR, how easy did you find it to get
to that force size ...
Extremely difficult. I believe that was adopted in May. Authorized strength of
5,500. I believe in July we still had 500 on the ground. Certain governments
did offer troops, African governments. Those troops ... we could not get them
to Rwanda which you must remember is a landlocked country, without the
equipment and the equipment had to come from outside. I think it was only
August or September that we actually reached near the level.
By which time the whole thing was over.
It was all over by the middle of July. It was over because the RPF simply got
the upper hand and drove them out.
During those months of late April and May, you personally had to stand by
and watch a genocide unfolding, and were told to do nothing about it. How do
you feel about that personally?
We were all horrified by what was going on the ground. We felt impotent to stop
it. We were deeply distressed, yes, but again I must insist that what you are
saying is that we should have saved Rwanda from itself, in the words of the
secretary-general--it was Rwandese who planned the genocide, it was Rwandese
who carried it out. It was Rwandese who, sadly, were the victims. We happened
to be there on a peacekeeping mandate. Our mandate was not to anticipate and
prevent genocide. Our people on the ground, as I said, they are lightly
equipped troops under a very courageous commander did what they could. They did
the best they could. They saved lives. When the killing actually started, they
could not save every life in Rwanda.
Could they have saved more?
Given what they had, I do not believe so. It comes back to political will. If
the political will is there, yes, anything can be done. If the political will
is there, troops, APCs and tanks can be airlifted in a matter of two days. This
is not to criticize the Security Council. It is understandable that after what
had happened just a few months before in Somalia, there was no will to take on
another such risk and have more casualties.