photo of gambariGhosts of Rwanda
ibrahim gambari

He was Nigeria's ambassador to the U.N. and at the time of the genocide was a non-permanent member of the Security Council. In this interview, he talks about the institutional pressures of the U.N., especially for consensus on decisions, and he explains that was a main reason for his vote to drastically reduce General Dallaire's U.N. forces as the killing grew. "Why did we -- including the three African members -- vote in favor of this resolution? In our hearts, we knew that it was not the right thing to do. … But it was the least bad of all the [options] before us." This interview was conducted on Jan. 15, 2004.

When you took your country's seat on the Security Council in January 1994, did you get briefings from the Secretariat about the various peacekeeping missions? If so, how was [Rwanda] presented to you?

It was not very systematic briefing. The non-permanent members of the Security Council often [were] regarded like guests, because they're only there for two years. You have, of course, the five permanent members. So you try to get the best briefing that you can from other colleagues. I must say, in this respect that the U.S. mission -- at that time led by Madeleine Albright -- invited the five new non-permanent members of the Security Council to, I believe, her residence. She does this the December before this newly elected members come on board.

Here was a matter in which the Security Council even sent a peacekeeping operation. Then, when the worst happened, the Security Council sadly let the people of Rwanda down, big time.  But we hope that this will not happen again; not only anywhere in Africa, but anywhere in the world.

She briefed us on a number of issues of interest to the United States, all the major issues. Of course, Rwanda at that point was not high on her list of priorities. At that time, don't forget, there was still Iraq and [the] Middle East and other issues before the Security Council. So I would not say that we had a systematic briefing by the Secretariat on many of the issues.

In many ways, you learn on the job. But having said that, we have somebody called the NAM Caucus -- the Non-Aligned Members Caucus -- of the Security Council. At that time, there was about six or seven of us, which was significant, because it meant that, with the non-aligned members of the council, plus China-- There's a sizeable bloc of countries that are needed for a resolution to pass. So we consorted amongst ourselves quite regularly, and we share experiences and exchange notes.

In January, when you first came on, what was your own personal awareness of Rwanda and the U.N. mission in Rwanda?

I must say it wasn't high, because, again, as the ambassador of Nigeria, I operated from the point of view of like concentric circles of interests and concerns. So for me coming on to the Security Council in January, who are looking at the situation in West Africa, principally Liberia, which was [a crisis] to a lesser extent, we could see the beginnings of problems in Rwanda. So I was really more focused on Somalia, because there was, at that time, the prospect of a peacekeeping mission, and my country was actually approached to contribute troops.

As you know, Nigeria, even though it's a mid-sized country, does contribute [a] significant amount of troops to a variety of United Nations peacekeeping forces. So I must say, in January, it wasn't high up on my own or my delegation's own priority, that is, Rwanda. But as time went by, it became clear that this is an issue that could not be ducked.

Because I've heard a lot of U.S. officials say, "Look, Rwanda just wasn't important to us." Am I hearing you correctly that, even for a lot of African countries … when they look at their own national interests, [the crisis in Rwanda] wasn't a particularly important strategic country within Africa?

There wasn't [a lot of interest], certainly not in January. But the rumblings were there. Don't forget, the [situation] was [not good] in terms of the cycle of killings and counter-killings in Rwanda, as well as in Burundi, over the years. So we knew that it was an issue that the council would have to address. Interestingly enough, too, the ambassador of Rwanda was elected, along with Nigeria, as the new members of the council by the time we began in January 1994.

There's been a lot made in some reporting of the fax that General Dallaire sent, warning of some killings being planned, and saying he intended to seize some arms caches in the middle of January. …

… I was not present if such a brief were given. Having said that … it really was not important whether or not such a brief was given, because even for non-permanent members like ourselves, we knew that something terrible was about to happen. We didn't know the dimension, [but we thought], not only at the moment that plane was shot down and the president of Rwanda was killed, and the killing of the Belgian peacekeepers, it was quite clear that [a] tragedy was about to happen.

Before the plane went down, you had a sense that there was trouble brewing. Where did you get that?

There was no forward movement in the implementation of the Arusha accord. As I mentioned, this cycle of ethnic violence that takes these dreadful dimensions was there in [the] very recent history of Rwanda. So that's why we all knew, by February [or] March, that all was not well. But exactly what will ignite this terrible situation and convert it into a tragedy, we couldn't foresee. Certainly nobody foresaw the scale of the tragedy and the scale of the genocide, and that it happened so quickly and it affected so many people.

There was a diplomatic effort to try to make the Arusha accords move forward. One of the points of reference that was used by the American officials who went to Rwanda in March 1993 was saying … "Look, if you don't reach an agreement and implement this agreement, the U.N.'s going to pull out."…

When a mandate is up for renewal, it's nothing new [to those] who have influence with the parties [to] try to impress upon them that one of the quid pro quo of the maintenance of the peacekeeping operation -- as a matter of fact, to expand it -- is subject to the good behavior of the parties, [which is] standard operational procedure. There's nothing extraordinary about it, in my view. But it's just that the more the situation became desperate, and some of us began to wave the red flag, what was distressing is the fact that we didn't get much hearing.

Don't forget, we are non-permanent members of the council. We don't have special, at that time, privileges in the Secretariat, unlike some big powers whose citizens are heads of major U.N. departments [and] thought, of course, they are supposed to be international civil servants; and for the most part, they are. There were no special privileges [for us]. There were no embassies in Rwanda, so [for] those of us [who] had no embassy in Rwanda, there [is] no privileged access to documentation in the Secretariat.

Nonetheless, sharing experiences, particularly within this non-aligned movement-- There's really no excuse for anyone not to know that something awful was about to happen.

What were you doing to raise the red flag?

The operation of the council at that time was [that] we had the non-aligned [group]. When the issues come for discussion routinely to the council, we make statements [as a group]. We were drawing attention to the fact that we don't know the scale. But in the private closed sessions of the council, we were saying, "Something is not quite right here; something terrible is going on. We don't know the full dimension, but it's something that we must watch very closely." That is why I wish sometimes that [we had] the documentation for the closed session of the council on critical issues like this that have become really of tremendous interest, and have consequences for international peace and security.

When we are talking about genocide, this is not a regular matter. There is an international convention against genocide. There's a responsibility on the part of the big powers to do something about genocide. But I wish such records were made available, because then you will have seen what some of the smaller countries tried to do to draw attention to the gravity of the situation.

This [is] before April 6?

Yes, before April 6.

What was the reaction that you met?

The big boys were not engaged in the matter seriously enough, because when the full scale of the tragedy became evident, they still were not willing to do something dramatic. [When] the genocide actually started, there was no preparedness. There was no [urge] to fly planes and to do something spectacular to try to stop it.

As a matter of fact, we had great difficulties persuading our colleagues to allow us to us to use the word "genocide." We are not talking about [before] the genocide. When the genocide already began, they said "acts of genocide may have been committed." So you can imagine that there was little interest or engagement prior to April 6 on the part of the most powerful.

So when the plane went down [carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi], and the Belgians were killed, things happened very quickly in those first few days. General Dallaire [made sure] a lot of reporting [was] coming back. The reporting was, even [within] the New York State Department [of State], chaos [and] targeted killings, but no one really was anticipating anything wide-scale. They thought it was chaos and a possible coup, but nothing like what we know happened. What kind of information were you getting from the Secretariat in those first few days?

Well, the Secretariat's concern was about the integrity of the mission, and they were concerned that once countries began to leave -- the Belgians left, then the Bangladeshis were out of there -- it was kind of like losing control. It's supposed to be a peacekeeping mission, and the headquarters was losing control. So [we didn't know] easily how to put some order and some management into this very chaotic situation. If you ask me personally -- and I've said this on record -- it was a big mistake to begin with to have put the Belgians in the United Nations mission, because they were not perceived as impartial parties in this conflict.

The moment [10] of their peacekeepers were killed, not only did they withdraw their troops, but there are two consequences that are serious. One is that their operations, the logistics support was the backbone of the [force], which is not a big force -- 3,000 [or] so plus. But they were the backbone, so they left, not only with the personnel, but with the logistic backbone. That's number one.

Two, in order to convince their own public that the withdrawal was the right response, they went all out to persuade everybody else to leave, so as to ensure that the mission collapsed. So to refer to the Secretariat and the Peacekeeping Department, they were just trying to get a handle on a situation that seems to be getting out of hand. These are the people who were supposed to help keep the peace, and the mission was disintegrating, in their eyes.

Now that was the situation that we saw, and [we had] several meetings, I believe, between the NAM and some representative of the [U.N. Peacekeeping Department], just to let us know how serious the situation is, and virtually elicited a response from us -- "What do you intend to do about this?" Then we say, "Well, it's not up to us what we do about it. The secretary-general has to bring a report to [the] council because, as you know, the Security Council does not take decision in abstracts. [They] usually base it on a report of the secretary-general of what is happening, because many members of the council [do not] have embassies. And even if they do, this will [come down to] individual embassy reports."

But a secretary-general's report [is given] to [the] council, and gives us his appreciation of the situation and the options, which the secretary-general subsequently did. It was [on] the basis of those options that he gave us that we took this awful decision to go along with-- … They gave three options.

You recall one option is the massive introduction of new troops; the Somali-type operation was one of them. The second option was [a] total withdrawal, and just to cut and run. The third option was to temporarily reduce the size of [the force], with a view to returning to the either previous number, an optimum number, when the situation became more conducive [to do so.] I mean, two of these are paper options. The Security Council went along with the option of reducing the [force].

But as I said, that is a decision that, in hindsight, I sincerely wish that the Nigerian delegation should have either voted against or abstained, as it did subsequently when the French sponsored a resolution and Nigeria abstained -- just to make the point that, where were the French and everybody else when they were so badly needed to strengthen [the force?.

Now suddenly they came up with these proposals, which the Security Council endorsed. But as I characterize that decision, I called it -- and I recall very well -- I called it a reluctant decision by a divided council, because five countries abstained, including ours. I wish we had abstained in that earlier resolution, or voted against, to make the point that that was really not the best response. It was the most convenient response, but not the best response when we are talking about a genocide.

Do you remember being in the council when Ambassador Albright put forward the American position? This is right after the Belgians had been killed that weekend. But she put forward the position that the U.S. wanted total withdrawal of the embassy.

I don't recall it, but it couldn't have gotten support at all, and the secretary-general was not in a position to actually recommend [it]. I think what was missing also, in the secretary-general's [case], was when they pushed three options [and was to say] which option did he prefer?

… I think that [the U.S.] proposal -- whether it was formulated, I don't recall -- would not have got support of either the secretary-general himself [or] the large majority of the members of the council, because even those who voted [for] the only realistic option of the three that [were] given, did so in sorrow, rather than with any degree of happiness.

Why do you think the secretary-general put forward two [of] what you call "paper options?" … What should he have done?

I would have expected him [to], and as I said [we had] the option of [a] Somali-type operation, which in the context of what happened [in Somalia], was very, very unlikely, [because] where are you going to find that number of troops urgently? So that [was] out. Of course, he could also not have recommended that [the] United Nations [leave], because we the Africans will have [cried] foul, to say, "Ah ha. So because this is happening in Africa, you will abandon the whole people completely?"

In any case, the United Nation's charter says the Security Council [had the] primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security all over the world.

… What I thought he would have done was to explain a further option, which is to try to slow down the disintegration of these [forces] and to try to get some countries with the means to quickly send troops, [but] not in the Somali size. As Dallaire said, "Five thousand troops with [a] robust mandate could have made a lot of difference."

In this regard, let me mention that the Ghanaian battalion was technically in violation of that Security Council decision, and went to the stadium and saved thousands of lives. One battalion. So I can imagine if you have some quickly deployable battalion, a couple of battalions, or three battalions, with the capability to fly them in with a robust mandate-- That was an option which was never represented to the Security Council.

In Madeleine Albright's book, she talks about arguments that you made in the Security Council that she found very persuasive. She was talking about your arguments in the context of the U.S. position she put forward, which was before Boutros-Ghali's three options.This was [when] the U.S. came forward and said, "We support a total withdrawal." This is a week after the genocide. Do you remember her putting that case forward for total withdrawal? What was the reaction within the council, both formally and in the corridors?

I don't think it was really formally presented as a proposal. But I think she was having notice that the United States was not in the mood to have a robust presence. On the contrary, they felt this was a mess, and the best thing is not to pretend to mend it and to just leave, and that the force on the ground were not capable of doing anything about it. I think that may have been the reasoning, and clearly that was fairly well known by members of the council.

But even in our informal consultation at the closed session of the council-- I was not just speaking, by the way, on behalf of Nigeria. I was at that time the chair of the NAM. I had the full backing of my colleagues to argue on the contrary -- that we must forget about cutting and running, that it would be callous [and] it would be contradictory to the spirit of the charter, which says [the] Security Council has a responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security everywhere in the world, including Africa. The more desperate the situation, the more compelling the reason to try to do something to try to arrest it.

I think, in the end, the council found those arguments persuasive. But what the council -- also in hindsight -- did not do is to put a fourth option before itself following Mr. Boutros-Ghali's three options.

The fourth option is what I've described, to try to get some rapid reaction force -- not very big, not to prevent genocide, but [to] save lives -- because the Ghanaian battalion shows that it was possible. General Dallaire also argued -- persuasively, in my view -- that 5,000 troops with robust mandate could have done a lot to save lives. … It is true that, even though we had reservations for [increasing the troop levels], still that operation did save some lives. But imagine if that were available as an option in April. I think a lot more lives could also have been saved.

The peacekeepers there saved a lot of lives. When you made those points on behalf of the [NAM], do you remember what Ambassador Albright's reaction was?

I have a lot of respect for Madeleine Albright. In subsequent events and [in] high office, she knew that the position of her government was missing the point and was not appropriate. But she had her instructions, and subsequently I found out she tried to argue with Washington to give her more flexibility in terms of her instructing.

The very fact that they went along with this option three, [which was to] draw down [the force] with the prospect of a future return to full strength or even beyond, shows that she must have found some room.

But meanwhile, a lot of lives were lost. That's the point. In May 1994, when I was now privileged as president of the Security Council to push for a real return to the original fourth level of [international forces] and beyond -- which we succeeded in getting -- it shows that it could be done. But, of course, it was one month -- and literally thousands of lives -- too late. The United States went along with that new decision in May to get [another] 5,000. Of course, we had other problems, but that's another issue. …

As the resolution was being put together for UNAMIR 2, these were some of the busiest weeks of killing. So I've heard people describe UNAMIR 2 as sort of like saving the horse after the barn has been burnt down. How important was UNAMIR 2?

We didn't know that this madness and the genocide is the worst kind of madness; you couldn't know that it may recur, even though a lot of the RPF [were in] the process of taking control. But the Hutus and those who perpetrated this atrocity were not very far away, and they were never [to] reconcile for months. Some people will say even until now they are looking for an opportunity to, in their view, finish the genocide, to finish what they did not finish in April. So there's no way we could know; we just felt we [had made] a disastrous decision.

[It] may have been expedient in April, this decision to draw down [the international force]. But there's an opportunity for [the] council to try to redeem itself and also see if it could prevent [more killings], in case there is any attempt to try to finish the job that was not completed in the view of the genocidaire. So I think [that] was at the back of our mind. In any case, for me, as the ambassador of Nigeria and for NAM, we just want to quickly try to address what we believed in hindsight to have been a very big mistake.

So when did you and other members of the council realize that this decision to vote for the 270 drawdown was a mistake? Was it the week after, or when you saw the bodies flowing down the river? What changed people's perception then?

Well, you're right [about] the bodies. But I must say that almost immediately, [when] we voted out that resolution, some of us [knew] that was a very bad mistake. I think this is one issue that should be examined in more detail. Why did we -- including the three African members -- vote in favor of this resolution? In our hearts, we knew that it was not the right thing to do.

There are several reasons, in my view. One is that [the] secretary-general's reports are usually extremely persuasive to the members of council. [We] want to give the secretary-general the benefit of the doubt; he is the chief executive, and it's the decision that is usually based on his recommendation. We really don't want to go outside his option, by and large, and [the option of the] many members who have the capacity for an independent analysis.

The second is that this was [a time] when there was a feeling that the Security Council should return to the wish of the founding fathers, which is that the [council] should act in a spirit of unanimity; that on major issues, the Security Council should act with not so many [votes] against and vetoes. [From] 1990 to that time, maybe there [was] not a single veto cast in the Security Council.

So the pressure for consensus was extremely high, and that pressure bears very heavily usually on non-permanent members of the Security Council. But I think this is something that we ought to look at. Why did the African countries themselves, who are members of the council -- including Nigeria, that had clout among the Africans -- support this resolution which, by the time we voted for it, we knew that it was not the right thing to do?

As a matter of fact, if you look at the explanation of votes by Nigeria and others -- and it's something that I recommend [you] have a look at -- if you look at the explanation of vote before the vote or after, what we should have voted for was "abstain" or "against." So there is a disconnect between our reasoning, and this conformity to this pressure to have a Security Council consensus on a matter as grave as a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Also, we have be mindful of the safety and welfare of the United Nations' peacekeepers, and the point being made was that, by not acting, we might be endangering the welfare of the troops. There's also this idea that maybe a bad decision is better than no decision at all, because the bad decision is rectifiable. But if there's is no decision, then what is the status of these U.N. peacekeeping operation personnel -- some of who have begun to leave on their own? So for many reasons, that was a decision that, at the point that it was taken, some of us were not very comfortable with. But it was the least bad of all the [options] before us.

It was really the thought of persisting, of putting pressure on?

For sure. Please don't underestimate this pressure to go along; this pressure to respect the wishes of the secretary-general; this pressure to go along [with] the recommendation of the Secretariat; this pressure on the part of the big powers and the permanent members to not to seem as if they are isolated. It's also about, the more a decision [is supported], the more legitimate that decision. Even if it's a decision that is pushed by one or more of the permanent members, it still needs that broad support to confer legitimacy on their decision.

When you became president of the council in May, [what were] your appealing words?

[The current situation was] a reflection of the fact that it was a very bad mistake, and it put the Security Council in a very bad light. … "Let us see what we can do to rectify it and to restore the respectability of the council and of ourselves as African members of the Security Council," because we came under tremendous criticism, which in my view [was] quite valid -- "Why did you guys support this resolution?" We recognize we couldn't have stopped it, but at least we could have made the point that this was not a good decision.

And during all this, Rwanda was on the council?

Rwanda was on the council, which was not really as big a complicating factor as many people now have made it to be, because the ambassador's situation was precarious. The legitimacy of the seat was in doubt. It never stopped members of the council from saying very rude things about the ambassador and his government to his face, both in private meetings and public meetings. So it was unfortunate, but it was not really an obstacle to anything as some people tend to make it, to say, "We couldn't have taken another [position], because the ambassador of Rwanda was in the seat." In the end, of course, that seat was vacant, I think, for more than six months, if not more, and nobody felt there was [a] difference.

Just ask him to leave?

I think there is not [a] constitutional way to do it, I guess because-- Don't forget that you are elected by two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly. So I think the process, maybe you have to go back to the General Assembly to ask it to change its decision. That would be a bit cumbersome. But it was never as big an obstacle as people who did not want to act later on tried to rationalize it by, by saying, "Yes, the ambassador was there; it was an embarrassment to himself; it was an embarrassment to his country and, frankly speaking, his presence was an embarrassment to us, the African members of the council," because as you know, there has to [be] three African members in the council at any one time.

… Would [you] mention the impact of … the peacekeeping directive [PDD-25] that came out of Washington in May 1994? Do you remember if that had an impact on the council?

Well, it had an impact on the behavior of the American delegation. … The peacekeeping directive, which was the result of a policy decision taken by the Americans, was articulated formally and informally by the American delegation, and of course the other members of the council have to take note of it. If I recall well, what it was saying is that [it] put a brake on authorization of new missions. If you compare between 1990 and 1994, there are more U.N. peacekeeping operations authorized [then] than in the previous 45-year history of the United Nations.

The brake was after the experience of Somalia -- that the mandate should be clear, the resources should be clear, and the exit strategy should also be fairly clear. … It's not as if we all carry these document in our pockets, or that it was put in our face every time. But you have to be mindful of this.

But as the council was trying to reach an agreement on UNAMIR 2, … there was a lot of discussion and argument back and forth between the U.S. and the Pentagon, and the [Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission] and the Secretariat. What was going on there?

In the context of putting a brake on authorizing new missions and getting Congress involved, … all of that was going on. … But as we saw, it's one thing to authorize, and it's another to actually get the troops in.

One of my favorite examples is Zambian advance team that was supposed to go for UNAMIR 2 -- that didn't get there until seven months after the authorization of UNAMIR 2. So the logistic support was not there; the interest was not there. The Africans volunteered troops, but the issue is not whether the Africans will actually come forward and provide troops. It's just that they don't have the logistic support to move the troops and to support them while there, and also not to mention some of the deficiencies in training sall those battalions that are sent to serve in a peacekeeping operation, with some exceptions of countries like Ghana [and] Nigeria that have a bit more experience than the others.

I interviewed Michael Sheehan who was an assistant to Madeleine Albright then. He didn't mention you specifically, but he said that, when he was characterizing the debates in the Security Council, the private debates, particularly in the month of April [1994] and even into May, he said, "A lot of what was being said was sanctimonious grandstanding -- countries saying [that] you've got to do something, but none of them were willing to put up troops, even those that had the capability to do [so]." He was particularly incensed by countries that didn't have the capability of putting troops into Rwanda telling the U.S. that they should take a tougher line, because he thought it was an easy argument to make for countries, presumably, like Nigeria.

First of all, it's not true. Nigeria sent troops to Bosnia in my time as ambassador of Nigeria. We sent troops to Somalia. By the way, about 17 Nigerian soldiers were killed in Somalia. Nobody mentions any of that. We sent troops to Cambodia. I think Nigeria at that time was a peacekeeping nation, and [would] have contributed troops if asked. But that was not the argument. The argument [was] the Security Council had to take its responsibility. It's not Nigeria's responsibility. We didn't say so. The charter says "The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security everywhere."

So we were asking the council to meet its own obligations. Once a decision is made, then it is secondary who comes forward to contribute troops. So it's I think it would be unfortunate to characterize those arguments as sanctimonious, or by people who did not have the will nor the capacity to contribute troops. [There are] peacekeeping operations going on even as we speak, and they still have contributions from a variety of countries all over the world.

I guess if he was here, he may ask, why didn't Nigeria go into Rwanda?

Because it didn't have the capability for airlifting and to do it in a quick manner. But it was never asked. Nobody actually says, "I want to volunteer troops for a non-existent U.N. mission." … It's only now that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) has been transformed into an African Union, and they are now going to establish a peace and security council and they're developing a capability for peace missions. But all of that didn't exist. …

There's a procedure. [The] Security Council [has] to authorize a mission, then ask for troops. But those countries that could act without waiting for Security Council resolution [did] not include African countries, because they don't have the airlifts or rapid reaction capability.

Were you aware of discussions going on at the beginning of May-- Vice President Gore went to Mandela's inauguration. People who were at the National Security Council at the White House at the time said that there was a plan put forward both there and also here to support an African intervention force, and that the U.S. government and the Pentagon were going to offer the very thing that you're saying that you need -- logistical support, airlift capability -- and that simply there were no takers. Nobody stepped up.

I would have been very surprised, because it was precisely at that-- Well, in that case I was there in another capacity, in fact, two capacities. I was there as the president of the Security Council, to represent the Security Council at the inauguration and to give a letter of commendation and congratulation to Mandela. I was also the chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid, and I was there when Salim [Ahmed] Salim, who was then the secretary-general of the OAU, was asking the African countries to contribute troops to a UNAMIR 2 or any such arrangement.

And they did. So I don't know where that argument is coming from, frankly. But in any case, the fundamental question is when the Security Council should have acted, and a big part of the responsibility under the international convention against genocide. They decided not to act.

When I talked to General [Henry] Anyidoho, who was deputy force commander [of UNAMIR], … he thinks that it had a lot to do with the fact that it was Africa, and it wasn't a priority. And [he thinks] there was racism involved, as an African on the council, seeing this process at work.

No, I would take a different view. It's just that Africa was not a priority of the big powers except in a very secondary manner -- humanitarian assistance. But in terms of high on the political agenda, it was not there, and there was no domestic constituency to make it so. But don't forget, these governments [consist of] politicians, and they look at what is the political payoff.

Secondly, I think what may have been responsible is what happened in Somalia, and the reluctance of the Americans to commit troops again [and suffer] the same consequences. I mean, one was bad enough, but a repetition would be disastrous, at least domestically [and] politically. So I think it was a combination of factors. But I wouldn't say it's outright racism on the parts of the Security Council or on the part of the more powerful members.

If we look towards the future, how can we prevent this kind of thing [from happening again?]

It's what the Africans themselves are doing. I make the argument, not as a U.N. official now, [but] as an African who has been involved in the public life of my country for now about 20 years. But until the Africans made the wealth of their people their [priority], the rest of the world is not likely to make Africa their [priority]. So when you have something like NPAD -- the New Partnership for African Development -- which says, "We the Africans are going to take responsibility for the definition of our priorities and our problems and for resolving [them], and who are going to hold ourselves accountable for how we treat our own people," I think that is a step in the right direction.

Secondly, we are the African Union. There's a developing capability for intervention of this kind. I think that is also a step in the right direction. Thirdly, the Africans now [say], "If you change your government other than by constitutional means, as a country, you will not be welcome into the membership of the African Union."

Imagine that's a step higher than the U.N. The U.N. is now in a position to say that these are small steps [by the African Union], and then the rest of the world, in a spirit of partnership, can then help the Africans to help themselves, particularly in those areas in which they are more deficient, which is logistic support [and] airlift capability. So the Africans themselves will be the first line of defense of prevention for these kind of very tragic acts.

Having said that thought, I will still insist, as an African, that the Security Council has special responsibility for maintenance of peace and security all over the world, including Africa. It cannot [balk] when it comes to Africa, because that's a charter responsibility. That is why five members are permanent members with vetoes. They have elected to play special role within this primary responsibility, and it cannot be ducked, in my view.

But the Africans themselves should take the lead in defining their problem, [establishing] their priorities, and trying to prevent the kind of abuse against the issues of human rights of their own people that leads to this kind of genocidal activities that we've witnessed, which I hope will be never [happen] again. But I wish I can be sure that you can say, "Never again." I'm not so sure. I hope so.

A lot of people cast the blame at the U.N. or the U.S. or France [for the genocide]. Does Africa share some of the responsibility?

I think so. I think Africa should have done a lot more. They tried [with] the Arusha [accords]. They tried to make a political area, because up until today, if you look at areas where the U.N. [went] to establish peacekeeping operations, it's the Africans that obtain the political agreement and create the conditions for peace that the United Nations now try to keep through these peacekeeping operations.

They did that in Sierra Leone. … In Liberia, they arranged for Castello to leave, and also put some political arrangement such that the U.N. is now going to send 15,000 troops to Liberia, which is going to be the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world. They did the same thing for Angola. [The] Democratic Republic of Congo [had] the Lusaka agreement.

So the Africans have always come forward to try to have a political settlement, or at least the basis for political settlement. What they lack is the peacekeeping capabilities, and these, of course, they can get here from outside. So I don't think we can absolve the Africans. ut at the same time, here is a matter that was before the Security Council. Here was a matter in which the Security Council is engaged, and even sent a peacekeeping operation [to]. Then, when the worst happened, the Security Council really sadly let the people of Rwanda down, big time.

But we hope that this will not happen again; not only anywhere in Africa, but anywhere in the world.

Are you a part of that?

Oh, yes. As I said, looking back, I am gratified that nonetheless we did sound all the alarm bells. We did draw attention to what was going wrong, and we did say that this was not the best decision. I regretted that we didn't abstain or vote against it -- even symbolically -- that resolution. When we had the first opportunity as president of the Security Council, we really push hard to revise that, and [we] succeeded. But as I said, I wish we had been more successful in April than we were in May 1994.

We talked about Africa, and [said], "Never again." [But when] we look at state-sponsored genocide and mass killings, people often count four in the twentieth century: Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda. Only one of those is in Africa. So it's not an African problem; it's a human problem. Just looking at genocide when it happens again somewhere in this world, how much confidence do you have that this institution, the international community system, would respond any differently the next time?

I wish I could say I'm very confident. I cannot, but I can also say that there is a cumulative effect. We've seen genocide in the 1940s in Europe. We've seen Cambodia; we've seen elsewhere. We've seen in Rwanda. The thing about Rwanda is just that, within a month or so, the number of people killed, and the most primitive way in which they were killed, before our very eyes, [was powerful]. We hope that what we have seen will cumulatively stiffen the backbones of the most powerful -- those who have the means to stop it -- to act faster and much more appropriately in the future. And who knows in the future?

What's your gut feeling?

I'm not confident that it will happen. But I sincerely pray and hope that it will happen, that we'll be able to [prevent it] -- the big powers, those who have the means; and also to have the responsibility [in] that the U.N. charter and in the International Convention for the Prevention of Genocide will live up to their responsibilities.

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posted april 1, 2004

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