By Mark Curtis
An edited extract from Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World
In the hundreds of media articles on the 1994 Rwanda genocide, there is barely a mention of Britain being a permanent member of the UN security council and in any way responsible for what happened. I recounted Britain’s role in my previous book, The Great Deception, so I will not repeat everything here. Since then, however, another book, by Linda Melvern, an investigative journalist, confirms the quite terrible British, and US, role.
After the killings began in early April 1994, the UN security council, instead of beefing up it’s peace mission in the country and giving it a stronger mandate to intervene, decided to reduce the troop presence from 2,500 to 270. This decision sent a green light to those who had planned the genocide that the UN would not intervene. A small UN military force arrived merely to rescue expats, and then left. Belgium’s senior army officer in the UN peace mission believed that if this force had not been pulled out, the killing could have been stopped. Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the UN force in Rwanda, later said that this evacuation showed “inexcusable apathy by the sovereign states that made up the UN, that is completely beyond comprehension and moral acceptability”.
It was Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Sir David Hannay, who proposed that the UN pull out its force; the US agreed. According to Melvern, it was left to the Nigerian ambassador, Ibrhaim Gambari, to point out that tens of thousands of civilians were dying at the time. Gambari also pleaded with the security council to reinforce the UN presence. But the US objected and Britain agreed, suggesting only to leave behind a token force, which became the 270 personnel.
On the security council at the time sat – by chance – Rwanda, as one of the ten non-permanent members. So British and US indifference and their policy of reducing the UN force, as expressed in the security council, was reported back to those directing the genocide in Rwanda. Melvern notes that “confident of no significant international opposition, it was decided to push ahead with further ‘pacification’ in the south” of the country. This led to tens of thousands more murders.
Romeo Dallaire, who had pleaded for reinforcements, complained that:
“My force was standing knee deep in mutilated bodies, surrounded by the guttural moans of dying people, looking into the eyes of dying children bleeding to death with their wounds burning in the sun and being invaded by maggots and flies. I found myself walking through villages where the only sign of life was a goat, or a chicken, or a songbird, as all the people were dead, their bodies being eaten by voracious packs of wild dogs”.
By May, with certainly tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands already dead, there was another UN proposal – to despatch 5,500 troops to help stop the massacres. This deployment was delayed by pressure mainly from the US ambassador, but with strong support from Britain. Dallaire believes that if these troops had been speadily deployed, tens of thousands more lives could have been saved. But the US and the British argued that before these troops went in, there needed to be a ceasefire in Rwanda, a quite insane suggestion given that one side was massacring innocent civilians. The US also ensured that this plan was watered down so that troops would have no mandate to use force to end the massacres.
Britain and the US also refused to provide the military airlift capability for the African states that were offering troops for this force. The RAF, for example, had plenty of transport aircraft that could have been deployed. Eventually, with delays continuing and thousands being killed by the day, Britain offered a measly 50 trucks. Lynda Chalker, then minister for overseas development, visited Dallaire in Rwanda in July. He gave her his list of requirements at the same time as noting that “I was up to my knees in bodies by then”. The 50 trucks had still not yet materialised. But later, on BBC2’s Newsnight, Chalker blamed Dallaire’s lack of resources on “the UN” which “ought to get its procurement right”.