Why the United Nations looked away as millions of people were maimed, killed

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
As the world mourns Kofi Annan, a close scrutiny of the biggest conflicts of his time, wearing his lenses, offer some insights into why he and United Nations did nothing as millions were killed and maimed in the deadly global theaters.

Although Annan explains in his memoirs, Interventions, of the UN and the international community had no deep expertise on the country because at the time UN operated on “limited knowledge,” when the enormity of the killings in Rwanda became evident, no one came to Rwanda’s rescue.

He recalls how even after 200,000 people had been killed by government forces, efforts to raise basic military equipment and personnel proved futile for only eight personnel carriers were available and some of them were not serviceable.

So dire was the situation on the ground that no country was willing to offer an 800 self-contained battalion leaving Belgium with a force of 398 troops some of whom had just arrived in Rwanda, the largest contributor to the peace keeping mission.

Despite this inertia, the world pretended to be shocked when 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, after refusing to intervene, leaving a rebel group, Rwandese Patriotic Forces to drive out the government killer gangs.

In May 1998, Annan says he came face to face with his failure when he and his wife visited the country, in his capacity as UN secretary General when after his address to the country, the country’s leadership boycotted the reception, accusing him of insulting the Rwandan people.

Strongmen exterminated

In his speech, he had said that the horror came from within, rejecting the premise that the UN and the international community were solely culpable and were the prime perpetrator of the genocide. 

The UN’s inactivity in Rwanda, Annan explains had been caused by the debacle which had been witnessed in Somalia after United States which had tried to disarm a warlord General Farrah Aidid.

The UN secretary General at the time, Boutros Boutros-Gali had secretly allowed the US to conduct an operation of arresting Aidid.

Things went awry after the US hijacked the peace keeping mission UNOSOM  (United Nations Mission in Somalia)  and deployed Rangers, Delta Force and Navy Seals in a botched operation that saw two US helicopters shot, 18 soldiers killed and scores injured.

And when the pictures of bodies of the American soldiers were broadcast, Americans were outraged and demanded the immediate withdrawal of US troops in Somalia.

From that moment, “the world abandoned Somalia, allowing it to create for the world whole new forms of civil chaos and human suffering” and the international community only took notice after the country became a cradle of terrorists and pirates.

According to Annan, things degenerated after UNOSOM was distracted from battling the various factions that had exposed millions to starvation and death and attempted to disarm one warlord, with disastrous results.

The consequences was withdrawal of US troops weakening the peace keeping mission, and a declaration by President Bill Clinton that never again would American soldiers be put in harms.

He gives insights of how the world again failed South Sudan where thousands were massacred by government sponsored Janjaweed fighters while, President Omar al-Bashir took the UN round in circles denying there was trouble in the region as he kept peacekeepers out if his country. As the killings went on unabated, the UN Security Council members were debating whether the proportions of the deaths and suffering could be described as a genocide.

“In the end, it almost took four years of continued mass rape, mutilation, slaughter and deaths of hundreds of thousands to exposure to disease and malnutrition ...before the Security Council issued anything resembling  a serious response and dispatched  international troops to Darfur,” Annan says.

At first, America appeared concerned about the the killings and Colin Powell, the Secretary of State was the first to refer to the killings as genocide but even after this, he declared that the US policy would not change to support deployment of troops in a peace keeping mission.

In the meantime, the Security Council formed a commission of inquiry to investigate whether the conflict in Darfur was a genocide and the verdict was not helpful either for the commission led by Italian judge Antonio Cassette concluded that technically this could not be classified as such, even though there was evidence that major crimes had been committed

“The label genocide was irrelevant to the fact that hundreds of thousands were suffering in Darfur but as a result of the obsession with the word as if only genocide could signify an evil worthy of our collective horror , the debate about what action  should be taken was delayed further,”  he opines.

According to Annan, the policy of not using force to keep peace, gave warlords opportunities as strongmen exterminated hundreds of thousands and displaced millions in their diabolical schemes of ethnic cleansing. 

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Kofi AnnanUnited NationsRwanda Genocide