Press conference on Report of Rwanda inquiry team

A lack of resources and a lack of the commitment necessary to prevent genocide constituted the "overriding failure" behind what happened in Rwanda in 1994, correspondents were told at a Headquarters news conference today.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was "slow to be set up, suffered from administrative difficulties and lacked sufficient troops and equipment", said Ingvar Carlsson, the Chairman of the independent inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide. The report of the inquiry has just been released.

Mr. Carlsson said he and his two colleagues, Han Sung-Joo of the Republic of Korea and General Rufus Kupolati of Nigeria, had spent some six months conducting the inquiry and interviewed more than 100 people - including survivors, witnesses and government officials in Rwanda itself, Tanzania, Brussels, Paris, New York and Washington, D.C.

They had had full access to United Nations archives, he said, including all the relevant cable traffic, but had not seen national government papers. They had not been able to interview the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, her country's Permanent Representative at the United Nations at the time of the genocide, but had talked to other senior United States officials who were familiar with their Government's actions, Mr. Carlsson said.

"There was a serious gap between the mandate and the political realities of Rwanda, and between the mandate and the resources dedicated to it", Mr. Carlsson said.

"The Mission was not functioning as a cohesive whole when the genocide started - there was a lack of coordination and discipline", Mr. Carlsson added, but individual United Nations personnel "risked their lives" to save civilians and political leaders.

There were also "organizational problems" in the Secretariat in New York, he said. He also drew attention to certain States, "including my own country" [Sweden], who turned their backs on Rwanda altogether.

It would "always be difficult to explain" why the United Nations decided to reduce its peacekeeping troop presence in Rwanda once the genocide had started, and increase it again only once it was over, Mr. Carlsson told journalists.

The responsibility spread out to include the Secretary-General, the Security Council, UNAMIR and Member States, he said, adding that an "action plan" intended to prevent genocide in the future would have to include a clear statement that "without adequate resources there will be no peacekeeping".

The members of the inquiry team were asked several questions about an 11 January cable which UNAMIR Force Commander Brigadier-General Romeo Dallaire had sent to New York. The report says the cable features prominently in discussions about what information was available to the United Nations about the risk of genocide.

Mr. Carlsson said the cable contained "very important information - most of which turned out to be correct. This cable was so important that it should have been shared with the Secretary-General and the Security Council as a whole. The serious mistake with the cable was the follow-up".

However, he added, the Secretariat could not be blamed for failing to instruct the Rwandan Mission to search for reported weapons caches. That had not been within the Mission's mandate, which had anyway been reduced by the Security Council.

General Kupolati added that it was not true to say the Secretariat had ignored the cable. "Within a period of 24 hours there were four further cables between the Secretariat and Kigali", he said. "The concern of the Secretariat was the safety of UNAMIR people. It reacted appropriately. The failure was in not following up [the cable]."

Asked why the team was "apologizing for the Secretariat", Mr. Carlsson said he was not: it was a mistake that the cable had not been sent direct to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, but it had been shared with the head of that Department.

Another journalist asked why the issue was not "considered more grave than it is". Why hadn't it immediately been brought to the attention of the Secretary-General? Should there now be greater accountability?

Mr. Carlsson said that "in most cases" the Secretary-General was well- informed.

Asked whether Kofi Annan, then Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, was guilty of negligence, Mr. Carlsson said the inquiry had been assigned only to find out the truth about what had happened, not to enforce accountability.

Mr. Han told journalists that few academics or people working in non- governmental organisations in Rwanda at the time "foresaw the possibility of genocide as such".

"Until the genocide actually began on 7 April, it seemed to consist of mass killing, which was serious enough, but it was not clear to the Secretariat" that genocide would follow, he added. "We criticize the Secretariat [in the report] for a lack of understanding of the situation ... But it was difficult, if not impossible, for the Secretariat to conclude from the cable that genocide was in the offing."

Asked by a journalist how that could have been the case, given the language of the cable, Mr. Han emphasized that the Secretariat lacked the right expertise and analytical capacity.

Asked whether the inquiry members thought the United Nations should apologize for what happened in Rwanda, Mr. Carlsson said there should be an apology from the whole international community. He said the report recommends efforts to establish a new relationship with Rwanda, but "it behooves the Secretariat and the international community to acknowledge their mistakes and the fact that they did not do enough".

In response to another question, General Kupolati said that as far as the military issues surrounding peacekeeping were concerned, the UNAMIR Force Commander, General Dallaire, was working with a "flawed mandate ... . He did not have the men he needed, they arrived late and without the right equipment. Given this background, General Dallaire acquitted himself well - but he was handicapped". He also said that there were problems with the rules of engagement, and that some of General Dallaire's officers had disagreed with those rules.

Asked whether he thought the United States Government bore a special responsibility for what happened in Rwanda, Mr. Carlsson said: "Remember the shadow of Somalia. This had an enormous impact on the American public. The United States changed the rules for participating in peacekeeping operations - probably as a result of Somalia."

He emphasized that the report criticized the Security Council for reducing the United Nations force after the genocide began; he said the Belgian Government had pressured other governments to withdraw after its own contingent left Rwanda.

Another correspondent asked whether the Security Council and the Secretariat weren't trying to shift blame onto each other -- the former by saying it lacked information from the latter; the latter by saying it lacked a mandate.

"There is no mathematical formula for apportioning blame, Mr. Carlsson said. If you read the report, you will see that for every failure we try to isolate actors. We have not avoided telling the truth, but hindsight is easy."