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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 00:52 GMT
Genocide book reveals West's failure
Rwanda genocide survivor, and caretaker, Emmanuel Murangira at a genocide memorial
Memories of the genocide remain fresh
The BBC's Mark Doyle, who covered the genocide in Rwanda, reviews Shake Hands with the Devil, by Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 people were killed.

It wasn't until May 1994, more than a month into the mass killings, that I realised the scale of the carnage.

The then-rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, RPF, was trying to take the capital, Kigali, and the government's Forces Armees Rwandaises, FAR, were resisting strongly.

The near-constant sound of small arms and mortar fire ripped through the air, echoing around the city hills.

But that was just one of the wars taking place in Rwanda at the time - a conventional war between two well-equipped armies. A much more deadly war, a war of genocide, was taking place simultaneously.

Pile of bodies

I was in Kigali driving the short distance between the Hotel des Mille Collines and the hospital run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On the way to the hospital I encountered, from memory, at least six road blocks controlled by pro-government ethnic Hutu militia armed with machetes and a few rifles.

Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire
General Dallaire suffers from nightmares after the genocide

By each roadblock was a pile of dead bodies. My memory of the number of barriers is a bit vague because I remember being almost paralysed by fear; the whole journey was submerged in a sort of terrified fog.

The militia weren't looking specifically for foreigners. If they thought you were Belgian it could be dangerous, because the Belgians were perceived by the extremists to be pro-Tutsi.

But the targets of the machete men were Rwandan Tutsis, not people like me. If I felt frightened, imagine what the Tutsis felt.

With a lot of bluffing I got through to the ICRC and conducted the interviews I needed to do there. On the way back to the hotel, about two hours later, the number of roadblocks had increased, and the piles of bodies beside them had grown.

At one I saw an entire family had been murdered, including several young girls. Fairly soon after that, I started using the word "genocide" in my reports for the BBC.

'Never again'

This is a book about failure. An estimated 800,000 people were killed between April and July 1994 when an extremist ethnic Hutu-dominated government pursued a policy of trying to annihilate the minority Tutsi and their moderate Hutu allies.

The book is about failure because a UN peacekeeping force present in Rwanda at the time, commanded by the author, failed to stop the killing.

Vote Kagame
President Paul Kagame came to power to end the genocide

But there were other failures as well - the failure of powerful countries to step in to help stop the genocide; the failure of the UN system in Nairobi and New York to back its small group of beleaguered peacekeepers; and the failure of the media adequately to highlight the scale of the killing until it was too late.

There was also, of course, the failure of moderate Rwandan politicians to stop the rise to power in the first place of the génocidaires, and the failure of tens of thousands of ordinary Hutus to say "No" when they were told by their leaders to go out and kill.

The habitual cry of politicians after genocides - be they in Germany, Cambodia or Rwanda - has been to shout from the rooftops "Never Again".

Bill Clinton used these very words when he visited Kigali in March 1998. But saying "Never Again" is rather meaningless unless the reasons the genocide occurred are analysed and addressed, and unless those responsible for failing to act against the killing are named.

Leaders named

This book goes some way to dealing with these issues, and since it is written by the UN commander on the ground at the time, it does so with some authority.

It names the men who led the genocide - the leaders of the army, militia groups and extremist political parties, some of whom are currently in jail or facing prosecution at the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.

It also explains the role of western governments which failed to act despite knowing what was going on. These included the government of Bill Clinton but also Britain, France - which was close to the Hutu extremists - and Belgium, the former colonial power which withdrew its UN peacekeepers shortly after the mass killings began.

General Dallaire's book also names the UN bureaucrats responsible for foot-dragging when it came to mobilising action against the massacres. These included one Kofi Annan, then a top official in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Romeo Dallaire manages to give a detailed account of the failure of the UN system in Rwanda while also blaming himself in large measure for that failure. Page after page, you can sense him struggling to implement weak UN mandates and cope with a hopeless lack of UN troops, while trying to remain loyal to the Security Council and the New York bureaucrats, whom the military man in General Dallaire saw as his UN superior officers.

In the end that struggle, in the context of the mass killing which General Dallaire simply didn't have enough soldiers to halt, was too much. The author is frank enough to chart his own resulting psychological problems.


I should at this point declare a personal interest. If I was able to report for the BBC during most of the weeks of the genocide it was partly because General Dallaire and his staff allocated me a space on the floor of their headquarters.

I got to know the man fairly well. The UN mission in Rwanda sometimes fed and protected me, and so my natural instinct is to be sympathetic to it.

I reported its weaknesses and failings but nevertheless believed then - as now - that if General Dallaire had been given sufficient support from New York and from a few western capitals he could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. From what I saw he appeared to be a brave and resourceful man.

But although this is a book written by a Canadian UN soldier it is not primarily about that soldier. It's about Rwandans and the genocide they suffered; it's about the extremists who planned the genocide and the western powers who stood cynically by.

Plea unheeded

A few weeks into the genocide General Dallaire formulated a plan to stop the killing which involved the protection and feeding of Tutsis and moderate Hutus at football stadiums and other defendable sites across Rwanda.

It seemed workable at the time, and he had troop offers from various African countries - Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria and others - to implement it.

What he needed from the US, Britain or France was airlift to take the African soldiers to Rwanda and some military equipment to kit them out. But the west, led by the US and backed by Britain, prevaricated, suggesting that UN soldiers should go to the borders of Rwanda to deal with refugees.

This was a US strategy that seemed the exact opposite of what was required if lives were to be saved.

General Dallaire's book confirms once again that Washington, London, Paris and Brussels - the four capitals with the clout and contacts to act - knew exactly what was happening in Rwanda.

He told them in public and in private on numerous occasions, and he also told them how to try to stop it. That's not to mention their own intelligence gathering or even the graphic accounts that were available in the media.

Lots of people have said, in the wake of the genocide, 'Never Again'. This book reveals what some of them did at the time, and it's not an edifying record.

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Romeo Dallaire was published in Canada by Random House in October 2003

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