The Rwandan Genocide- Who Should Take Responsibility?

Remains of Rwandan genocide victims

Remains of Rwandan genocide victims

What is the difference between duty to a commanding officer and to the human race?  Where is the line between following orders and doing what is right?  Many people have struggled with this question.  What do you do when what you’re told to do and what you think you should do clash?  Ask General Roméo Dallaire.

General Roméo Dallaire was the force commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda from 1993 to 1994- the time period of the infamous Rwandan genocide.  The name of this mission was the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), and it failed terribly.  From April 6 through mid-July of 1994, 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis died at the hands of Hutu extremists, their rival ethnic group.  Among other things in UN Security Council Resolution 872, UNAMIR had been tasked “to monitor the security situation… to investigate at the request of the parties or on its own initiative instances of alleged non-compliance with the provisions of the Arusha Peace Agreement relating to the integration of the armed forces, and pursue any such instances with the parties responsible and report thereon as appropriate to the Secretary-General.”

We now know that Dallaire had information about the impending mass murder of Tutsi by the Hutu- information that could have prevented genocide.  There were arms caches in the city, and Hutu extremists were planning to eliminate all of their opponents.  An informant had come forward to General Dallaire with this warning in January of 1994, nearly three months before the massacres began.  Why was nothing done?  General Dallaire faxed this information to the UN Military Adviser, General Baril.  Dallaire wanted to find the arms caches and take action to show the Hutu extremists who was calling the shots.  He said, “we had all the potential of wrestling the initiative away from the extremists.”  However, the morning after he sent the now infamous “genocide fax”, Dallaire received a reply from Kofi Annan, who was then directing UN Peacekeeping Operations.  Annan’s reply basically said, cease and desist, your mandate doesn’t cover this kind of operation.  Sorry, this isn’t in your instruction manual, so you can’t do anything.  Dallaire was shocked.  In his own words, “I was not to move unless I got specific authority on specific operations from [the UN], and their outfit was like a sieve.”  He felt trapped and desperate, forced into immobility.

Dallaire- “We could have saved hundreds of thousands.”

Annan ordered Dallaire to stand down, even when he knew mass murder was about to occur.  How did Annan let this happen?  The 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, commonly known as Black Hawk Down, sent waves of fear throughout the world- fear of losing lives for international causes.  Some would say that this fear caused the death of those 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis.  Someone should have had the courage to do something- Kofi Annan, Roméo Dallaire, someone should have taken the initiative to stop this crime against humanity.  In his Guardian article, Ken Cain makes scathing remarks about Annan’s time at the helm of the UN, stating, “Under Annan, the UN has failed and people have died.”  He compares Annan’s cowardice in how he handled the Rwandan genocide to the bravery on the ground aid workers display every day.  “Annan asks – no, orders – unarmed civilians to risk their lives every day as election observers, human rights monitors, drivers and secretaries in the most dangerous conditions all over the world.  They do it, heroically, every day.  And, in the service of peace, some pay with their lives; others with their sanity.  How can he then not ask of himself the courage to risk his job in the cause of preventing genocide?  At the very least, he could go down trying to save lives, as opposed to going down trying to explain why he didn’t.”  In my opinion, Annan deserves this challenge to his character.  Dallaire’s warning faxes to the UN provided his superiors, including Annan, with sufficient information to take action against the impending tragedy.  I believe this genocide could have been averted.  The fear that was gripping the Western powers cost 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis their lives.

Video of General Dallaire in Rwanda

How much blame should Dallaire share in this story?  He had inadequate resources and was ordered to stand down, how much could he have done?  I don’t know all of the details of the situation in Rwanda in 1994.  I imagine chaos and terror flooding every corner of the small central African country.  Surely, Dallaire could have done something else to help the victims of this killing spree.  He himself feels immense guilt and struggles with feelings of failure and that he could have done more.  “There is no ‘I’m sort of pregnant.’ You are or you aren’t. And in command there is no ‘sort of in command.’ … My failings, my inabilities, not taking advantage, lack of skills — all of it is there. What could I have done better, well, we can discuss that for hours. But there’s one thing for damn sure: I was in the field, I commanded, I did not convince, I lost soldiers and 800,000 people died. And there’s no way of taking that away.”

Tutsi victims left strewn in the Rwandan streets

Tutsi victims left strewn in the Rwandan streets

As people living in an imperfect world, where does this leave us?  I defined global citizenship as “equal parts awareness and action.”  Knowing that something is wrong is only half the battle- acting on it completes the circle.  If we know there is injustice in the world, we are each responsible for doing something about it.  Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”  We have to carry this with us if we hope to do any good in this world.


Works Cited


“Biography.” Lieutenant-General Roméo A. Dallaire. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die before Kofi Quits?” The Guardian. The Guardian, 3 Apr. 2005. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

Dallaire, Gen. Romeo. “General Romeo Dallaire.” Interview. Ghosts of Rwanda- Interviews. Frontline PBS, 1 Apr. 2004. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

“Rwanda- UNAMIR Mandate.” United Nations, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

“Rwandan Genocide.” The Espresso Stalinist. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

“Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire.” YouTube. California Newsreel, 3 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

Shiffman, Ken. “As Genocide Raged, General’s Pleas for Help Ignored.” CNN. CNN, 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

“The Arusha Peace Agreement.” Official Website of the Government of Rwanda. Republic of Rwanda, n.d. Web. 23 June 2013. <>.

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