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Former Rwanda Commander Joins New U.N. Committee

Miriam Mannak, Cape Town, South Africa, May 9, 2006

Canadian Senator and retired Lt.-General Romeo Dallaire — commander of the U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide — speaks during a conference in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo: AFP - Getty Images)

The United Nations has given the green light to a new advisory committee focused on the prevention of genocide worldwide. Seven distinguished professionals from different fields, yet all having dealt with genocide in one way or another, will assume the task of providing guidance and support to the work of Juan Méndez, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. One of the appointed committee members is Romeo Dallaire.

Dallaire, currently a Canadian Senator, will forever be linked to his heroic stance against genocide. In 1993 and early 1994, as the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), he had a strong suspicion that something terrible was about to happen in the country. Among other ominous signs, Dallaire had taken note of a marked increase in the importation and trade in machetes and other arms.

From a Hutu informant known as Jean-Pierre, Dallaire learned that thousands of Hutu militias were preparing themselves for a national ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tutsi population. The informer advised the UNAMIR Commander about the existence a growing Hutu list of Tutsi residents in the capital city, Kigali. This list was to facilitate the cleansing campaign.

Jean-Pierre also informed of planned violent actions against Belgian peacekeepers, the core of the U.N. force. By placing the Belgians under fire, the Hutu militias hoped to precipitate the complete withdrawal of the U.N. forces so that their stated campaign leading to 'the purification of the country from Tutsi cockroaches' could continue unabated. Lastly, the informant reported of hidden arm depots in and around Kigali to Dallaire.

In a fax sent on Jan. 11, 1994 to the U.N. headquarters in New York, known as the Genocide Fax, Dallaire informed his superiors about his findings. He also asked them for permission to undertake preemptive action in order to prevent whatever atrocities were planned. The U.N. refused, as 'preemptive action' was not in concert with UNAMIR's mandate. The peacekeepers' mission was to monitor the situation in Rwanda, and to support a peaceful resolution to the hostilities between the warring factions. The use of force was prohibited.

Barely three months after the fax was sent, Rwanda was drenched in blood, hatred, sorrow and a surreal madness that defied description. In a period of three months up to one million people were slaughtered. The genocide in Rwanda would end up in the history books as one of the bloodiest ever.

Dallaire, who refused to withdraw after UNAMIR was decimated in the wake of the cold-blooded murder of ten Belgian peacekeepers, remained in Rwanda for months. He left the country in August, 1994, as an shattered man, haunted by what had happened, what he had seen and experienced, and most of all what he was not allowed to do — take action against those who perpetrated the genocide.

Commenting about the atrocities and the role the international community played in preventing it, Dallaire, on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, said: "I don't think there's any justification for what happened, it was a shameful episode for collective shame. The genocide was brutal, criminal and disgusting and continued for 100 days under the eyes of the international community. There is no country today … which can wash its hands of Rwandan blood just by saying sorry."

By accepting the appointment to the U.N. Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention, Romeo Dallaire, who has tirelessly spoken out on how to prevent future genocides, proves once again that he is a man who stands behind his words. It is a similar stance to the one he took during 1994 in Rwanda, by remaining in the country when the entire world had abandoned it. Dallaire, despite the fact he could not have stopped the atrocities, has made a true difference to Rwanda.

Miriam Mannak grew up in Rwanda, in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu. She dedicated her university thesis, "The UN and the Rwandan Genocide," to the tragic event.

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