Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Jerry Fowler: Good evening and welcome to the Holocaust Memorial Museum for tonight’s program, “A Good Man in Hell: General Roméo Dallaire and the Rwanda Genocide.” I apologize for the delay in getting started and I appreciate your patience.
My name is Jerry Fowler and I am the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The committee was created in 1995 and its mandate is to alert the national conscience and influence policy makers to respond to contemporary genocide. That mandate is rooted in the deep conviction that remembrance of the Holocaust imposes on us an obligation to speak out today when entire groups are threatened with physical destruction. In recommending the creation of a living memorial to the victims of the Holocaust Elie Wiesel and the President’s Commission on the Holocaust in 1979 explained that “a memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past.”
We have a very special program this evening, as you all know. We are honored to have both General Dallaire and Mr. Koppel here. After my brief introduction General Dallaire and Mr. Koppel will come on stage and engage in a conversation for about 45 minutes. Then we should have time for questions from the audience. At the end of the program Sara Bloomfield, the Museum’s director, will make a presentation to General Dallaire.
On the evening of April 6, 1994, a surface-to-air missile shot down the plane carrying Rwanda’s president as it was landing in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. It is still not known who fired the missile but the assassination was taken by extremist leaders of Rwanda’s Hutu majority as the signal to launch a campaign of extermination against the country’s Tutsi minority as well as moderate Hutu leaders who might oppose this program of genocide.
Over the next 100 days as many as 800,000 people were murdered by the Rwandan military and Hutu militia. By the time the killing was stopped, when a Tutsi-dominated rebel movement drove the genocidal interim government out of the country, three quarters of the Tutsi population had been killed.
In the middle of this unimaginable horror was General Roméo Dallaire, head of a small UN peace-keeping force that had been deployed in 1993. In January 1994 he warned that mass murder was being planned. His warnings were ignored. After the killing started he pleaded for more forces to stop the murders. Those pleas were rejected and in fact the United Nations ordered his force reduced to a token level. It is his story that we will hear more about this evening.
In his book about Rwanda, journalist Philip Gourevitch describes an encounter he had in Kigali with an American military intelligence officer some time after the genocide. The American tells Gourevitch that he has heard that Gourevitch is interested in genocide and he says, “Do you know what genocide is? A cheese sandwich. Write that down,” he tells Gourevitch, “Genocide is a cheese sandwich.”
And Gourevitch asks him what he means by that. “What does anyone care about a cheese sandwich?” the man responds. “Genocide, genocide, genocide. Cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich. Who gives a shit? Crimes against humanity? Where is humanity? Who is humanity? You? Me? Did you see a crime committed against you? Hey, just a million Rwandans.”
“Did you ever hear about the genocide convention?” he asks Gourevitch. Gourevitch says that he has. “That convention,” the man says, “is good for wrapping a cheese sandwich.”
I think the question we all have to ask ourselves is whether we want to live in a world where that man is right or one where that man is wrong? Right or wrong?
There is plenty in the story of Rwanda to suggest that he is right, but your presence tonight gives hope that we can ultimately prove him wrong and for those of us devoted to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, devoted to the construction of a living memorial to Holocaust victims, there is no greater challenge than building a world where he is wrong, where we do not stand idly by when confronted with genocide.
Please join me in welcoming General Roméo Dallaire and Ted Koppel.
Ted Koppel: We are not going to spend this evening talking about General Dallaire. He would not have it that way. We are going to spend this evening talking about events that he observed, that he tried to prevent, that he was unsuccessful in preventing. But I want to begin this evening by focusing on a day in his life that I’m sure he remembers well. I don’t know the date or the time but basically I remember the setting: winter, park bench, and you were drunk.
Roméo Dallaire Yes.
Ted Koppel: Passed out in fact.
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, on very bad scotch.
Ted Koppel: I thought perhaps we should begin with that moment in time and with that event because there was a reason for it. Before you tell us the reason, tell us just how bad things were for you.
Roméo Dallaire: The impact of the trauma of Rwanda had physically affected my brain and had put me in a state where there was no capability left of any desire for life, any desire to even consider life. I was even debating whether I should exist as I held on my shoulders, and still today, the belief that as commander of the mission in Rwanda I had failed the Rwandans. I had failed in my duty as the UN mission commander to assist the Rwandans to be able to move to a peaceful application of democracy in a rather short period of time.
And so I entered a state that got worse with time, not better. When I did come back originally I was deputy commander of the army, and I was told don’t worry about that stuff. With time and hard work it will all dissipate and those scenes of children who were chopped up just like pieces of salami, women opened up with the fetuses laying there, elderly people dying in your arms in a mass movement of 50,000, 60,000 people in the rain in the mountains looking in your eyes and saying, “What happened? Weren’t you there? How did we end up like this?”
Falling into scenes where in a church, where we finally were able to enter—the militia had convinced the people over an extremist radio station to go there, if they felt unsafe go to the church and you will be safe by conventions of Geneva and the like—only to find out that once the place was packed, and in fact one of the churches is smaller than this and there were over 2,000 people in there, they had opened up the roof, threw a couple of grenades in, and then walked in and hacked and slashed.
Now, killing people with a machete is not efficient and it is also very tiring. So one or two hits to the majority of the people and then they would let them fester and die over two or three days. 2,000 people, including priests and nuns, were slaughtered in just one of many of the missions and churches in Rwanda.
Walking literally into a pile of bodies because there’s no way around it and feeling the cold. The cold of a dead body is not a temperature. It’s a state. And all that and the continued killing and our inability to prevent it, just to watch it. My inability to convince the international community that it should stop this incredible crime against humanity simply accumulated and with time became clearer.
Your mind with time, in fact, doesn’t erase things that are traumas. It makes them clearer. They become digitally clearer and then you are able to sit back and all of a sudden have every individual scene come to you instead of the massive blur of many scenes I saw every day.
The accumulation of the spirits that would come to you at night in the form of eyes, thousands of eyes, some mad, some simply there, and others bewildered, innocent children and adults, all that accumulated to the fact that I simply totally broke down.
The Canadian forces could not use me as a three-star general any more, as I could not command troops in operations for I was unable to handle any of the strains and responsibilities of that. So what you do with a three-star general who can’t command troops and that’s all he knows how to do, is you retire him medically. That event happened a couple months after my retirement.
Ted Koppel: Would you describe yourself prior to Rwanda as being an overly sensitive man, as being a soft man?
Roméo Dallaire: That would not be the reputation of a general in a Canadian army, either. I was flexible -- depending on who you speak to, I’m sure. No, I’m considered to be simply a normal soldier doing his duty, very sensitive to his troops and to the requirements.
Ted Koppel: You’d been in combat before?
Roméo Dallaire: No.
Ted Koppel: Never?
Roméo Dallaire: No. In crisis, yes, but not in combat.
Ted Koppel: We were talking before and I’d like you just to take a minute or so when you talk about crisis. There was a time when some of the French- Canadian separatists --
Roméo Dallaire: Yes.
Ted Koppel: Tell them the story you told me.
Roméo Dallaire: In 1970 the separatist movement of the French-Canadian minority in Canada had a very active group that was throwing bombs and the like, disrupting the general population mostly in the Province of Quebec. They all of a sudden started to take politicians and bring them away and keep them as prisoners, as hostages and the like. So Canada implemented what is called a “war measures act.” A war measures act is essentially the government and the army taking over and many of the rights are put to the side in response to a state of war.
Now, I am a French-Canadian and the 250 years of debate on a French minority and its ability to continue to advance as a culture married with a massive amount of English Canadians has been a point of contention and one that we worried about and discussed. And so there I was as a platoon commander defending the parliament buildings in Quebec with about 40 soldiers, all French Canadians, with orders that we are to open fire should any action be taken by a crowd that could not be stopped by other means or any individual who suspiciously was attempting to approach the buildings or the complex of the parliaments.
Now, you’d say well, that’s fine, that’s his duty. He is representing the government and that’s his job. However, what happens when those people could be your in-laws or your sister? Do you in fact still hold the same position? I will shoot my sister in the defense of this nation? Because many of our families were split on that problem and so every day I had to make very sure that I would, yes, open fire or order my soldiers to open fire and any doubt in my eyes or my body language would guarantee that my soldiers would not open fire for they also and their families were torn apart.
To maintain that position and with those soldiers for over three months required an initial crisis and an assessment of what I considered my duty in that country was which was different from the English-speaking soldiers, who essentially, yes, they’re Canadians and we’ve got to work, but the intimacy of the problem was not there.
Ted Koppel: So you were prepared psychologically to open fire yourself, to order your men to open fire on anyone attacking the parliament building, even if that person and this was a situation you had envisioned for yourself, even if that person was a member of your own family? That’s a yes?
Roméo Dallaire: That is a yes that I have often reviewed and come back to the same yes.
Ted Koppel: You had to?
Roméo Dallaire: That was my duty to my country. Those were the responsibilities that had been given to me, to my soldiers. And as such, it overrode the political tendencies of members of my family and in fact their aim of pursuing an insurrection or an action against the government.
Ted Koppel: I’ve asked you to go along on this little diversion and I think we can now assume that that’s de facto evidence of the notion that you were not soft, that you were prepared to take serious military measures even if it involved friends, even if it involved your own family. You were a tough soldier.
Roméo Dallaire: It was the basis of much of later in regards to the ethical, moral dilemmas of a conflict as we saw it move out of the cold war and into this new era.
Ted Koppel: Take us now to 1994. If you want to go back a little bit that’s all right, too. I don’t want to lead you too much in the story. What was it that caused you to believe or perhaps even to know that some sort of mass killing was going to take place inside Rwanda?
Roméo Dallaire: Well, to start with the UN had sent a peace-keeping mission under Chapter VI which essentially means we have the right to self defense and we’re called in there by the two ex-belligerents who have decided to sign a peace agreement and from there need a referee.
Ted Koppel: Who were the ex-belligerents and how large was your force?
Roméo Dallaire: The Rwandan government forces, which was in the area of 23,000 of various levels of capability, and the Rwandan patriotic front, who were dominated by the Tutsi ethnicity who were the sons and daughters for the most part of the refugees of the revolution of 1959-62 who had been thrown out of the country by the Hutu majority who were fighting to come back into their country because Uganda was throwing them out of there because they were tired of having them as refugees. They were about 12,000.
Ted Koppel: And your force was a multinational force?
Roméo Dallaire: At that time if you remember we’ve got Bosnia and the whole Balkans exploding with massive demands of troops, we’ve got Somalia still operating but slowing down, Cambodia, Mozambique was cranking up, Angola was there, Liberia. There were 16 operational missions going on around the world with a lot of troops committed from a lot of nations to those missions.
And so when this mission came forward it was made clear to me that, one, it had to be done on the cheap and, two, people were peace-keeping’d out, they just had enough. The keenness to go into central Africa even on a Chapter VI success story was simply not there.
Instead of having the full effective force that I wanted, I ended up with a force of 2,600 of which 350 were military observers -- that is, they don’t carry any weapons -- and then your normal staff structures and so on.
Ted Koppel: And the others carried what kinds of weapons, small arms?
Roméo Dallaire: The ex-belligerents?
Ted Koppel: No, no, I’m talking about your folks.
Roméo Dallaire: Oh, the other ones. Yes, all purely small arms.
Ted Koppel: Sidearms?
Roméo Dallaire: Light machine guns.
Ted Koppel: Light machine guns?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, because as a Chapter VI you cannot come in with heavy weapons.
Ted Koppel: So you don’t have armed helicopters at your disposal, you don’t have any warplanes, you don’t have any tanks, you don’t have any armored personnel carriers, you don’t have any artillery?
Roméo Dallaire: No.
Ted Koppel: Small arms, you’re there as peace-keepers, the presumption being that peace has already been established?
Roméo Dallaire: Oh, yes. The Arusha peace agreement was [signed] on the 4th of August 1993. I arrived on the 17th of August to conduct an assessment of the mission. That is to say, the UN who had been observing this peace process and led, in fact, an incredible milestone that said that the transitional government should be established in 37 days from signing. This meant that the force had to be on the ground, that we had all the security needed to be able to establish that government. On the 17th I was just there to look at the problem and then brought it back on the 4th of September to New York and then had to fight my way for three weeks to get it through the approval processes.
By then I had moved into Uganda with the mission that I commanded there on the Ugandan-Rwandan border to prove that no weapons or support was coming in from Uganda into the rebel zone. On the 5th of October it was approved so when it was approved we were already a month late and once it’s approved then you start begging officially for troops, for budgets, for capabilities, for civilian staff.
So in a mission that had urgency in it I had half my force three months later and within the following two months I had my full force of 2,600.
Ted Koppel: One more small diversion. You skipped by it rather quickly. You said that the UN had been involved and you enumerated a number of different countries. Just remind us very quickly, and I mean in about a minute or so, what had happened in Somalia because what happened in Somalia really affected, I think, this notion of peacekeeping in Africa perhaps more than what had happened in other places.
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, the Somalia event which is now portrayed in “Black Hawk Down,” which I have not seen and refuse to go see as it’s totally out of context of what the scenario was and the complete story. The loss of those rangers and the injured ones created for the United States a phobia. A phobia that even though with 1.6 million people in uniform it was not capable of handling casualties in far-off lands where there was no strategic value, there was no objective, there was no self- interest. All there were human beings.
The reaction of the United States and particularly President Clinton did a massive revirement and by March produced a document called the Presidential Proposition 25, which essentially said that here are a whole bunch of criteria and if these criteria are not met we’re not going in to help anybody, and turned to the General Assembly and said it’s time that the UN starts saying no to these demands of humanitarian and security-related catastrophes.
Well, on the 6th of April the war started. Within 24 hours I had 10 soldiers of mine dead and already thousands of Rwandans were being slaughtered. For weeks upon weeks Rwandans continued to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands a day and no one was taking the risk of sending soldiers inside Rwanda to assist in stopping the slaughter behind the fighting forces.
Ted Koppel: General Dallaire, I just want to take you back in time a little bit to a question I asked you a few minutes ago. You said you knew that there was going to be mass killing.
Roméo Dallaire: Oh, yes, that’s true.
Ted Koppel: How did you know?
Roméo Dallaire: Well, again, we didn’t have an intelligence network. In a Chapter VI you depend on both sides to tell you the truth, to indicate violations that you investigate. We had received information, that we corroborated a bit, that the extremists had built a militia and armed it to the extent that within hours it could exterminate over 4,000 Tutsis inside the city of Kigali.
In following up on that we discovered arm caches and as a result of that there was a great risk of scuttling the whole operation, because in the information we received there was overt indication that this would be the start of the final solution, which meant the elimination of the Tutsi ethnicity.
So I sent to New York requesting to take offensive operations immediately within 36 hours to go to the places where we knew there were weapons and start rounding up those weapons and anyone who was closely related one way or another. Now, I was refused to do that because we go back to Somalia again and the UN and the nations involved because, remember, with UN forces the nations still hold a hook on them. [They] felt that we were going to be suckered in and that they’d have another Somalia catastrophe. In fact we had received separately information that one of the aims of the extremists was to kill five to ten Belgian soldiers because, one, they’re white, two, the Western world will react, and by doing that they would eliminate the most effective force in my mission and then the whole force would crumble and then they could simply carry on with nobody there.
The UN fundamentally said you will not conduct any offensive operations; you will talk to the people. And so we discussed it with the extremists telling them we knew what was going on, telling them that that’s against the agreement and they were undermining the whole peace process.
Ted Koppel: Did you try to bluff it in any way? I mean, did you try to bluff in any way? In other words, you certainly didn’t tell them listen, there’s nothing I can do if you decide not to cooperate with me?
Roméo Dallaire: No, but they knew full well my restrictions in my mandate.
Ted Koppel: How did they know?
Roméo Dallaire: Because they’re part of the process, because the mandate is discussed in the Security Council and the belligerents are also involved in seeing the potential mandate. And by one unusual quirk that the extremist government had an ambassador sitting on the Security Council. Even during the genocide they didn’t throw this guy out. So the extremists knew more of the will and not will of the international community in intervening than I did, because he was feeding it directly from the Security Council to those forces.
Ted Koppel: Tell us a little bit about the exchange of communications that took place between you and UN headquarters in New York. How forceful were you in terms of what you were requesting or perhaps even demanding. I don’t know.
Roméo Dallaire: I wasn’t requesting nor demanding authority. I was entering a different phase of the operation by taking offensive operations, which is not in a classic Chapter VI, but I had written in to the rules of engagement of my mission—from the Cambodian mission—that there was a history of crimes against humanity in the area, of massacres, and so I had given myself the authority that if there were crimes against humanity being perpetrated I could react.
All I was doing is informing my higher headquarters as per normal responsible procedures that I was moving into a different phase. The response was immediate, within hours, that I was not authorized, it was outside my mandate, and I was jeopardizing the whole mission.
There were five similar detailed exercises that I did with the UN not counting all the verbal abuse that was going left, right, and center in permitting me to conduct cordoned searches or even letting us participate if we had the gendarmerie, which was not trained and was totally infiltrated by extremists, to do the job for us.
Ted Koppel: With whom were you communicating?
Roméo Dallaire: The communications were with what I call the triumvirate in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which was Kofi Annan, Iqbal Riza, and a Canadian general who was a good friend of mine, General Maurice Baril.
Ted Koppel: How many exchanges were there between you and this triumvirate and did they become—
Roméo Dallaire: Well, we phoned regularly on a number of subjects. I did get an authority on the 3rd of February to be able to participate at arm’s length, that meant training the gendarmerie and conducting intelligence operations to find out where they were. One of the big problems was that a political override coming out on this is the fact that all the sources where there were arms caches were all from the extremists’ side. If I went and attacked all those sites, I would then show that I was no more neutral, that I was only going after one side, and the other side was deemed to be innocent. Could I prove that there was nothing going on on the other side?
Also one of the biggest arms caches which had heavy weapons was in the birth town of the president in northwest Rwanda. So a political imperative did play out in those decisions and it took us till the 1st of April to be able to build the capability to conduct our first arms cache action and because the gendarmerie was infiltrated there was nothing there. And we were about to conduct a second one with a far smaller reduced force on the morning of the 7th of April, but the war started at the night of the 6th.
Ted Koppel: If you want to spend another couple of minutes, if not we can go right into what then began to happen, but I just want to make sure that you feel you’ve given sufficient weight to the exchanges between Kigali, your headquarters, and UN headquarters in New York. Do you feel you’ve sketched that out sufficiently?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, only to make it clear that you have a peace agreement that asked the UN to do all these things to help it. You have a technical mission that goes, looks at the problem, and gives a series of recommendations. Those recommendations are then moved from peacekeeping to the Secretary-General, who then moves it to the Security Council. Every level that it moves up it gets filtered, it gets helped in the grammar, in the syntax, and so what you end up with is a mandate that doesn’t necessarily reflect what the ex-belligerents need or expected, and not necessarily also what even you as the force commander or as the mission head need to be able to flexibly respond to changing circumstances.
And so there had been so many difficult scenarios of UN forces around the world at that time with not too many success stories going on that there was the impression that there was no room to maneuver and that the letter of the mandate and its restrictions of a Chapter VI were to be applied to the letter.
Ted Koppel: You were getting frustrated at this point?
Roméo Dallaire: There must be something stronger than “frustrated.”
Ted Koppel: I’m leaving up to you to complete the escalation process. You’re angry?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, and as that’s going on the whole political process is now not only in turmoil, but in stagnation in the sense that it’s swirling amongst itself. Because the political process where the different political parties were to choose the representatives to sit as ministers and deputies in the new transitional government, the broad-based transitional government, was being manipulated by the extremists and causing enormous problems in the moderate parties with extremists trying to take over control and the moderates trying to hold control.
That stagnation that lasted over four months created a massive insecurity in the country. The militia started to conduct assassinations of ministers, there were retributions going on, and so the whole security scenario was degrading. The political scenario had degraded to the extent where it became impossible to find a solution. Although the international community kept pressuring for a solution much of the help we gave in fact in that political process was negative.
I’ll give you an example. Throughout the process the hard-line parties with the president had been infiltrating into the process and the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, had been holding their own in regards to what it expected out of the Arusha peace agreement. The hard-line side was manipulating with that and trying to infiltrate and trying to guarantee that they had a higher level of control in the government because there was no amnesty clause in the peace agreement. No amnesty clause meant that the day after the broad-based transitional government was put in, the president could be thrown in jail because he had lost all his powers and he was a figurehead and the past could be brought in.
So they were trying to get enough in the government to be able to not permit such actions to be taken, such decisions, because if you had a strong enough minority in the government you couldn’t pass such actions. All of a sudden in March things shifted. The extremists introduce the most extremist party into the equation that hadn’t originally signed the peace agreement and that was accepted by the international community.
I was in Canada and in New York negotiating and taking a week’s leave and discussing about the mission and so on with my superiors when that happened. And so all of the international community shifted from pressurizing the president to solve the problem, to now pressurizing the RPF to accept this extremist party into the process and let’s get on with it. And so it shifted the whole political influence and political pressures that made it literally impossible to find a solution.
Ted Koppel: Let’s get back to you. You’re not just frustrated. You’re going nuts, right?
Roméo Dallaire: You’ve got to watch that because it can be pretty literal.
Ted Koppel: You’re very, very angry, true?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, I’m livid.
Ted Koppel: You’re livid? Did it ever occur to you to walk into UN headquarters and say listen, you SOB’s. If you don’t do something I’m going to quit and I’m not going to quit quietly?
Roméo Dallaire: Oh, quitting.
Quitting in the face of the mission is like a commander deserting his troops. My quitting would have been a 15-second sound bite in the international community. I mean, there were more people who wanted the job for money or whatever. They would have found a replacement and carried on.
Quitting when your forces cannot handle the security situation and they’re under risk? You have no food, water, fuel, medical supplies, defensive stores because none of the contracts have been signed six months into the mission by the UN staff. Countries had not provided troops with equipment, so you’ve got Bangladeshi troops coming in with not even a pot to be able to cook their food. All these 26 different countries coming in with all this mishmash at that time and what I just described on the security and political side. For me to have quit would have meant that I was abandoning my troops in the middle of this morass, in the middle of this unstable situation. And my quitting would have no effect in the scheme of things in New York.
Ted Koppel: We are now between these two extremes in the emotional life of General Dallaire. You’re at a point where you pretty much know what’s going to happen. Maybe you don’t know that 800,000 people are going to be killed?
Roméo Dallaire: No, no.
Ted Koppel: But you know there’s going to be a disaster, right?
Roméo Dallaire: We were ready for massacres and killings on the scale that Burundi had given me the day after I arrived in Rwanda, because they had a coup the day before. I had 300,000 Burundi refugees in the south of Rwanda plus about 50,000 bodies floating in the rivers and so on, all over the place.
So yes, we knew it was going to explode. The forces had been maneuvering, the RPF and the government forces. There had been altercations. All the signs were moving that we were coming to a head, that it would explode. Whether it would explode into a genocide, first of all, that term didn’t exist in our lexicon. “Ethnic cleansing” did. I mean, we were full of ethnic cleansing from Bosnia and other places. Genocide wasn’t in the lexicon and the scale, although large, I mean, in the 50,000s or the 100,000s, was a scale that we were anticipating, but not a scale of nationwide destruction.
Ted Koppel: Here is what I am trying to understand. You go from doing everything you can rationally do, everything you can reasonably do, you make as tough a representation time and time again to headquarters in New York as you felt you could do. You didn’t feel that quitting was an option because it would have been deserting your men, it would have been deserting the mission, and it wouldn’t have accomplished anything, 15-second sound bite, you say.
So why after it’s all over do we find General Dallaire sitting on a park bench drunk in Canada? What was it you thought you could have done or should have done that would have made a difference?
Roméo Dallaire: I ultimately felt that I had not convinced. I ultimately felt that I could have had colleagues who could have potentially done a better job. I felt that the ability to bring across not only the seriousness before the war started, but during the war of what was going on. My abilities had not been up to the requirement.
It was a self- reassessment in the face of this catastrophe where I was simply feeling the guilt of not having in fact brought those ex-belligerents to a peace agreement. And it’s that guilt that has remained, and that’s why I still take pills, that at different times exploded and that’s what happened.
Ted Koppel: But you know better.
Roméo Dallaire: Say again.
Ted Koppel: You know better. You couldn’t have stopped it and nobody else could have stopped it.
Roméo Dallaire: We could have interfered. We could have wrested the initiative from the extremists. We could have pushed it to an area that maybe we could have influenced countries who had capabilities to come in and do things.
Ted Koppel: Which countries, the United States?
Roméo Dallaire: The Western powers.
Ted Koppel: The United States?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, it’s a Western power.
Ted Koppel: It is a Western power. But it was a Western—.
Roméo Dallaire: The ones I hold accountable for not understanding and not rising above self-interest to a level of humanity where every human counts and we’re all the same are: the British, the French, and the Americans. Self-interest, political posturing, image dominated their decision processes in regard to Rwanda.
Ted Koppel: Nations don’t have friends, nations have interests. Charles de Gaulle said that years ago, correct?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes, except I believe, as Kofi Annan has stated in the millennium speech he gave at the General Assembly called “We, the Peoples,” that we have entered a millennium where in fact humanity, the human race, is to become the dominant factor, not the self-interest. That in fact the 20 percent that’s running away with all the marbles cannot morally continue to do that when 80 percent of humanity, that three-year old kid in Rwanda that was grimy, that was dirty, that was sick, flies all over him, that three-year old is exactly the same as my three-year old. That level of consideration of human life raising these countries to that level out of the self-interest level is, I believe, an achievable objective in the centuries to come.
Ted Koppel: Maybe you can come up with another example. The last example I can remember of the United States engaging in a purely humanitarian mission, sending military troops, do you remember what that was? Somalia. We went in there without any strategic interest at that point. I think it was George Bush senior who had already been defeated in the election trying to do one last decent humanitarian thing.
Roméo Dallaire: But he didn’t support the UN. He wanted to go in there as the lead coalition. It’s a different exercise in itself.
Ted Koppel: But he went in at a time when a bunch of Pakistanis had been slaughtered. They were UN troops. Do you remember that?
Roméo Dallaire: Yes.
Ted Koppel: All I’m saying is, in the wake of what happened in Somalia, you really thought that an American president or an American Secretary of State would say yes, let’s try it again in Rwanda. Maybe we’ll have a few troops killed but no one’s really going to—
Roméo Dallaire: That’s interesting because although my naïveté felt that maybe there might be a human touch in there, I came to realize that in fact self-interest dominated. I mean, casualties overruled. I had one person come in to my headquarters during the genocide asking statistics on how many people were killed last week and how many yesterday and how many do you expect to be killed today and how many weeks of this killing you think is going to go on. And my staff officers brought him to me and I said, “Why these statistics?”
He said, “Oh, you know my country is assessing whether it will come in and the government believes that the people, the public opinion, could handle for every soldier killed or injured an equivalent of 85,000 dead Rwandans.”
Are all humans human or some more human than others? And so yes, coming back in may be a possibility because two days after the start of the war and the original decapitation of the moderates and the Tutsi leadership, literal decapitation -- and you don’t just kill the individual because the individual who breaks through has an enormous responsibility for the whole extended family, including in-laws, so you wipe out the whole family also. Two days after that French aircraft started to land in Kigali. I had 45 minutes notice that they were coming in. Belgian aircraft landed the next day. Italians landed four days later and there were 300 US forces in Bujumbura and there was a ship of Marines off of Dar-es-Salaam about 800 to 1,000.
They came in to evacuate the white men and the odd Rwandan who was politically well suited to what they want. As an example the French evacuated the bulk of the president’s family who were not necessarily the nicest people on earth. And so all the expatriates within five days picked up what they had, left the Rwandans who had served them for years, decades, who raised their kids, left them to be slaughtered behind and went back to Brussels and Paris and all these other places.
Ted Koppel: Just take a sip of water. We’ve gone 45 minutes already, believe it or not.
Roméo Dallaire: We barely started.
Ted Koppel: I know, I know, and we want to be able to engage all of you at least in this auditorium. I think cards have been passed out. If you have questions, folks will be passing among you to pick up those questions and then they’re going to be sorted and I’ll read some of them to General Dallaire.
But while you’re doing that let’s just take these last five minutes before we go to questions from the audience. General Dallaire, you began to do it at the beginning, you have alluded to it many times throughout, but I think you need to give us again a sense of just the absolute humiliation as a military man, and you were also telling me that a number of your Canadian colleagues have gone through the same emotional catastrophe, that you have gone through just to have to bear witness to this and not to be able to do anything.
And as you answer that question maybe as a military man you can give me an answer to this. If those 800 Marines had come in could they have stopped it? Would that have been a sufficient force?
Roméo Dallaire: My first request for reinforcements was a battalion, one battalion—
Ted Koppel: How many men is that?
Roméo Dallaire: About 800—to come in and secure Kigali. I felt that if I could secure Kigali in a sense of stopping the killing, not the war. I didn’t care about the warring factions, the government forces and the Rwandan patriotic army, fighting each other. They are fighting each other, they are going at that, they are soldiers and they are conducting themselves and doing that war.
My concern at that point was the slaughter going on behind the lines. And I felt that if I could get a battalion in and with the mandate to stop with the use of force much of the killings that were going on behind the line by the militias and so on that we might have been able to prevent it spreading throughout the country because the killings didn’t all start at the same time.
Kigali, a bit of the northeast, northwest were the first places of the killing. It took weeks for the killings to start in the south of the country where the moderates were. My second request within a day was to get about 5,000 troops, four battalions, to be able to wrest the whole country and prevent it from spreading. So it was a two-phased operation and I believed that with the mandate and those forces who were prepared to use force that the two armies could continue fighting at each other but we would be able to stabilize the killing.
The killing became a significant point in stopping the war in itself. The armies were fighting each other and so the government forces, which had extremists throughout, kept saying to me that they couldn’t stop the killing behind the lines by the militia, by deserters, by reserves and so on because they were totally committed to fighting the rebel army. The rebel army was turning to me and saying we are not going to negotiate, to cease fire, or whatever, until they stop the killing behind the lines.
And so the killing behind the lines became the la pierre angulaire, the fundamental premise, of bringing a potential cease-fire to it and ultimately eliminating the most terrible dimension of that war, which was the genocide dimension. That’s why I wanted to concentrate on that.
However, I got into a big debate with the UN and the Security Council and the like because they wanted me to concentrate on the cease-fire because if you have a cease-fire then the humanitarians can get in and then you can draw the lines and then you start negotiating truces and all that kind of stuff. I kept telling them that the cease-fire was secondary to actually stopping the genocide and in the end I did get a mandate in May, a month later, in fact the 17th of May, with the promise of reinforcements in which they agreed that stopping the killing was just as important as the cease-fire of the forces.
Ted Koppel: Did you ever get those troops?
Roméo Dallaire: I left on the 19th of August and out of the 5,000 troops about 1,500 were on the ground. And they were to deploy within a month, maximum a month. In fact I wanted the first troops within the first week in order to get into those areas of the country where the killings were going on and establish safe sites because my concept of operation was also debated extensively in the Pentagon in particular.
The Pentagon kept telling the UN that my concept didn’t work because they wanted to create a same scenario as we did for the Kurds -- that is, you create a safe zone in the country where they all go and they’re safe there and they’re under protection of the US or the UN aircraft and helicopters and troops. My concept was you create safe sites around monasteries or whatever other infrastructure so that the people would be safe in those sites and we could react to whatever attack happened.
The safe site was needed because people would not be able to make it to the safe zone. The safe zone would have been in the south, as they required, not in the north where the extremists were, so you create a safe site. People were being slaughtered at every road block that were 100 meters apart and they were slaughtered by ID cards introduced by the Belgians. You had to have an ID card and on it was written either Hutu or Tutsi. If you were a Tutsi they took you aside and slaughtered you right there. Ditches were full of bodies wriggling of all ages as these drunken guys kept it up and so if you didn’t have a card it was a 50-50 chance.
Now, going through one of these road blocks would be something, but if you’ve got to go through ten of these road blocks the chances of being picked up at one of them was very high. The whole scenario of the slaughter and the intervention was to eliminate all these road blocks and permit people to go to these sites which were close to where they were, that we would protect. And ultimately we would then take offensive actions to stop and break down the barriers and let the armies fight.