Wednesday, April 14, 2010
In commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum designated Stories of Freedom: What You Do Matters as the theme for Days of Remembrance 2010. Among the events the Museum held was an interview by Michael Abramowitz, Director of the Committee on Conscience at the Museum, with General Roméo Dallaire, former commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994. General Dallaire spoke about his experiences in Rwanda 16 years ago and the importance of increasing the will and capacity in government to respond to genocide today.
Michael Abramowitz: Good morning. Welcome back to the Meyerhoff. My name is Mike Abramowitz, I am the Director of the Committee on Conscience, which I think most of you should know is the genocide prevention program of the Museum. It is a tremendous honor for me personally and for the Museum to welcome to our stage once again, General Roméo Dallaire. He is one of the great heroes who work on these issues today.
And his courage and eloquence I would say have really helped shape the efforts to combat genocide. General Dallaire, as most of you know, was present in Rwanda in 1994 as the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. This was the most egregious case of genocide since the Holocaust. And as the commander of a small contingent of peacekeepers, General Dallaire repeatedly warned his superiors in New York about the prospects of violence, and he was ignored.
And when the genocide began 16 years ago this month, the U.N. Security Council, rather than supporting General Dallaire, actually virtually eliminated the presence of most of the peacekeepers. And General Dallaire was in Rwanda with roughly several hundred peacekeepers during the killing that took the lives of some 800,000 Rwandans. And General Dallaire had to make very wrenching decisions about who to protect and where to deploy his forces, and to do the best that he could to protect lives.
And he did protect thousands of lives. In the Fall of 1994 General Dallaire returned to Canada where he began to speak out about his experiences. He testified at the International Criminal Court. He also wrote a very remarkable book about his experiences in Rwanda entitled, Shake Hands with the Devil. He has won numerous awards and he has become an important advocate on such issues as post traumatic stress syndrome, child soldiers, conflict resolution, and genocide response.
I should also say he is a very valued and committed friend of the Museum. He’s appeared on this stage on several occasions, and he’s actually, his appearance here has been featured in a movie that the Committee on Conscience produced, which we’ve used to great effect in training. And also he is featured -- we showed him this morning – in our exhibition on contemporary genocide, From Memory to Action, which if you haven’t seen I would recommend you all see.
We have invited General Dallaire to be with us today to talk about the progress that has been made on genocide prevention since 1994. And this subject has been at the heart of the work of the Committee. The Museum as you know was one of the conveners of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by Madeline Albright and William Cohen. And the Task Force came up with wide ranging series of recommendations for how the U.S. Government and other governments can enhance their capacity to address genocide.
And we’re happy to report that many of the recommendations have been embraced by the Obama Administration. General Dallaire has also worked on the same issues as a member of the Canadian Senate, and also through the Chairmanship of a very innovative project, the Will to Intervene Project, which came to many of the same conclusions, although not all the same conclusions as the Genocide Prevention Task Force.
And I wanted to just take a moment to recognize Dr. Frank Chalk and Kyle Matthews who are joining us today. They worked with General Dallaire on this important report. And I think many of you might also be interested to know that Frank was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies in, I think, 2001. So with that I’d like to get started. I’d like to get General Dallaire to the subject of genocide prevention, but I want to first talk about what you witnessed in Rwanda 16 years ago.
And I’m wondering if you might take us back in time and just tell us a few minutes about what you witnessed, and a little bit about the kind of decisions that you had to make on the ground to deal with what was really a tremendously harrowing experience.
Roméo Dallaire: What a great lead in to recommending you read my book and purchase it. However, it is I think important to realize that we walked into Rwanda, which was at a time when the U.N. had about 15 other missions going on, including Cambodia and Yugoslavia, which was cranking up at the time. Dayton was still in the works. And it was considered to be a simple, Chapter Six mission where both the belligerents of a civil war, wanted peace and needed a neutral force to be a sort of an umpire without a penalty box for hockey -- or a red card for those who are into soccer.
And that concept of peacekeeping, of observing and reporting and not intervening, not protecting, was proven to be ineffective as we observed and reported upon the slaughter over months, of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans. The nature of the conflict was generated by extremists who wanted to maintain power, and use the ethnicity card to eliminate a minority group that they felt was preventing them in the peace agreement from maintaining power.
And so they literally decided to wipe out 1.2 million people of another ethnicity, although of the same country, so fellow citizens. And they succeeded in slaughtering about 700,000, and about 100,000 of their own who they felt were too reconciliatory. And we did not intervene. We did not engage. In fact, we argued for over six weeks that it wasn’t a genocide, that it was simply tribalism. And so when does tribalism end and genocide commence?
What -- is it a number, is it an ambition, is it a stated political position, was debated as they were slaughtering them in the tens of thousands a day. The international community essentially emasculated the U.N., and so it’s rather facile to say that the U.N. failed in Rwanda. I made mistakes, the U.N. Secretariat made mistakes, and the Security Council made mistakes. But the real source of the fact that we ended up witnessing a genocide and letting it happen, and not intervening, came from the individual sovereign states that make up the U.N., that deliberately decided not to get engaged.
And so the inaction of those sovereign states was an action. It decided not to give the U.N. the resources, which meant not giving me the resources, to stop the genocide where we could have saved still hundreds of thousands. But worse than that, it didn’t even try to consider preventing it, because that’s the ultimate aim is to prevent it. And so it is an example where we have attempted to simplify it into sort of an ethnic, tribal, Black African thing that happens every now and again.
Well, in fact, it was a very sophisticated plan by very well educated leaders to implement a genocide and did it, and it was also a very deliberate decision by the powers, the countries, including mine, Canada, not to intervene, not to engage because it wasn’t in their self-interest. And so it happened. And we are still now, 16 years later, in an area, in the Great Lakes area, which is troubled by the impact of that genocide.
Michael Abramowitz: When did you realize that, during that period, that something was really terribly wrong?
Roméo Dallaire: Well, we were not allowed to have an intelligence gathering capability because we were there as a neutral force because both sides said they wanted us there, to be simply an observer to a system in implementing their peace agreement. So I could not conduct any covert operations, I could not even conduct any collection of hard intelligence, that as we normally would do. And the diplomats in the country, although were worried, did not share the intelligence information that even their military attaches had.
And so we were getting it from different sources. And ultimately the best source that happened was my paying, with a few of my officers, out of our own pocket, for some information to confirm some of the rumors of plans to distribute weapons, training of militias. And when we speak of militias, we’re talking about youths. We’re talking about the political wing of extremist parties what were free to function.
And but these youths were turned into, not political youth, but actually a militia to conduct most of the killing. Then we were aware of arms that were being hidden. And in so doing, was being brought more to the force by a radio station. And we should be very leery of radio stations or TV stations and how they interpret the news because this station was created by business after the peace agreement, and had a phenomenal attraction to youths and the general population by its programming, it’s music, and so on.
And slowly slipped in derogatory comments about the Tutsi minority and threw in every now and again, skewed information on the Tutsi ethnicity. And when the genocide actually started, it showed its full colors and was the instrument of genocide, passing information, telling people how to kill, where people were hidden. And in fact, at the tribunal, thank God, on 16 counts the leaders of that radio station were found guilty on 15 of them and are in jail for life.
Michael Abramowitz: What was it like after you returned to Canada, after witnessing these kinds of horrors?
Roméo Dallaire: Well, I was still in the Army and became Deputy Commander of the Army, and subsequently assisted the Deputy Minister. It took four years for me to finally psychologically crash under the stress of what we call operation stress injury, which is PTSD. Which means re-living at a moment’s notice the traumas that we witnessed. But also re-living the results of the ethical and morale and legal dilemmas in which we found ourselves in the midst of these massive crimes against humanity and how to respond to it.
And Canada, when everybody else was pulling out, in fact today 16 years ago the Belgians and the bulk of the forces started to be withdrawn, and the genocide escalated exponentially. Out of the 12 Canadian officers that came in, nine of them have fallen victim to post traumatic stress disorder, and one of them committed suicide last year. And for the impact of that is essentially, for me, Rwandan genocide happened this morning.
For the survivors of the Holocaust, it didn’t happen 60 years ago or 70 years ago, it happened this morning. It is that vivid. And that doesn’t, it’s not attenuated by time, it is assisted in building a prosthesis to live with it through therapy, medication and peer support.
Michael Abramowitz: How did your experiences, once you had time to get over this personal trauma, how did it shape the work that you wanted to do in the prevention of genocide? Let’s talk about that, maybe leading into how you got onto the Will to Intervene and genocide prevention in general.
Roméo Dallaire: When I left Rwanda in August the genocide had been over for over a month, and my successor came in. Upon leaving Rwanda -- where I feel my soul still exists there -- I promised that I would never let the Rwandan genocide die. Which meant that I took every opportunity to speak about it, every opportunity to get in print, media and whatever, in order to inform people of what happened in those months in Rwanda, and to inculcate in them a sense of responsibility to fellow human beings.
Because the resultant of that experience that I sort of matured to, I guess, was the fact that I believe that all humans are human. That in fact, not one of us is more human than another. We are exactly all the same. And in so, and so in this new era, post modern era, the post Cold War era over the last 20 years, we have, by our actions and inactions, established a pecking order in humanity, and the lowest of the human sort of pecking order has been the sub-Sahara black African.
Now I believe that we’re all the same and in so doing, if we can prevent massive abuses of human rights, if we can prevent frictions that revert and turn us into conflict, then I think ultimately we are moving towards a day where we will achieve the serenity of humanity. I think it might take a couple of centuries, but that’s okay. I think a couple of centuries to one day be able to live with the frictions of our nuances but never revert to conflict is fine after a millennium of humanity always reverting, or nearly always reverting to the use of force, one way or another abusively to resolve these frictions.
Michael Abramowitz: So we have these two reports, the Genocide Prevention Task Force and your work on the Will to Intervene. Give me what you think are the two or three most significant things that you think you would really like governments, both in Canada and in the United States to do to, to enhance their ability to prevent genocide.
Roméo Dallaire: I think the first this is that what is realized, even with the concept of responsibility to protect, which says that we go in if there’s massive abuses of human rights, and that sovereignty is not an absolute anymore. Even with that, there was a reticence to apply it by the big powers who feel they’ll get sucked into something they don’t want to do, and by the developing countries who are barely pulling out of dictatorships and so on.
Feeling that that would be a concept that the U.N. or international community could use to simply go in and do what we want. And so even with that fundamental doctrine that’s there now since 2005, there was no overt desire by nation states and its leadership to want to intervene, to want to apply it. And so we had a management tool of how to do it, and all the pecking order of criteria, but we didn’t have the will to want to apply it.
And so it’s a leadership problem. So the first thing that’s required is that the political leadership of the developed world in particular, who have the ability to intervene, go overtly with a policy statement that says that they will not permit massive abuses of human rights, and they will have a policy of prevention of massive abuses. That’s the first thing. So if you’re trying to prevent it, it will engage you much earlier in it.
And I would say that one of the leading elements is, in fact, Kofi Annan when he created the Genocide Prevention Advisory Board of which I’m a member of with Desmond Tutu and Gareth Evans and Madame Ogata, was the first time that they actually looked into prevention. So first thing, a policy overtly of prevention. So get in early to sniff it out, anticipate it, and try to snuff out the possibility of that.
The second thing is to make our own constituency realize the massive abuses of human rights that genocides, that the movement of massive numbers of human beings in absolutely unsanitary sort of scenarios of refugee camps, displaced camps and so on, has a direct impact on our self-interest. Because that’s one of their great criteria that our political pragmatists use is, what’s in it for us. What’s in their self-interest.
And with Rwanda, there was nothing. In fact I was told by the rural powers that, listen we’re not going into Rwanda because there’s nothing there except human beings, and there’s too many of them anyways. And so self-interest. How does massive abuses of human rights, mass atrocities, massive movements of people affect us? And I would contend it affects us and our security. It affects us in our security in regards to the spreading of pandemics, through the ability of these massive grouping of people in absolutely unsanitary conditions, that are festering places for the pandemics to happen, and the transport of that is so easy.
I think that the presence of these massive abuses of human rights will affect our security because they’re absolutely festering holes of extremism, of extremism that easily can go beyond the borders and be imported into our countries through one refugee movement or simply by extremists’ desires, who have absolutely nothing to lose to come in and destabilize our own situations. And, of course, through the economics of having these failing states left, right and center with these massive amounts of people that are a drain on human resources, that we can in fact attenuate, by not just throwing aide money but in fact preventing there those scenarios from happening.
And lastly, a number of them are affecting more and more resources that we deem essential. I’ll give you an example. How many of you have blackberry’s or cell phones here, and every one of them has coltan in it, and 80% of it comes from the Kivu area which is Eastern Congo, which is right at the source of that genocide that’s going on in the Congo right now. And that is being acquired often illegally and sold on the markets at mark ups that are absolutely impossible.
Well, we will see more and more of those resources being put into risk by permitting such catastrophic scenarios to happen. So the second element is it’s in our self-interest. And the last one is that the United States is not the world policeman. So don’t go in first. Influence politically, middle powers like Germany and Japan and Canada and other countries to go in, to get engaged early, to bring no sort of historic background, and save yourself in reserve.
Hold yourself in reserve that if the situation is not resolvable at that level, then ultimately the world power would have to intervene. But politically stay engaged. And so when I was in front of your Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, and Senator Durbin was the Chair, and one of the senators said, well what should the United States do in Darfur. And I said, well the first thing is don’t go in.
But I said, go north to Ottawa and start kicking the people there to get engaged. And go to other countries and get them engaged, and don’t be the first one in the door, get a bloody nose and maybe pull out as we had in Mogadishu and so on. So engage the middle powers, support them, give them some strategic assets. But politically demonstrate that you will back up that effort to go in and attenuate, potentially even deploy preventively, political assets, diplomatic assets, and security assets if needed, to prevent these catastrophic failures from happening.
And then if that fails and you’ve been engaged, then the world power acts as a world power, and does bring some finite solutions to the problem that ultimately went catastrophic.
Michael Abramowitz: I’d like to give our audience an opportunity to ask some questions, but I had one final question I wanted to ask you. And I think your answer there just kind of leads nicely into this. Which we’re here this week, among other things, to honor the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps. And I was reminded in doing some research for this interview that your father, and I believe maybe your father-in-law too were part of the Canadian liberation forces in Europe.
And I know today you had an opportunity to meet General Patreas and some of the other liberators before we got here. Are there lessons from that period that inspire you that are still relevant to us today?
Roméo Dallaire: I think what’s relevant is the passing of the torch of what they committed themselves to. And the reality of what happened there is just as a reality today potentially to happen. Not in the context necessarily of a world war, but in a more sophisticated, more ambiguous context of imploding nations and extremism that leads to terrorism. There are no borders anymore as there were in those days.
And so my mother’s a Dutch war bride, and so my father and father-in-law both fought in World War II, liberated Holland, and didn’t liberate a concentration camp, but they liberated a country where hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens of that country were ripped out of that country and sent into those concentration camps. And so they felt that they were participatory in attenuating and stopping that.
And I think that that’s where we’re into. We’re into more ambiguous, more complex scenarios, but the resultant is very similar. 800,000 human beings slaughtered in less than three months is a faster rate than the Holocaust. And it was on CNN. There was more media coverage of Tanya Harding’s kneecapping and O.J. Simpson’s glove on ABC, CBS and NBC, than there was on the genocide, although the information was there.
And so we are in an era of global communications. The question is, is it being provided. Are we getting the real goods early enough to conduct preventive actions, and are we, our politicians, courageous enough to engage in prevention. Which is, I will tell you, more risky than when the conflict is on. Because if you engage early and it doesn’t go well, you’re blamed. And if you engage early and it did go well and it didn’t happened, you’ll be questioned as to whether it was worth the resources we expended to do it.
And so political maturity and sophistication in this complex world of ambiguity, where I would believe the level of statesmanship is much more in demand than it was in the past and needed to be more sophisticated, is still lacking. And we’re not pushing them to bring that sophistication to the problem. Not pushing them enough anyways.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you, General Dallaire. I would very much welcome questions from the audience. I think we have microphones, and we have a question right here, sir.
Question: I am concerned about how you defined massive abuses of human rights. I’m concerned that there are many countries in the world who would characterize Israel as a country that participates in massive abuses of human rights. I know that China has been accused of massive abuses of human rights. What would you do? Or do you agree that those situations are in fact massive abuses of human rights, and what would you do, or how do you feel with those situations?
Roméo Dallaire: You are speaking of sovereign states that have a policy of which we are clearly, have been articulated by one side or the other in regards to whether it is massive abuses or not. And the question is, do we intervene or how would we intervene? I would contend that the Middle East is an area of humanity that is absolutely crucial to be resolved if humanity is ever going to achieve any level of serenity.
And so the question is not is there massive abuses going on in Israel as much as, is the Middle East resolvable, and in fact can we find peace and serenity in the Middle East that will project itself to the rest of the world and give the example and reduce the tensions in many other countries in the world. That I think is the first element. The definition of massive abuse of human rights in the responsibility to protect concept with the Albright Study pursued and so on, is a definition where deliberately the government overtly takes action against a group and brings grievous harm to that group, and ultimately works towards its elimination or its destruction.
And that can be the Bahai’s in Iran, as it can be the Tutsis in Rwanda, as it could be the Darfurians in Sudan. And to what extent do we intervene politically, and then are the tools, including economic, but then use of force, is in my opinion exactly the debate that’s got to be going on in the Security Council and in nation-states to respond to. So I’ll give you an example. I believe there are massive abuses of human rights going on in Darfur.
Why aren’t we intervening? I’ve been there, I was our Prime Minister’s representative there in 2005. And there’s 2 and 1/2 million people that have been living seven years with absolutely nothing. They slaughter, they kill, the rape, left, right and center, there’s a government set up there, and a legitimate government, internationally recognized and so on. Yet that is going on. Why haven’t we intervened? Why have we not deployed capability?
And you can’t tell me it’s because we’re up to our ears in Afghanistan and also in Iraq because when we had the Cold War on we had more than 2 and 1/2 million troops sitting in Europe making sure that we didn’t go after each other. We can’t put 40,000 troops in Darfur? Why not? When Rwanda happened and we were warning about them, and it started, they pulled out my forces except for about 450 that remained with me.
At that same time we poured 67,000 troops into ex-Yugoslavia. What criteria was used then? What references did our political masters use? Were Yugoslavs more human than Rwandans? Did they count more? Is there a criteria that maybe I am too naive to recognize? That in fact they should be helped and not the Africans? And we can give all kinds of facile answers from them being European and white and our security to simply Africa, Rwanda had no value to anyone of consequence and it wasn’t worth the risk. Particularly after Mogadishu.
And so massive abuses of human rights in my rules of engagement, and I’ll come back to that. This is my short answer. As I’ve gone around, we were expecting that massacres would happen. So I introduced a chapter, not a chapter but a paragraph in my rules of engagement that said if there are massive abuses of human rights in Rwanda, we had the right to intervene because these were crimes against humanity.
So did that mean if a road block was there preventing humanitarian aid to go and help 50,000, feed them and bring them stuff, is that an abuse of their human rights to try to live? My contention was yes, and we could use force to bust our way through and get the humanitarian aid. And so I have a very flexible sort of interpretation of abuse of human rights, which makes people uneasy. But if you’re going to go into prevention, you can’t wait for the definition of genocide to work its way through the legal system to then decide whether you’re going in.
Because in fact the term genocide was the greatest tool used for not intervening in Rwanda. And George Bush, when Darfur started, used the term genocide, but all he did was throw money at it. 84% of all the aid, or humanitarian aid going in to Darfur is American. But so what, they’re still dying. And it didn’t resolve it. And so the terminology are instruments I feel that have in this era created enormous ambiguity, and the responsiveness has been timid and reticent versus pushing the envelop of what they might mean.
Michael Abramowitz: You have time for maybe one quick question. There, sir. Right there.
Question: I have a very quick question. First, I’m sure most of us Americans, we’d love for the rest of the world to bear its moral responsibilities as well as we do. And certainly we have no interest in going in and being the world’s policeman. But you touched on a few things and let me bring you down to one in particular. You talk about prevention, about Kofi Annan, United Nations stepping in.
You mentioned Senator Dick Durbin, but you didn’t mention the city of Durbin. And it wasn’t but, I guess it was nine or ten years ago that the United Nations had its first conference to deal with racism, and here we have instead of preventing, something that you know many of us felt this was indicative of the world. That the world is upside down, that it’s being run by the bad guys, that there are interests out there that we can’t deal with alone. What do you have to say about all that, in a sentence or two?
Roméo Dallaire: I am a Canadian, my perspective. First thing is that I would like to answer to the fact that you don’t want to be the world policeman but you seem to be not seeing the rest of the world wanting to respond. And I would contend that part of that problem is that the Americans have not sold the product properly enough to get the others engaged. And put enough pressure on the other ones who can have more capability to do it.
My country gets away with throwing only a few thousand troops in Afghanistan because its got a policy of having a small army. Much smaller than its capability can be if the country believed in human rights and believed in engaging as a sovereign state, a nation state, in protecting others who are being abused. So I think that’s the first dimension. There’s an enormous responsibility on the leader to explain to the others exactly how they should be engaged in this system, and engaging them instead of going in first as a respondent.
Two, it’s a bad period of time, yes, because one side is not playing by any of the rules anymore. Our Eurocentric Cold War neat sort of scenario that we had at the time has disappeared and we’re not facing extremists and terrorism who have absolutely no respect for law of armed conflict, humanitarian law or anything. So one of the reactions we did was we started to go down the same route playing, fiddling with our civil liberties, our human rights, our conventions, thinking that that was the solution to sorting them out, was to actually play their game.
And thank God we’re pulling back and we’re going to try to be more innovative in trying to stop that extreme. I would also say that this is a very complex period of time to find solutions like Durbin and raising questions like that. And it reminds me of the sort of the era of the Catholic Church’s inquisition period. The wackos ran the Church in those days. And in so doing it took years, decades, to sort of moderate that sort of whole concept of what it was, the Catholic Church, and bring it into a reformation and in fact the arena of moderation and dogma that is more moderate than extremist.
Well, we’re in a period where we’re seeing that sort of extremism also taking extraordinary hold, and responding religiously and maybe racially. On the racial side of the house and Durbin as an example, there are two options. Either you poopoo Durbin and you don’t want anything to do with it and you let them continue to run the human rights commission in Geneva, and let it go but ignore it, or you stay in the fray and you wear them down, and you work at it, and you lose feathers, and you lose a lot of sleep and a lot of energy, and attempting ultimately, not next year, and ten years is not long in a problematic of that nature.
Maybe in 40 years. Maybe in 50 years. But ultimately we get a logic brought back to a response to racism that we believe should be within the moral and ethical references that we think is reasonable. And so you’re either in it for the long term and sustain that, or you sort of let it fester and continue to grow, and then maybe something might happen that might resolve it. And I would content that is not the way to go.
So I prefer taking them on in Geneva and in Durbin, and let it, let them beat it out. But work at it for decades, sustain the effort of trying to trip that perspective. And deliberately do that instead of isolating from it and trying to operate I think separately. I’m not sure that would work.
Michael Abramowitz: I think we are out of time. I wanted to thank General Dallaire very much for a very thought provoking conversation. I wanted to take one minute to just leave the audience with one thought. This afternoon General Dallaire and I are going to go participate in a working group about genocide prevention that the Museum sponsors with the U.S. Institute of Peace, and we’re going to be talking about some of the concrete things that we can do to build on this report that both groups did.
And if I could leave you all with one message as you head off for lunch, is that the work that the Museum and the U.S. Institute of Peace and General Dallaire’s group and also the work of Secretary Albright and Cohen is not just gathering dust on a shelf in a library somewhere. The Administration and Congress are very much taking these recommendations seriously. As you remember a year ago President Obama came to the Museum, came to the Days of Remembrance, and promised to do everything that he could to prevent and end the kinds of atrocities that took place in Rwanda, that took place in Darfur.
I’m happy to tell you, as Mike Posner told us last night, that the Administration has taken one of the central recommendations of the Task Force, and also the Will to Intervene Project, which is the creation of a committee at the National Security Council at the White House, that will try to anticipate these problems ahead of time. That committee met for the first time a week or two ago to focus on Sudan.
And so I just wanted to make the point to you, one that this report has a long afterlife, and that also these ideas are not just ephemeral, that things are improving. And they’re not where we want them to be, but I have hope, and I think General Dallaire has hope too. And with that I want to thank you very much for being a great audience.