Start of Main Content

Major Brent Beardsley

Major Brent Beardsley was part of UNAMIR, the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, that started its deployment in the fall of 1993. He served as the executive assistant to the force commander, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire. In this short interview, he discusses the controversy surrounding the rules of engagement for the mission and how they came to be.


Dobbs: How did that Somalia syndrome affect you in Rwanda?

Beardsley: It affected us in Rwanda because as the rules of engagement, as you can see in paragraph 17. We had given ourselves the authority because we drafted these rules…

Dobbs: Right, so let’s talk about these rules of engagement. So, what was the key element here in these rules?

Beardsley: Well first and foremost they should not be written by soldiers. They are supposed to be written by your political authority and they’re given to you. Or you have a conversation and say, “This is what I need to be able to do,” and the politician and the lawyer go away, draft it, bring it back. You look at it and say, “Yes, these are good, I can live with this,” or “No, I’ve got a problem with this.” But at the end of the day, this is the document and it’s not signed by Roméo Dallaire, it’s a document that’s signed, should be by Boutros-Ghali, saying here are the rules of engagement for the mission.

At this time in New York, again, we’re a low priority mission, other missions are going through crises: Bosnia’s in crisis, Croatia’s in crisis, Somalia’s in crisis. So they say, “You just write up the rules of engagement, you write them up, you draft them and give them to us.”

So, we were looking at a situation, we said, okay, we’re a traditional Chapter VI peacekeeping force, we’ve had a peace agreement, we’re going to go in, we’ve got, you know, restricted rules of engagement. But, there’s been ethnic massacres over the last three years, we’re going to have demobilized soldiers with lots of money in their pocket walking around who could be targeted, and we say, there are occasions where we should not be standing there.

What’s clear in our heads, what we’re remembering, are those scenes from Bosnia, where men are hanging up against barbed-wire fences looking like concentration camp victims. We’re saying, in the presence of that we need to be empowered to do something about it. So we’re looking for robust rules of engagement. And we send that, as you see here, “Operational Directive No. 2: Rules of Engagement [Interim].” Until such time as the UN approves it, it is an interim document. This is what we will be using. This goes to DPKO. DPKO receives this.

Dobbs: DPKO is the…

Beardsley: Director of Peacekeeping Operations. So it goes to General Baril, who takes it to Kofi Annan or Iqbal Riza or whatever, for the secretary general’s office, the lawyers, who knows? Well, that’s exactly the point, who knows? Because we never hear a word. Now General Dallaire on basically a monthly basis is saying, “Oh by the way, have the rules of engagement been approved yet?” And nothing ever comes back, because nobody took the time to frickin’ read them. And no one wanted to put their signature on it accepting responsibility. So these remained interim right up to the 7th of April, the 8th of April, 10th of April...