Published in Information (Denmark)

6nd April 2004

Posted at



One minute of silence






By Bjørn Willum



One minute of silence. That is what UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wants all human beings to observe Wednesday at noon local time in each time zone in respect of the victims of the most comprehensive and efficient mass murder of modern times. The genocide in Rwanda. And to reflect on how we can all help preventing that something similar ever happens again.

It is a given that quite a few issues will be spinning inside the secretary general’s own head when the hand strikes noon in the city of New York. He has, of course, already explained to the world how to break the cycle of violence: justice. That every criminal is brought to justice regardless of his or her political affiliation or position in society.

“There can be no peace without justice and there can be no justice without respect for human rights and the rule of law," Mr Annan said when the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in September 1998 issued the first ‘guilty of genocide’ verdict in the history of mankind. But at UN headquarters, there is a no small discrepancy between what is said and what is done. That is the case both when it comes to the concepts of justice and truth.

Already more than seven years ago, Information documented how the UN leadership of then Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and then head of the UN peacekeeping department Kofi Annan tried to avoid responsibility by lying about their own actions in connection with the genocide.

Among many other issues, the UN top dogs claimed to have forwarded intelligence on the planning of the genocide to the UN Security Council three months prior to April 6, when unknown perpetrators shot down a jet carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. The cold-blooded terrorist act had the desired effect: extremist Hutu militia used the excuse to kill political opponents as well as about a million ordinary people in the most gruesome of ways imaginable.

The intelligence, Information revealed back then, had in fact been deliberately suppressed by Annan. Out of diplomatic consideration of the US government that clearly did not want to face public demands of intervening in yet another African country following the fiasco in Somalia a few months earlier, where the bodies of US elite soldiers had been dragged around the capital Mogadishu in honour of CNN.

But it appears that not even truth and justice post mortem is something the UN high-ups believe Rwanda deserves. Only a few months after the genocide, researchers dispatched by the UN high commissioner for refugees handed in a report that documented not only how Hutu extremists but also their opponents, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel group, which seized power in Rwanda following the genocide, had committed horrific war crimes. A report that the high commissioner for refugees, acting under orders of Annan and Boutros-Ghali, chose to declare “non-existent”.

11 years, 2.7 billion dollars in compensations, extradition of suspects and a letter to the UN Security Council assuming responsibility of the bombing of the PanAm passenger plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in the 1980s. Nothing less was required before the UN Security Council in September last year lifted sanctions against Libya.

On the contrary, senior UN officials have been exceptionally busy sweeping the terrorist act that triggered the Rwanda genocide under the carpet – despite the fact that the Security Council as early as the day after the attack instructed Boutros-Ghali to collect all useful information on the subject and report back to the Council as quickly as possible.

An investigations team at the Rwanda tribunal in February 1997 reached the unfortunate conclusion that it had been, from a diplomatic point of view, the ‘wrong ones’ – the current Rwanda RPF regime, which seized power following the genocide – that had organized the downing of the plane. And not Hutu extremists that at this point in time were on the run.

To try issuing an arrest warrant of the leaders of Rwanda’s regime was a sure way to plunge the UN bureaucracy into a fierce diplomatic battle with the regime – and it would surely not have improved the world organization’s relations with Washington that had allied itself with the military dictatorship in the tiny African country.

So yet again, the UN system decided that, alas, considerations of truth and justice weighed as ashes when balanced against smooth diplomatic relations. Then Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, who had for more than a year backed the investigation, suddenly closed it down. As is narrated in today’s paper, possibly at the advice or encouragement of Annan.

Perhaps what the diplomat of all diplomats really wants to tell us is that truth and justice are luxury concepts that the world organization can only afford to pay for in Lockerbie, New York and Madrid. But unfortunately not in poor African countries.

That is, should one wish, something to ponder tomorrow when the clock strikes 12.










Did Annan shut down terror investigation?
Phone call from Rwanda