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Inside the UN Security Council: April–July 1994

United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Czech Republic Declassified Documents Reveal New Perspectives on United Nations Security Council Debates on Rwanda in April 1994

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 472

June 2, 2014

Edited by Michael Dobbs

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

EXPERT OPINION

Declassified U.N. Cables Reveal Turning Point in Rwanda Crisis of 1994
By Mark Landler, The New York Times, June 3, 2014

The United Nations Security Council in Rwanda
By Michael Barnett, the George Washington University, June 1, 2014

 

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Britain ignored genocide threat in Rwanda
By Oscar Williams, The Independent, March 9, 2014

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By Michael Dobbs, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
By Rafael Medoff
January 10, 2014

"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
 By Linda Melvern, Gregory Stanton, et al.
January 15, 2014 (published January 21, 2014)

 


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Washington, DC, June 2, 2014 – Newly-declassified reporting from 1994 by key members of the United Nations Security Council provides a previously unavailable day-by-day narrative of the international response to the Rwandan genocide, including the fateful decision to withdraw UN peacekeepers from the country at the height of the killing.

The National Security Archive at The George Washington University and the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are publishing a selection of the revealing cables on their Web sites today and tomorrow. The posting is the eighth in a series by the "#Rwanda20yrs" project, a partnership between the Archive and the Center to mark the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

The diplomatic cables, which supplement previously released United States and United Nations telegrams, show that non-aligned states led by Nigeria attempted to strengthen the UN peacekeeping force, known as UNAMIR, but failed to provide the required resources. The United States and other permanent members of the Security Council were scarred by the murders of UN peacekeepers in both Rwanda and Somalia, and unwilling to take any action that might prove unpopular domestically.

Declassification requests from the National Security Archive and the Center for the Prevention of Genocide in four countries have resulted in the release of nearly 300 formerly secret diplomatic cables that provide fresh insights into the closed Security Council sessions. The newly-released documents include reporting from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the Czech Republic, which were key players in the Security Council debates, in addition to previously withheld US diplomatic traffic.

While the State Department has released thousands of documents about the Rwanda genocide, thousands more are still considered confidential by other US government agencies, notably the Department of Defense. The Clinton Library has yet to process a request for the release of more than 100 emails and internal White House memoranda that could shed light on the role played by Clinton aides, including the present national security adviser, Susan Rice, in the UNAMIR withdrawal decision. The request is supported by the Public Interest Declassification Board, an advisory committee established by Congress in 2000, to promote "the fullest possible public access" to significant U.S. national security decisions.


Ambassador Jean Damascene Bizimana (Rwanda) addresses members of the Security Council. Date: 08 June 1994. Courtesy of United Nations, New York, Photo #286758.

Today's posting features a number of less well-known but influential characters in the West's developing response to the crisis. The New Zealand envoy, Colin Keating, served as President of the Security Council in April 1994, at the height of the genocide. The British ambassador, Sir David Hannay, was known as the "King of the Security Council" because of his mastery of UN procedures. Karel Kovanda of the Czech Republic was the first UN ambassador to use the term "genocide" to describe events in Rwanda. The United States representative on the Security Council was a much more familiar figure — Madeleine Albright, who went on to serve as Secretary of State in the second Clinton administration.

The contemporaneous diplomatic cables offer valuable insights into the debates in the so-called "Informal Sessions" of the Security Council which took place behind closed doors, without official note-takers present. It was at these meetings that the international community shaped its response to the Rwanda genocide in the days and weeks after the assassination of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6.

Details that emerge from the newly-released cables include the following:

  • Threats by the Clinton administration to withdraw peacekeepers from Rwanda, even before April 6. The day before the shooting down of the presidential plane, Washington linked a three-month extension of UNAMIR [Document 2] to progress on implementing the Arusha peace agreements. According to Keating, the U.S. wanted to keep Rwanda on "a short leash" [Document 1] as a means of bringing pressure on the warring parties to meet their obligations under the peace accords.

    Report by Colin Keating, New Zealand representative to the UN, Document 1.
  • The decision by US policy-makers to push for withdrawal of UNAMIR. On April 11, four days after the start of the genocide, Keating reported "a growing feeling" on the part of US diplomats that UNAMIR "withdrawal may be necessary." [Document 4] On April 12, U.S. ambassador Madeleine Albright cabled Washington [Document 5] to propose "taking the lead in the Security Council to authorize the evacuation of the bulk of UNAMIR while leaving behind a skeletal staff." Albright reported a closing "window of opportunity" to withdraw the peacekeepers while Kigali airport "is still open and under French-Belgian control."
  • Conflicting signals from the UN Secretary-General. On April 13, Boutros Boutros-Ghali informed his aides that "UNAMIR will have to be withdrawn" [Document 8] in light of a decision by the Belgian government to pull out its peacekeepers. The following day, he changed his position, and suggested that UNAMIR should stay on without the Belgians. On May 2, according to a cable from Keating, he "sprang a surprise" [Document 15] and proposed that the Council authorize "more forceful action to restore order in Rwanda."
  • Opposition to the presence of foreign forces by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF accepted the existing UN presence in Kigali, but was deeply suspicious of French and Belgian forces deployed in Rwanda to evacuate foreigners. The RPF threatened to treat such forces as "hostile" [Document 3] unless they withdrew from the country by April 14 at the latest. [Document 6]
  • The voice of skepticism. Sir David Hannay of the United Kingdom argued on April 14 that the goal of protecting civilians in Rwanda was "simply not achievable" [Document 8] with the limited resources available to the UN. On April 25, the UK ambassador warned that there was " no point in promising what we could not deliver." [Document 12]

    Report by Sir David Hannay of the UK, Document 12.
  • Frustration of non-permanent members with the lack of action by the Security Council. As the scale of the killings became apparent on April 20, UNSC President Keating observed that continued silence on the part of the Council was "becoming increasingly difficult to explain." [Document 9] Keating's successor, Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, warned on May 5 that the Council risked becoming "a laughing stock" [Document 16] unless it took prompt action.
  • Role played by NGOs. Security Council members relied on non-governmental organizations for some of the best reporting on Rwanda. An April 25 briefing by the French humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres that "a clear policy of genocide" [Document 11] was being conducted by "Rwandan government forces" made a deep impression on Keating and other Council members. As a consequence of the MSF report, Kovanda informed Prague that a "clear genocide" [Document 10] was taking place in Rwanda. The Czech envoy ridiculed Rwandan government-RPF ceasefire negotiations under UN auspices as comparable to "persuading Hitler to reach a ceasefire with the Jews."

    Report by the Czech Republic's Karel Kovanda, Document 10.
  • Obstruction by the Rwandan government. The Security Council deliberations were complicated by the presence of a representative of the genocidal regime in Rwanda, Jean-Damascene Bizimana. According to Hannay, the Rwandan envoy persuaded other non-aligned ambassadors [Document 14] to block use of the word "genocide" to describe events in Rwanda on April 30. A handwritten annotation on the presidential statement drafted by Ambassador Keating records that "Rwanda/NAM wouldn't allow the term genocide." [Document 13]

    Report by UK's Hannay, Document 14.
  • Opposition to French peacekeeping force. Many ambassadors were opposed to the French intervention known as "Operation Turquoise." According to Keating, Hannay privately described the French proposal as "crazy" [Document 17] while US diplomats termed it "disastrous." Nevertheless the Security Council voted 10-0 with five abstentions [Document 18] (New Zealand, Nigeria, Brazil, Pakistan, and China) on June 22 to support the operation.


The US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, speaks on the internal US government
discussions on the decision to withdraw UNAMIR.

See the annotated table and index below for the full collection of released reports from the UN Security Council informal meetings from January 1994 to July 1994.

* The sources of these documents include freedom of information requests to the US, UK, and New Zealand governments, the Czech Republic Foreign Ministry, as well as evidence from the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda (ICTR).

 


The Documents

Document 1
Date: April 4, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: Washington [New Zealand Embassy]
Subject: Security Council: New Zealand Presidency: Rwanda
Cable No: C02734

Document 2
Date: April 6, 1994
To: FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK]
From: UKMIS New York [UK Mission to the UN]
Subject: Rwanda
Cable No: 1216

Document 3
Date: April 8, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: C04272

Document 4
Date: April 11, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: Washington [New Zealand Embassy]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda: US Views
Cable No: C02755

Document 5
Date: April 12, 1994
To: SecState WashDC [Secretary of State, Washington, DC]
From: US Mission, USUN, New York
Subject: Future UNAMIR and French Roles in Rwanda
Cable No: USUN 01503

Document 6
Date: April 13, 1994
To: FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK]
From: UKMIS New York [UK Mission to the UN]
Subject: Rwanda
Cable No: 1306

Document 7
Date: April 13, 1994
To: [Kofi] Annan [Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations]
From: [Chinmaya] Gharekhan [Security Council Representative of the UN Secretary-General]
Subject: [Belgian Foreign Minister Informs Secretary General of Belgian Pullout from UNAMIR]
Cable No: N/A

Document 8
Date: April 15, 1994
To: FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK]
From: UKMIS New York [UK Mission to the UN]
Subject: Rwanda
Cable No: 1364

Document 9
Date: April 20, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: C04348

Document 10
Date: April 25, 1994
To: [Czech Foreign Ministry, Prague]
From: [Czech Republic Mission to the UN, New York]
Subject: N/A
Cable No: 2657

Document 11
Date: April 25, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: C04362

Document 12
Date: April 26, 1994
To: FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK]
From: UKMIS New York [UK Mission to the UN]
Subject: Rwanda
Cable No: 1481

Document 13
Date: April 30, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: N/A

Document 14
Date: April 30, 1994
To: FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK]
From: UKMIS New York [UK Mission to the UN]
Subject: Rwanda
Cable No: 1559

Document 15
Date: May 2, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: C04400

Document 16
Date: May 5, 1994
To: The Secretary-General [Boutros Boutros-Ghali], Geneva
From: [Chinmaya] Gharekhan [Security Council Representative of the UN Secretary-General], UNations New York
Subject: [Security Council Discussion on Rwanda]
Cable No: 1451

Document 17
Date: June 17, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: C04641

Document 18
Date: June 22, 1994
To: Wellington [New Zealand]
From: New York [New Zealand Mission to the UN]
Subject: Security Council: Rwanda
Cable No: C04656

 


U.N.S.C. Readouts

Sort by: Session Date  Source  Author  Document Date
Show Documents From: Czech Republic  New Zealand  Rwandan Patriotic Front  United Kingdom  United Nations  United States

Note: Some documents are listed twice if they reference more than one Security Council session. When subjects are absent or not descriptive, brief summaries are sometimes given in brackets in the “Subject” field.

 

 

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