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Critical Analysis of the Role of United Nation

Critical Analysis of the Role of United Nation as a Third Party in Conflict Management


As stated in the Preamble of the United Nations (UN), UN is determined “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”[1] Since its establishment in 1945, UN’s mission is to take part in conflict prevention in order to prevent or stop any forms of violence, either between states or internal conflicts.

The UN has specialized programs and agencies tasked to prevent conflicts from spreading out by targeting not only the acts of violence, but the roots of these conflicts. These programs include United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), and many others.[2]

The UN successfully accomplished conflict management tasks in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Namibia, Nicaragua and El Salvador. In fact, an entire chapter of the Agenda for Peace of 1992 by the UN Secretary-General was devoted to conflict prevention. The report suggests that between the stages of conflict intensification and the policy actions which aim at ending them, a conceptual link must be created.  Conflict prevention and dispute escalation prevention are included here. Regulation of the spread of violence if it happens is also included. And it was in these policy responses’ last segment that paved the way for conflict management.[3]

The Hutus’ militia and the Tutsis’ Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF): The Extremists

A political conflict can occur between states, or within a state. It can be caused by various factors. A conflict can arise from political causes. It can also arise from ideological differences,[4] economic factors, ethnic or cultural causes,[5] social causes,[6] geographical issues,[7] and even psychological causes.[Burton] What happened in Rwanda was caused by an outcome of a political conflict between two groups that are attempting get monopolize the political power over the country.

Conflict Management and the Rwanda Genocide

Conflict management, according to Fred Tanner, Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, is “an approach that established the conceptual ground for direct outside involvement to check escalating violence by using peaceful or even coercive means, if necessary.”[8]

Aside from the incidents in Yugoslavia and Somalia, the Rwanda Genocide is one of the historical event which calls for the need to reassess the role of the United Nations in conflict prevention and conflict management. And this paper tries to discuss the episodes in the Rwanda Genocide that prompted even the UN to review its own concept on conflict management.

The United Nations Assistance Mission of Rwanda

It was the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) that the United Nations tasked to aid the implementation of the Arusha Peace Agreement. Signed in August 4, 1993 by the government of Rwanda and the RPF, the Arusha Accords were meant to end the Rwandan Civil War. Hence, UNAMIR’s task was to aid the peace process between the Rwanda government and the rebel RPF. [9]

It was established by the Security Council Resolution 872 on October 5, 1992. The purpose of the UNAMIR is to ensure Kigali’s security, monitor the ceasefire agreement between the two opposing groups, put up an expanded demilitarized zone and demobilization procedures, monitor the security situation on the final period of the transitional government’s mandate until the election, assist with mine clearance and in coordination of humanitarian assistance activities and relief operations.[10]

It was Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh of Cameroon and Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire as the head of the UNAMIR. Belgian soldiers make up about 400 members of the troops. Note that Belgium has colonized Rwanda in the past. In matters of peace-keeping processes, the UN normally bans the former colonial power from taking position. The Rwanda Government and the rebels appear to follow the Arusha Peace Agreement. Both sides appear to be steadfast at creating the transitional government before the 1993 ends. However, the events that followed delayed the establishment of a transitional government. After President Habyarimana was inaugurated on January 5, 1994, major disagreements came between the opposing groups.

There were warnings sent to UN alarming the assembly of the genocide that was about to happen against the Tutsi minority and anti-tribalist Hutus. The warning came three months before the mass murder. However, UN ignored these warnings.[11] (The warning about the forthcoming genocide and the perpetrators came from General Romeo Dallaire himself, cabled to the UN Secretary-General at that time, Mr. Kofi Annan. General Dallaire asked UN permission for an immediate action to intervene against the mass slaughter planned by Hutu forces. But the general’s request was declined by the UN Department of Peacekeeping.[12]) This created confusion in the UNAMIR whether or not to use power. The orders issued by UN to UNAMIR were very limited. IN short, UNAMIR was rendered useless as the thousands of people are slaughtered.

The UN failed to extend the UNAMIR’s mandate to protect the people of Rwanda from the genocide. The mission’s job was limited to evacuating foreign nationals from Rwanda.[13] In fact, the peace-keeping force deployed by UN at the end of 1993, which is supposed to aid in the implementation of the cease fire between the two opposing groups, received severe criticism. There are countries that did not agree to send stronger force. One of these countries was the United States, ally of Britain.[14]

The United Nation’s failed mission: “The Report on the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations During the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda”

The council members of UN later acknowledged the failure of their mission to protect the peoples of Rwanda in a time where they mostly need it.[15] The UN even accepted the result of the independent inquiry lead by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson on the actions taken by the UN in Rwanda. The report states UN’s failure to ignore the warnings about the genocide despite the evidences that the mass slaughter will indeed happen. According to the report, UN failed in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide in many ‘fundamental respects.’[16]  (The surprising thing was that no one in the international community anticipated the level of atrocity that happened in Rwanda.) With the evidence that was forwarded to UN regarding the organized mass murder that is going to happen, a contingency plan should have been made, as mandated by the Geneva Convention.[17]

The report enumerates the reasons why UN failed: First, UN not only lacked the resources, but it also lacked the commitment to prevent the genocide from happening. The UNAMIR was also found to be not well planned in a way that it can respond to possible extremist act by either camp. The UNAMIR is also stated as a watered down version of the original plan by UN on the level of strength that will be deployed to Rwanda. [18]

The inquiry points out that UN’s Center for Human Rights and DPKO did not do adequate political investigation and analysis during the tensions. This resulted to the inadequacy of UNAMIR’s mandate.[19] This is also why UN’s peace-force in Rwanda was harshly criticized by the international community.

Other failures that the inquiry notes were the ‘implementation of the mandate itself’, ‘confusion over the rules of engagement’, ‘failure to respond to the genocide’, ‘inadequate resources and logistic’, and many others.

The report lead by Carlsson has deemed the UN useless during the worst moment in that particular episode in Rwanda’s history. However, there surely are factors that prevented the UN to come up with an in-depth analysis of the information on political situation in Rwanda, if the vital information are at UN’s disposal. As we can see in the discussion that will follow, the UN is caught in situations where it even finds itself inadequate at some moments during the tension in Rwanda.

On why the United Nations (and other international agencies) did not take further steps to prevent the genocide from occurring

In the international community, no one anticipated the kind of horror that happened. It was only the only close observers that the genocide will certainly happen. The messages (that is, the warnings) remained unclear for the international agencies including UN. In a report headed by Howard Adelman et al, the vague messages are found in four areas: “contradictions in the international system; the UN structure; attitude of senior officials towards messengers and inadequacies in the message sent; and interference.”[20]

UN’s principle in neutrality when it comes to information gathering isn’t necessarily applicable it times when international peace and security is under serious threat. This prevented the UN to arm itself with the capacity to collect and analyze information, which are vital when it comes to conflict management, during the tensions in Rwanda. [21]

Another factor that caused UN’s failure in conflict management in Rwanda is that it is trapped between disinterested nations, Tanzania and US. These nations, especially US, showed no intentions to share its collected and analyzed (a result of CIA’s ‘desk-analysis’) information to UN.[22]

The structure of the UN gives power to the Secretary General to give permission to UNAMIR for an immediate action to intervene in the plot for genocide in order to prevent it from happening. However, this power is not maximized in the case of Rwanda. One reason is that UN lacks staff. (Rwanda is only monitored by one person.) However, the deeper reason lies in the restructuring of the Secretariat since 1990. It is here where UN lost its capacity to collect vital information that can be analyzed and used as basis for making contingency plans. The distribution of the Secretary-General of his responsibilities to other agencies and departments also left the DPA, which should play an essential part in conflict management, lacking in logistics to carry out the task.[23]

Another area that prevented the UN to take further actions is the messengers. The agencies that are associated with UN are reluctant to divulge information. That is to say, they are suspicious as to how the political and military information will be used. One thing more is the propaganda that the Hutu-dominated mass media spread. This made many, including members of UN, suspicious of the circulating information. Even the UN Secretary-General realized the disadvantage of not having the mass media on UN’s side. Mass media might have been played an important source for information.

As mentioned, UN did not expect the magnitude of the event that happened. First, just because genocide is rare, the UN concluded that it will not happen at that time in Rwanda. Second, it is confident in the Tsutsis, blind to the fact that these people are also miscalculating the conditions around them. (The Tsutsis also did not expect that the rest of the world will walk out from Rwanda the moment the Hutu extremists (militia, armed forces of the government and even civilians) tries to erase them from the face of their own country.[24]

There are other factors that prevented UN from thinking clearly and thereby also preventing it from acting accordingly. First, the UN is completely confident of the Arusha Peace Agreement. Second, their sense of judgment was clouded by its past experience in Somalia. Before the genocide broke out, the situation in Rwanda is peripheral compared to many other global issues that the UN is paying attention to.[25]

The Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights and other human rights agencies, as well as the RPF used the word genocide in the reports they made to UN. However, the ambiguity of the definition of genocide also created confusion on the messages conveyed to UN.[26]

Another thing is that the UN seems to not learn from what happened in Burundi just six months before the Rwanda Genocide happened – around 50,000 to 100,000 people were killed. Rather than considered as a political conflict, the conflict between the Hutus and the Tsutsis were considered only as a continuing ancient feud.[27]

Conclusion and Recommendation

Clearly, the United Nations failed in conflict management in Rwanda. This is because it lacks the vital factors in order to carry out the task. The UN sent UNAMIR to ensure peace in Rwanda. UN becomes too confident that no genocide will occur. The UN had received warnings about the Hutu-planned genocide, but ignored it because of a complex web of factors. In some of the situations, UN is caught between states, which are members of UN, which has their own motives regarding the situation.

If examined, UN failed in information gathering that is very important in conflict management. The UN should reassess its structure in order to make collecting information and making in-depth analysis more efficient. (Remember that UN lost most of these capacities when it restructured its Secretariat.) This is in connection to the Rwanda Report’s recommendation that the UN should improve its early warning capacity. And this can only be done through improving its coordination with various institutions. As suggested by the Report, the UN should improve its capacity “to analyze and respond to information about possible conflicts, and its operational capability for preventive action”. In this context, the report suggests that “further enhancement of the cooperation between different Secretariat departments, UNSECOORD programmes and agencies and outside actors, including regional and subregional organizations NGOs and the academic world, is essential.”


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