United Nations and the Rwandan Genocide

United Nations and the Rwandan Genocide

In this article, we will discuss the United Nations actions prior to the Rwandan Genocide, as well as during the Rwandan Genocide.

The actions of the United Nations and the international community in the first part of 1994 have come to be viewed as one of the greatest mistakes that the international organization has been a part of with regards to issues related to human rights and international humanitarian intervention. Prior to the genocide beginning in early April of 1994, The United Nations peacekeeping forces were already in Rwanda. The reason that this force (UNAMIR) was present in the country was to help oversee a ceasefire agreement, the Arusha Peace Accord. This accord was aimed at brining an end to civil war in the country, and a peace between the government and Tutsi rebels.

However, the situation in Rwanda intensified on April 6th, 1994, when the president at the time, Juvénal Habyarimana, died in a plane crash. Following this crash, extremists in the country targeted UN peacekeepers, killing 10 peacekeepers. As a result, Weiss, et. al. explain that

“The Belgian government ordered its troops home, and the UN Security Council dramatically cut the UN peacekeeping force, leaving only a token mission. This reduction came in spite of the previous request of the Canadian commander of the blue helmets, Romeo Dallaire, for an augmented force and a warning that genocide was being planned by Hutu extremists.” They go on to say that “A the UN withdrew, the Hutu extremists committed genocide unimpeded,” targeting Tutsis, as well as who they viewed as moderate Hutus.

The international community through the United Nations (as well as outside the UN) was severely criticized for an unwillingness to not only act in Rwanda, but to even call it “genocide,” given the legal expectations once a state recognizes such actions are taking place in the world. With regards to the information about what was happening in Rwanda months leading up to the plan crash and then the genocide against the Tutsi population, there were reports that as early as the early 1990s, Hutu extremists were carrying out killings against Tutsis, as well as large scale detentions. There was also anti-Tutsi rhetoric that the government was putting forward in Rwanda in 1990, for example. In addition to this, there was a buildup of weapons.

What made matters worse was that the United Nations Peacekeeping force was well understaffed. In fact, Dallaire called for additional troops, asking for a presence of 5,000. However, an unwillingness to accommodate this number led him to call for halving his request (Power, 2002: 341).

Power writes that upon the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, “”Dallaire lacked not merely intelligence data and manpower but also institutional support…” (341).  She also wrote that “Every aspect of Dallaire’s UNAMIR was run on a shoestring. It was equipped with hand-me-down vehicles from the UN’s Cambodia mission, and only eighty of the 300 that turned up were usable. When the medical supplies ran out, in March 1994, New York said that there was no cash for resupply. Very few good could be procured locally, given that Rwanda was one of Africa’s poorest nations. Spare parts, batteries, and even ammunition could rarely be found. Dallaire spend some 70 percent of his time battling UN logistics” (342-343).

During the time, the United States Congress (and many Republicans in Congress at that time) were less and less willing to offering support for United Nations peacekeeping operations. In, Rwanda was not seen as a political priority in the United States, as well as many other countries around the world. And, following the killings of the Belgian peacekeepers, the United Staes, instead of sending in peacekeepers, or arguing for additional peacekeepers through the United Nations, instead decided to take out all of its citizens and representatives in the country. Other countries began to do the same, sending troops to help with the evacuation (Power, 2002). However, they were not there to help with the peacekeeping, something that Dallaire was hoping for (given that his current numbers of peacekeepers were “440 Belgians, 942 Bangladeshis, 843 Ghanaians, 60 Tunisians, and 255 others from twenty countries” (Power: 353). There was also an incident when Belgian peacekeepers that were protecting civilians were called to help evacuation efforts at the airport. Hutu forces waited outside, and as they left, the forces went in and committed genocide. During these days of evacuations, thousands of Rwandans were killed by Hutu forces (Power, 2002: 353).

Those in Rwanda continued to call for help, and yet, the international community did nothing to help them. And while a War Crimes Tribunal was established after the genocide, what took place in Rwanda was indeed a mass failure by the United Nations and the international community to act and protect those who were being targeted and killed.


Power, S. (2002). A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. New York, New York: Harper Perennial.

Weiss, T.G., Forsythe, D.P., Coate, R.A., Pease, K.K. (2014). The United Nations and Changing World Politics. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

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