By Joel Mowbray
February 28, 2005
Up for three Oscars last night, Hotel Rwanda is based on the incredible true story of Paul Rusesabagina, who used the five-star hotel he managed to shield almost 1,300 Rwandans from certain death in 1994.
But if you watch this powerful film—and you should—what you won’t see is the even more incredibly true story of the man with direct culpability for the deaths of 800,000 Tutsis: now-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The only place you can find this stomach-turning story, in fact, is in Amb. Dore Gold’s new UN-trashing tome called Tower of Babble.
Gold’s heavily researched and copiously footnoted book is solid throughout, but by far the best chapter is “Impartial to Genocide,” which serves as a damning indictment of Kofi Annan. The most startling revelation: Despite having credible advance warning that a genocide was imminent, Kofi was the man who spearheaded the UN’s unconscionable position of “neutrality” as Hutu militias murdered thousands of Tutsis per day.
On January 11, 1994—three months before the genocide began—Major General Romeo Dallaire, head of the original UN peacekeeping unit in Rwanda, sent a secret cable to UN officials in New York warning that a “very, very important government politician” had put him in touch with a Hutu informant who warned that Hutu malitias were planning the “extermination” of minority Tutsis.
No alarm bells went off at the UN, even though, as Gold writes, “Warning signs of an impending massacre were everywhere.” The man running the relevant division at the time, the Department of Peacekeeping Missions, was Kofi Annan.
Actually, alarm bells didn’t necessarily have to go off, as Gen. Dallaire offered a silver lining: He knew the location of the Hutus’ weapons cache, and he was planning to seize it and stop the slaughter before it started. But his plan to save hundreds of thousands of lives was short-circuited by Kofi Annan, who didn’t want to upset the sitting Hutu government or in any way appear to be taking sides.
Not only did Kofi not do anything to prevent genocide, but his actions almost assured that the Security Council wouldn’t either. According to various accounts cited by Gold, including the UN’s own post-debacle report, Security Council members complained that Kofi’s department kept them in the dark, not revealing the true nature and full extent of the genocide.
Kofi’s caution could not be chalked up to doubts about the accuracy of the warning. The UN secretary general’s personal representative investigated the matter. Despite his well-documented pro-Hutu leanings, he wrote back to the UN that he had “total, repeat total confidence in the veracity and true ambitions of the informant.”
In other words, not only did Kofi and the UN have a Hutu informant who gave them advance notice of the genocide, but they were able to verify the veracity of that informant. Still Kofi insisted on doing nothing.
Once the slaughter started and tens of thousands had been murdered, Kofi acted—just not the right way. To make sure that Gen. Dallaire’s men were not trying to stop the genocide, he instructed the commander in Rwanda to “make every effort not to compromise your impartiality or to act beyond your mandate.” Kofi’s advocacy for “impartiality” no doubt helped lead the Security Council to slash the already small peacekeeping contingent almost 90%.
Although Kofi never appeared on-screen, the fruits of his inaction could be seen throughout Hotel Rwanda. When the UN officer, played by Nick Nolte, tells the press before the genocide, “We’re here as peacekeepers, not peacemakers,” you can snicker as you imagine Kofi writing that line while enjoying a fine glass of red wine.
But when the tragedy is unfolding and the UN peacekeepers can do nothing but shout, “Don’t shoot,” amusement turns to disgust. And watching almost all the Western soldiers and UN peacekeepers pull out once it’s realized that they’re needed more than ever, profound sadness slowly captures your entire body. Resisting crying at this point is fruitless.
In the movie, the pullout of the Western soldiers and UN peacekeepers is attributed to “the West” thinking of Rwandans as “dirt.” Again and again the movie stressed that “the West” didn’t care about the Tutsis of Rwanda, which is sadly true.
But sadder still is that neither did their fellow African, Kofi Annan.
Joel Mowbray is author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America’s Security.