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The United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda was a mission instituted by the United Nations to aid the implementation of the Arusha Accords, signed August 4, 1993, which were meant to end the Rwandan Civil War. The mission lasted from October 1993 to March 1996. Its activities were meant to aid the peace process between the Hutu-dominated Rwandese government and the Tutsi-dominated rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The UNAMIR has received much attention for its role, or lack thereof due to the limitations of its rules of engagement, in the Rwandan Genocide and outbreak of fighting. Its mandate extended past the RPF overthrow of the government and into the Great Lakes refugee crisis. The mission is thus regarded as a major failure.[1]


In October 1990 the Rwandan Civil War began when the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebel group invaded across Uganda's southern border into northern Rwanda. The RPF was composed of over 4000 soldiers, most the sons of Tutsi refugees who had fled ethnic purges in Rwanda between 1959 to 1963. It portrayed itself as a democratic, multi-ethnic movement and demanded an end to ethnic discrimination, to economic looting of the country by government elites and a stop to the security situation that continued to generate refugees. It was supported by the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni, who had come to power in the Ugandan Bush War with significant support from the Rwandan refugees in the country. However, the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) was saved by reinforcements from France and Zaire, who backed the government of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, who had been in power since 1973.

The French intervention of two parachute companies, explained as an attempt to protect its own nationals, actually blocked the RPF advance on the capital Kigali. In contrast, the government of Belgium, the former colonial power, cut all support to the Habyarimana regime, which viewed the action as abandonment. Thwarted by the French, the RPF suffered a humiliating retreat back into the Virunga Mountains along the border. After the demoralizing death of Major-General Fred Rwigyema, the collapse of the RPF was prevented through the leadership of Paul Kagame.

The RPF thus managed to retain control of a sliver of land in the north, from which it continued to launch raids.[2] Comparing the RPF and RGF as he saw them in 1993, Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire noted that the rebels "had won all recent contests because of their superior leadership, training, experience, frugality, mobility, discipline and morale."[3]

However, the RPF invasion, which displaced approximately 600,000 people into crowded internally displaced person camps, also radicalized the Hutu populace. The Tutsi civilians in Rwanda, roughly 14% of the population, were labeled ibyitso ("accomplices") or inyenzni ("cockroaches"), who were accused of secretly aiding the RPF invaders.[4] Anti-Tutsi propaganda was spread through the publication Kangura, a forerunner to the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which was created immediately after the invasion. The first plans for mass murder of Tutsi were also developed toward the end of 1990, mostly in a series of secret meetings in Gisenyi prefecture of the Akazu, a network of associates based around Agathe Habyarimana, the First Lady.[5]

A number of ceasefire agreements were signed by the RPF and government, including one signed on 22 July 1992 in Arusha, Tanzania that resulted in the Organization of African Unity (OAU) establishing a 50-member Neutral Military Observer Group (NMOG I) led by Nigerian General Ekundayo Opaleye.[6] The negotiations for a peace settlement continued in Arusha, interrupted by a massive RPF offensive in early February 1993. Rwanda continued to allege Ugandan support for the RPF, which both the RPF and Uganda duly denied, but resulting in both countries sending letters to President of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) requesting that military observers be deployed along the border to verify that military supplies were not crossing.

This resulted in the United Nations Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR) being approved by the UNSC on 22 June 1993 to deploy along the Ugandan side of the border.[7] Seven days later, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali announced that Brigadier-General Dallaire was to be appointed the Chief Military Observer for UNOMUR, which reached its authorized strength of 81 observers by September. NMOG I was deployed inside Rwanda.[8]

In the meantime, talks in Arusha had reconvened on 16 March 1993, resulting in the signing of the Arusha Accords, a comprehensive agreement to create a power-sharing government, on the fourth of August. Both the RPF and Rwandan government requested UN assistance in implementing the agreement. In early August, NMOG I was replaced by NMOG II, consisting of about 130 members, in preparation for a UN-led peacekeeping force.[9]


UNAMIR was established on 5 October 1993 by Security Council Resolution 872 (1993). Its mandate included "ensuring the security of the capital city of Kigali; monitoring the ceasefire agreement, including establishment of an expanded demilitarized zone and demobilization procedures; monitoring the security situation during the final period of the transitional Government's mandate leading up to elections; assisting with mine-clearance; and assisting in the coordination of humanitarian assistance activities in conjunction with relief operations."[10] Its authorised strength was 2,500 personnel, but it took some five months of piecemeal commitments for the mission to reach this level.

The head of the mission was Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh of Cameroon, and its Force Commander was Canadian Lieutenant-General (then Brigadier-General, promoted Major-General during the mission) Roméo Dallaire. Around 400 of the troops in this early part of the mission consisted of Belgian soldiers, despite the fact that Rwanda had been a Belgian colony, and normally the UN bans the former colonial power from serving in such peace-keeping roles. The biggest contributing countries along with Belgium were Bangladesh, Ghana (both combined providing half of the force), Tunisia, and Canada. During the remainder of 1993, both sides of the Rwandan struggle appeared committed to holding to the ideals of the Arusha Accords, and reaffirmed such commitment to creating a new, broad-based transitional government by the end of the year.

Squabbling between interested parties delayed the UNAMIR goal of assisting the formation of the transitional government following the inauguration of President Habyarimana on January 5, 1994. The violent clashes that followed, including the assassinations of 2 major political leaders and the ambush of a UNAMIR-led convoy of RPF forces led the UNAMIR forces to move to a more defensive footing. UNAMIR thus contributed support to the military and civilian authorities in Rwanda, while the UN continued to place pressure on Habyarimana and the RPF to return to the ideas set forth in the Accords.

On April 5, 1994, the UN voted to extend the mandate of UNAMIR to 29 July 1994, after expressing "deep concern at the delay in the establishment of the broad-based transitional Government and the Transitional National Assembly" and "concern at the deterioration in security in the country, particularly in Kigali."


Memorial for the dead Belgian UNAMIR personnel in Kigali.

Skulls in Murambi Technical School

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down near Kigali. What followed was the collapse of the unstable peace in Rwanda and the Rwandan Genocide, estimated to have claimed between 800,000 and 1,017,100 Tutsi and Hutu victims over 100 days.

Among the first targets of the genocide were Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian members of 2nd Commando Battalion, the Paracommando Regiment operating as part of UNAMIR. These troops were murdered after handing over their weapons to Rwandan government troops. They were advised to do so by their battalion commander who was unclear on the legal issues with authorising them to defend themselves, even though they had already been under fire for approximately two hours.

This confusion over legal protocols typified the response of UNAMIR to the escalating chaos. The mission's vague mandate, created under Chapter VI of the UN Charter was unclear about the right to use force, particularly in defence of civilians. The mission's original intention was to oversee the implementation of the Arusha peace agreement. However, by the time of the genocide, the peace agreement was completely irrelevant and UNAMIR was legally powerless.

Frightened by the deaths of their soldiers and aware of the international embarrassment the United States suffered in Mogadishu, Somalia after the civil war there claimed the lives of several US troops (see Battle of Mogadishu), the Belgian government quickly called for the withdrawal of the Belgian contingent of UNAMIR. After the withdrawal of other nations' contingents, UNAMIR was left with 270 soldiers supported by less than 200 local authorities. Lieutenant-General Dallaire, despite orders to withdraw from Kigali, refused to abandon the country to the genocide, and remained to lead what forces remained.

Understaffed and abandoned, UNAMIR did the best it could with what forces remained. As individuals and as a group, members of the UNAMIR forces did manage to save the lives of thousands of Tutsis in and around Kigali and the few areas of UN control. Lieutenant-General Dallaire requested the immediate insertion of approximately 5,000 troops, but his request was denied.

For the next six weeks, approximately, UNAMIR coordinated peace talks between the Hutu government and the RPF to little avail. Eventually, on 17 May 1994, the UN security council adopted a resolution that would deliver nearly 5,500 troops and much needed personnel carriers and other equipment to UNAMIR. However this and subsequent resolutions were still unclear on the right to use force in stopping the genocide. In one of Romeo Dallaire’s parting cables, he said that “the [UN] force has been prevented from having a modicum of self-respect and effectiveness on the ground.” [11] Unfortunately, in the face of the mayhem in Rwanda and this diplomatic watering down of UNAMIR's mandate, many UN member states delayed contributing personnel for some time, until the main wave of killings ceased.

At the beginning of July, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh was replaced by Shaharyar Khan of Pakistan as head of UNAMIR.

After the genocide

United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda Medal
File:UNAMIR obverse.jpg

File:UNAMIR ribbon.gif
Obverse and ribbon of the medal
Type Campaign medal
Eligibility United Nations forces.
Awarded for 90 days' service to the Mission
Campaign Rwandan Civil War, Rwandan Genocide, Great Lakes refugee crisis
Clasps None
Established December 1993

In July 1994, the RPF swept into Kigali and ended the genocide that had lasted 100 days, and RPF leader Paul Kagame (who became president several years later—and still is today[when?]—but effectively controlled the country from July 1994 through the present) reaffirmed his commitment to the Arusha Accords.

In August 1994, suffering from severe stress, General Roméo Dallaire was replaced as Force Commander by Major-General Guy Tousignant, also from Canada. In December 1995, Tousignant was replaced by Indian Shiva Kumar.

Following the end of the main killings the challenges for UNAMIR (and the many NGOs who arrived in the country) were to maintain the fragile peace, stabilise the government and, most importantly, care for the nearly 4 million displaced persons in camps within Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. The massive camps around Lake Kivu in the north west of Rwanda were holding about 1.2 million people and this was creating enormous security, health and ecological problems.

After the late arrival of the much needed troop support, UNAMIR continued to carry out its mandate to the best of its abilities. In 1996, however, with assertion from the new Rwandese government that UNAMIR had failed in its priority mission, the UN withdrew the UNAMIR mandate on March 8, 1996. In the end, 27 members of UNAMIR - 22 soldiers, three military observers, one civilian police and one local staff - lost their lives during the mission.

Despite the failure of UNAMIR in its main mission, its humanitarian services during the 1994 genocide are recognized to this day as having saved the lives of thousands or tens of thousands of Rwandan Tutsi and Hutu moderates who would have otherwise been killed. However, the actions of the UN in Rwanda (and particularly the Head of Peacekeeping Operations at the time, Kofi Annan) have been used by some as examples of the over-bureaucratic and dithering approach of the UN. (General Dallaire was particularly critical of Annan's performance.)

Countries that contributed troops to UNAMIR throughout its existence were: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

General Dallaire received the Aegis Trust Award (the first) for his acts of bravery, yet the spectre of his mission's failure haunted him greatly. Having attempted suicide and having not responded to therapy following diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), General Dallaire was medically dismissed from service.

In 2004-2005, he was a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University, where he was studying and writing about different forms of conflict resolution. On 25 March 2005, he was appointed a , representing Québec as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada; he serves on the committee for Human Rights. He also speaks publicly about his experiences relating to genocide, PTSD and suicide.

See also

References and notes

  1. "Rwanda/UN: Acknowledging Failure", AfricaFocus Bulletin (compiling several individual reports), March 31, 2004
  2. Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide, Verso: New York, 2004, ISBN 1-85984-588-6, pp. 13-16
  3. Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil, Carroll & Graf: New York, 2003, ISBN 0-7867-1510-3, p. 67
  4. Melvern 2004, pp. 14-15. See also Historical Background, Rwanda - UNAMIR: Background,
  5. Melvern 2004, pp. 12 & 19
  6. William J. Lahneman (2004). Military intervention: cases in context for the twenty-first century. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 71. ISBN 0-7425-2951-7. 
  7. S/RES/846 (1993) PDF, United Nations Security Council, 22 June 1993
  8. United Nations Involvement, Rwanda - UNAMIR: Background,
  9. Rwanda - UNAMIR: Background,
  10. Rwanda - UNAMIR: Mandate,
  11. Power, Samantha. "Rwanda:"Mostly In A Listening Mode"" A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Basic, 2002. 329-90. Print.

Further reading

  • Barnett, Michael. Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda. Cornell University Press, 2002.

External links

  • UNAMIR Official United Nations information webpage

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