UN on Rwanda: a Waste of Hope?

UN on Rwanda: a Waste of Hope?

In post-genocide Rwanda, the creation of the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR) represented a moment of hope. It was the first concrete expression of international solidarity from a world that had looked on throughout the genocide. It represented a chance for an embattled and impoverished government facing the difficult but urgent task of delivering justice and reconstructing a country devastated beyond belief. It was an opportunity to assist a guerrilla army emerging from the brutality of a genocide, and facing a range of formidable problems. Finally, HRFOR represented a hope for people all over the world who expect more from the United nations in the field of human rights.

On paper, HRFOR has a model mandate: assisting the investigation into the genocide, monitoring ongoing respect for human rights, promoting confidence to facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced people and helping to re-establish the basic institutions of a judiciary, police force and prison service. The official pronouncements of HRFOR indicate that these objectives are all being achieved. The reality on the ground belies this rosy picture. As this report, based on first-hand information from the monitors themselves shows, HRFOR has failed dismally on every count. A complex and sensitive human rights mission such as HRFOR required impartiality, professionalism and an integrated mandate: it has achieved none of these things. Rudderless, wasteful and incompetent, HRFOR has been, in the words of a staff member, "a systematic boycott of everything that could have made a positive contribution." Another monitor described the mission as "a waste of time, energy and money. But worst of all, it is a waste of hope"

It is impossible to understand the current situation in Rwanda, or to make a contribution to resolving some of the acute problems, without recognising the reality of the genocide, the huge crime that profoundly colours every individual and every event in Rwanda. Yet this is what HRFOR has attempted to do. Investigating the genocide was briefly on the agenda for the monitors, but now has been designated as the exclusive responsibility for the International Tribunal and the Rwandese judiciary. This pushes the monitors into an extremely partial, even partisan role: their mandate is essentially to try to prevent revenge attacks, and protect those who are the targets of such attacks--a role that most Rwandese perceive as highly political. The terms of reference handed down by the UN refer only to the needs of refugees and displaced persons. They make no mention of the most vulnerable groups of all--survivors of the genocide.

Normal procedures of human rights investigation, such as protecting the anonymity of witnesses and scrupulous checking of facts, are frequently ignored. This has endangered survivors as well as detainees. Political partiality is increasingly characteristic of the HRFOR. Monitors have gone so far as to say that they understand their mandate to be "to nail the RPA." Increasingly, HRFOR is seen as a defence team for those accused of participating in the genocide, and as the main source of criticism for the record of the RPA. Confidence-building between the government/army and mistrustful sections of the population is, in theory, a priority for HRFOR. But at all levels, relations between UN human rights monitors and their counterparts in government, the army and the gendarmerie are characterised by hostility and mutual incomprehension.

The Technical Co-operation Programme is one area in which HRFOR has striven to make progress. But the efforts of the staff members assigned to this task have been undermined by lack of support from other sections of the mission, and by the overly technical, and hence politically naive, approach of the Technical Co-operation staff themselves. Rwanda's judicial institutions have been all-but destroyed. Instead of helping the country move towards a functioning legal system, HRFOR is impeding the government's own investigations by helping suspects to escape justice or refusing to hand them over to governmental authorities. Without speedy progress towards justice, the impulses towards indiscriminate revenge and the entrenched culture of impunity will make for an extremely explosive political situation. Many of the monitors are young, inexperienced and unqualified. They were sent to Rwanda with virtually no training and preparation. The stories of how monitors were recruited and dispatched to Rwanda would make for comic fiction, were it not that the issues are so serious. In their testimonies, the monitors describe how they were completely unprepared for the task that confronted them.

HRFOR has so far proven to be a complete waste of resources, both human and financial. It represents a betrayal of the hopes of the Rwandese people and of the monitors themselves. The office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has appealed for funds to continue the mission. This will be a futile and counter-productive exercise unless HRFOR is thoroughly reformed. African Rights concludes with a set of recommendations that could enable HRFOR to play its wonted role as protector of human rights in Rwanda.

Date: Sun, 14 May 1995 04:49:14 -0700
From: Stephen Isabirye [ISABIRYE@NAUVAX.BITNET]
Subject: UN on Rwanda: a waste of hope? 

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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