UN row stifles Rwanda genocide inquiry: Frustration has driven a top UN investigator to resign, write Craig Nelson in Kigali and Richard Dowden
Wednesday 14 September 1994
The resignation of Karen Kenny, the senior investigator of the UN Commission for Human Rights (UNHRC) in Rwanda, is the clearest indication of the troubles. According to her colleagues she did not seek to renew her contract because she was frustrated by the UN's failure to provide adequate personnel and equipment to conduct the enquiry.
Officials of the new Rwandese government, aid workers and diplomats in Rwanda are contemptuous of the failure of the UN human rights mission, while in London, the Save the Children Fund said its poor organisation was threatening the peace process. In Geneva the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jose Ayala Lasso, blamed lack of finance for the failure of the operation and called a meeting of donors to raise pounds 7.8m.
In May while organised massacres were still going on, the UNHRC appointed a special rapporteur to investigate evidence of genocide and 'crimes against humanity' in Rwanda. It called for six investigators to be sent immediately to Kigali. By the end of July however, only one investigator had arrived and by the end of August, only four. Mr Ayala Lasso promised to send 20 observers by the end of August to monitor the safety of Rwandans returning from refugee camps, to collect evidence of atrocities, and to post an additional 127 monitors in the countryside by the end of September. None has arrived.
According to UN sources, requests to Geneva for forensic and ballistic experts, military analysts and administrators have gone unanswered. Four-wheel drive vehicles, essential for travelling to isolated regions where atrocities are said to have occurred, have not been supplied to investigators despite promises from the UN Development Programme.
It took until last week for an ordinary car, suitable only for paved roads, to be placed at the investigators' disposal. Evidence of genocide abounds in Rwanda but the means to record it have been denied to the investigators. For want of 60 cassette tapes requested from UNHRC headquarters in Geneva, recordings of inflammatory broadcasts by a now disbanded Rwandan radio station could not be copied when they were supplied to Ms Kenny by the US-based body Human Rights Watch - Africa.
The station, Radio Milles des Collines, was instrumental in carrying out massacres and its broadcasts could hold key evidence for prosecutions by an international tribunal. It urged soldiers and militia to 'fill up the graves'.
The inquiry into genocide was an opportunity for the UN to restore its image in the region after the Security Council withdrew peace-keepers in April while the killings were taking place. 'The UN is squandering a golden opportunity to stop the cycle of impunity in Rwanda once for and for all,' lamented a senior UN official. 'An aggressive UN investigation into genocide by the previous government, plus the posting of observers in Rwanda to discourage revenge killings, would put respect for human rights directly on to the local agenda of this country as it attempts to rebuild,' he said.
Ms Kenny's departure comes as the investigation team is preparing a preliminary report to the commission of African legal experts set up by the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, last month to establish the legal basis for a genocide tribunal. Sources who have seen the draft of the report say it will conclude there is a prima-facie case for charging former government officials and their allies with genocide, and recommends the establishment of an international tribunal at The Hague. But shortage of resources will make it difficult to gather evidence to sustain prosecutions.
Human-rights officials argue that the failing UN human rights investigation in Rwanda jeopardises stability in the region, not simply because a weak or failed prosecution might allow murderers to go free. There are the security concerns of some 1.9 million Rwandans in refugee camps in neighbouring Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi. Human rights groups argue that posting human rights monitors to the refugee camps is vital to reassuring Rwandan refugees that it is safe to go home.
Politics as well as bureaucratic bungling appear to lie behind the failure of the UN's human rights investigation. According to UN sources, the inquiry is a pawn in the struggle for control of the UN human-rights portfolio between Ibrahima Fall, the head of the Centre for Human Rights, and Mr Ayala Lasso, the head of the Human Rights Commission. Western diplomatic sources accuse Mr Fall of being partial to the French government, which was close to the previous Hutu-dominated government of Juvenal Habyarimana. Paris has apparently pressed the new Rwandan government to grant an amnesty and drop investigations into the genocide.
The new government has launched its own Human Rights Commission to investigate the causes of the genocide and identify the perpetrators. But it does not have the capacity to mount trials. David Hawk of the Washington- based American Committee for Refugees, says the new regime lacks the capacity to try 100 suspects, let alone up to 32,000 former army soldiers and allied militia who, it believes, led the massacres. The danger is that, without an adequate legal framework for bringing the murderers to justice, civil war will break out again.
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