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The International Response to the Rwandan Genocide – a Failure of Humanity

At a Director's Forum with General Dallaire, the Canadian Commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, and author of the recently published Shake Hands with The Devil, Dallaire provided a vivid account of his experience in Rwanda and of the international community's failure to intervene.

Date & Time

Apr. 22, 2004
4:00pm – 5:30pm ET


"Are all humans human or are some humans more human than others?" General Dallaire began his speech by posing this provocative, haunting question. He followed on with the point and question: In the context of the fact that 80 percent of humanity is living in absolute poverty with no hope and no dignity, can we say that humanity is advancing? Dallaire answers this second question with an unqualified No. He warns that if the developed world continues to view this 80 percent as a residual, as a problem, they will become more and more impatient and enraged, and as a result, the developed world will either find itself desperate to stabilize this population, or will find itself with more 9/11s. According to Dallaire, we are far more vulnerable today than we were during the Cold War and until we look at the complete problem—until we bring this 80 percent into the rest of humanity, we will continue to be vulnerable.

Turning to Rwanda, Dallaire recalled the simple fact that in 1994, "Rwanda did not count." According to the developed world, specifically the nations of the UN Security Council, there was no strategic value or resources there, not even a radar station. Why did no one come to Rwanda, he asked, when it was clear that genocide was in the works? Because of the fear of casualties on the part of the developed world. Because, as Dallaire plainly says, "Our lives are more important than theirs." He went on to describe how in the face of the refusal of the developed world to authorize the UN to intervene, he attempted to use the media to "shame the international community" into action by devising a system to get cameras access to the carnage and to get the stories out of the country as efficiently as possible.

Another theme that Dallaire developed was the challenge of "ambiguity" in many of today's conflicts. He cites his mission in Rwanda as a good example of this: "To assist in the establishment of an atmosphere of security." Dallaire asks, what does this mean? He asserts that one of our problems is that we have not yet found a lexicon for dealing with today's ambiguous security situations. "We have been adhocing between peacekeeping skills and war skills."

On the question of when to intervene in these failed state situations, he asks, "Can we morally accept our institutions establishing a pecking order of who counts and who doesn't? Until humanity is the primary motivation and not the "national interest" we'll have difficulties in intervention." He asserts that the international community needs a whole new conceptual base for politics, diplomacy, and humanitarianism, to deal with today's complex situations.

Nicole Rumeau, Program Associate, (202) 691-4097
Howard Wolpe, Program Director


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