Human Rights Watch today welcomed the appointment of Ingvar Carlsson, former prime minister of Sweden, to head an investigation into the role of the United Nations in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who announced the appointment today, supervised the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Rwanda at the time and has frequently been asked to account for the U.N.'s failure to protect the Tutsi minority against mass murder.

"The U.N. can never right the wrong it did in abandoning the people of Rwanda," said Alison Des Forges, author of a study of the genocide published last month by Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues. "But at least it can tell the truth about its failure."

The 800-page study, "Leave None to Tell the Story," criticizes U.N. staff for not having fully informed the Security Council about preparations for the killing campaign. The study also blasts the United States and Belgium for seeking to withdraw all peacekeepers once the slaughter of civilians had begun.

Des Forges noted that the U.N. investigation should have access to all the key players and many relevant documents that have never been made public. She said the investigation should seek to answer a number of important questions, including:

  • Why did U.N. staff underrate the risk of mass killings?
  • Why did the staff fail to make clear the systematic and genocidal nature of the killing, once it began?
  • Why did the U.N. initially refuse the peacekeepers' requests for support?

"This inquiry should also shed light on the shameful behavior of individual countries as the massacre unfolded," said Des Forges "The U.S., for example, was primarily worried about saving money, while France was trying to save its pride."

Des Forges noted that the U.N. Security Council permitted the Rwandan government to keep its seat on the Council even as it was engaging in the extermination campaign against the Tutsi minority. "The Security Council is supposed to promote peace, but it tolerated genocide instead," said Des Forges.

At least half a million Rwandans died in the genocide.