the real reason kofi annan must go

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    The Real Reason Kofi Annan Must Go

    Genocide, not oil money, is the proof of his failed leadership.

    By Kenneth L. Cain
    The Wall Street Journal
    December 20, 2004

    A debate currently rages about whether Kofi Annan enjoys the moral authority to lead the United Nations because the Oil for Food scandal happened under his command. That debate is 10 years too late and addresses the wrong subject. The salient indictment of Mr. Annan's leadership is lethal cowardice, not corruption; the evidence is genocide, not oil.

    As the controversy roiled over the past several weeks, I was on a research trip to the two ground-zeros of Mr. Annan's failed leadership while he was head of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations--Rwanda and Bosnia. We have heard from too many conservative commentators and Republican politicians recently--most of whom reject multilateralism anyway--about Mr. Annan's qualifications to lead. But we have not heard from enough Rwandans or Bosnians. I thought I'd talk to a few.

    Before my recent return, the last time I was in Rwanda was 10 years ago; I was counting skulls. A young U.N. human-rights officer, I was tasked with collecting evidence for the U.N.'s forthcoming war-crimes tribunal after the successful genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi minority by Hutu militias in 1994. We were looking for the mass graves of mass murder. We found them in churches, schools, gardens, latrines--anywhere Tutsis had gathered seeking protection or their killers had dumped their bodies, dismembered and entangled, like life-size rag dolls. Some 800,000 bodies rotted in the African sun.

    But it isn't just the stench of death I remember so vividly; the odor of betrayal also hung heavily in the Rwandan air. This was not a genocide in which the U.N. failed to intervene; most of the U.N.'s armed troops evacuated after the first two weeks of massacres, abandoning vulnerable civilians to their fate, which included, literally, the worst things in the world a human being can do to another human being.

    It did not have to happen. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the U.N.'s force commander in Rwanda, sent Mr. Annan a series of desperate faxes including one warning that Hutu militias "could kill up to 1,000" Tutsis "in 20 minutes" and others pleading for authority to protect vulnerable civilians. But at the crucial moment, Mr. Annan ordered his general to stand down and to vigorously protect, not genocide victims, assembled in their numbers waiting to die, but the U.N.'s image of "impartiality."

    The outline of this story is well known, but its most important detail is not: Tutsis often gathered in compounds (large church complexes, schools and even stadiums) where they had assumed they would be safe based on implicit, and sometimes explicit, promises of protection by Blue Helmeted peacekeepers. The U.N.'s withdrawal was, therefore, not a passive failure to protect but an active, and lethal, perfidy.

    Rwandans still seethe. Last month I went to a tiny, remote village, deep in the central Rwandan hills to meet Charles Kagenza, a famous Tutsi survivor who hid in the bell tower of a church full of Tutsis that was bulldozed to the ground, burying victims alive. When I told him I worked for the U.N. 10 years ago, just after the war, he looked me straight in the eye, with his one remaining good eye, and shot back, "What are you doing here? You had the capacity to save us but you abandoned us."

    Some 3,300 miles directly north from Kigali is the town of Srebrenica, a grim, shell-pocked village on the border of Republika Srpska and Serbia. A few kilometers down a decrepit road is a sprawling abandoned battery factory. Ten years ago, thousands of Muslim civilians concentrated here seeking shelter at a U.N. base. But Serb militias separated the men and boys from their women and put them on buses. Armed Blue Helmeted U.N. Peacekeepers--tasked under Mr. Annan's leadership to protect Srebrenica's civilians in this U.N.-declared "Safe Area"--watched passively. The women of Srebrenica never saw their men again.

    Across the street lies a new cemetery and memorial for the 8,000 fallen men of Srebrenica. The remains of most of Safe Area Srebrenica's men have not yet been identified through DNA, but 1,300 have, and they rest in fresh mounds of earth on one end of the mostly empty graveyard. A long desolate green field waits to bury the rest of the remains.

    The most arresting elements of this memorial are inscribed on its small, uniform, green headstones bedecked in Muslim prayer beads: All the names of the dead are men, and, though the birthdates span three generations, the death dates are all the same: 1995. Whole families of men lay clustered together.

    One of the women of Srebrenica whom these men left behind entered the graveyard while I was there. Ashen white face and gold teeth framed in a traditional black Bosniac headscarf, she moved from tombstone to tombstone bowed in prayer. She told me her name was Magbula and she lost six of her men here, husband, sons and brothers. The whole family had gathered across the street at the battery factory, assuming the U.N. soldiers there would protect them, she said. Her men were put on a bus at the gate of the factory and she never saw them again.

    "Do you think the U.N. was at fault?" I asked. Not the soldiers, she said, but the leaders. "If they had done their job, and were responsible, this would not have happened." I asked if she'd heard about the current controversy over Mr. Annan's leadership. Yes she had. So I asked if she thought he should resign. It was not oil that fueled her angry answer, but genocide: "Yes," she said, waving her hand, "all the U.N. leaders. They could have reacted if they wanted to. If the U.N. goes somewhere now, how can the people there believe or trust that the U.N. will save them?"

    Liberal multilateralists on the left, like me, are often skittish about offering too pungent a critique of Mr. Annan, because it offers aid and comfort to the "enemy" on the conservative unilateralist right. But if anyone's values have been betrayed at the U.N. over the past decade it is those of us who believe most deeply in the organization's ideals. Just ask the men and women of Rwanda and Srebrenica.

    Mr. Cain served in U.N. peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and Liberia.
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