The U.N. Security Council has visited a memorial to victims of the Rwanda genocide and pledged support to efforts to end the fighting that has haunted Africa's Great Lakes region for more than a decade.
The 15 Security Council ambassadors were reminded Sunday about one of the world body's greatest failures during a visit to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial. Honore Gatera, the chief guide at the memorial told them how the United Nations in April 1994 tragically misunderstood the danger as Rwanda's 100 days of ethnic slaughter was beginning.
"The UN Security Council on April 21, 1994 passed a resolution withdrawing the troops of the UN mission in Rwanda and only 270 Ghanains volunteers stayed here with Romeo Dallaire from Canada, and thousands of families were abandoned to the mercy of the killers," said Honore Gatera.
The memorial pays tribute to the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who led the UN peacekeeping mission whose messages to headquarters in New York about the developing genocide went unheeded by then Secretary-General Butros Butros-Ghali and chief of peacekeeping operations, the future Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"The reason why we have the memorial here that we'll have for future generations whether Rwandans or foreigners to learn about the mistakes of the past," said Gatera. "Look at the fact that the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at 10 years he apologized for the failure to protect people in Rwanda."
The leader of the Security Council delegation, British Ambassador John Sawers called the memorial evidence of the Rwandan people's determination to put aside the divisions of the past. But it also highlights the world body's shortcomings.
"The memorial site of the 1994 genocide I'm sure has left us all profoundly moved by the enormity of the human tragedy and by the failure of the international community to be able to address it at the time," said John Sawers.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the horrors of 1994 in Rwanda, when more than 800,000 people were slaughtered, is more than ever relevant in the 21st century.
"It's a collective failure, including a failure of the United Nations, and what it reminds me of is less the past than the present and what more we could be doing in present circumstances," said Susan Rice.
During their one-day visit to Rwanda, Council ambassadors visited a camp for former soldiers of the FDLR, or Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda, the rebel force that has operated for years from the nearby eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They also met Rwandan President Paul Kagame to express support for his peacemaking efforts with DRC President Joseph Kabila. Mr. Kagame welcomed the Council's endorsement and vowed to redouble efforts to bring stability to a region battered by conflict.
"I think the Security Council team came here having full understanding that we are on the right path and doing these things for the better of our region, and countries Rwanda and DRC," said Paul Kagame. "And the Secrity Council giving their support to the process is important."
Britain's Ambassador Sawers underlined that Council members had not come to the region with demands, but simply to listen; to avoid the kinds of mistakes made by decision-makers looking at Rwanda from New York 15 years ago.
Rwanda was the second stop on the Council's five day African tour. The next stop is the DRC, where ambassadors are scheduled to hold a similar meeting with Congolese President Kabila.
The tour ends Wednesday in Liberia, a bright spot in the world body's checkered history of peacekeeping. Ambassadors will be talking about the possibility of reducing the size of the UN peacekeeping mission and endorsing the progress toward stability under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.