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October 24, 2002 Peace and use of force: A letter from Rwanda



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Opinion by Carol McQueen

My tennis instructor laughs a lot, has four young children and sometimes forgets I’m not as good as he is when he nails a forehand down the line at what feels like 100 miles an hour.

But he is not really like you and me. Both his parents, all five siblings and his first wife and three kids were all slaughtered in the genocide that claimed between 500,000 and 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. My instructor happened to be at a tennis tournament in Dar-es-Salaam when the killing started, and remained outside the country for the 100 days it took to wipe out almost an entire ethnic group.

After nine years of transitional government and development aid, I ask myself how such a terrible calamity could have occurred.

This question lies at the heart of why I have always sought to learn more about genocide human rights violations and war crimes. I am a political affairs officer with MONUC, the Mission de l’Organization des Nations Unies au Congo, which is trying to end the five-year war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Since Rwanda was involved in that war until December of last year and is still suspected of having a military presence on the ground in DRC, MONUC has a liaison office in Kigali. Our goal is to help smooth relations between DRC and Rwanda, and to facilitate the demobilization and repatriation of extremist Rwandan armed groups and génocidaires that fled into Congo in 1994 after killing as many Tutsi as possible.

The idea that something could and should have been done in Rwanda in 1994 leads me to a reflection on whether war is sometimes necessary to bring about peace, stability and the possibility of a better future through development. With the Iraq conflict underway, it seems right to broach this topic.

There was a UN peacekeeping operation on the ground in Rwanda prior to the start of the genocide in 1994. It was stationed there to monitor a ceasefire between Hutu and Tutsi elements and to help bring into place a transitional government. When the genocide broke out, the UN Security Council evacuated the peacekeepers, leaving but a token presence headed by General Romeo Dallaire, which was unable to halt the calamity.

In Bosnia, when Serbs captured the town of Srebrenica in 1995 and executed 7,000 Muslim men, UN peacekeepers looked on, inadequately equipped to intervene.

In the DRC at present, our military observers can do very little about reports of human rights abuses and cannibalism, and belligerents take advantage of the fact that these peacekeepers are unarmed and too small in number to prevent ceasefire violations and continue fighting.

In each of these cases, genocide, ethnic cleansing and even civil war could have been brought to an end if the international community and key states with the military power to do so had been willing to use force. Even threatening a massive use of force can sometimes be sufficient to bring about positive change.

This is in no way aimed at condoning current U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Rather, it is an attempt to question the pacifist tendencies of many development and peace NGOs and of people concerned with such issues.

Every effort must be made to prevent calamities before they occur, but for the greater good, we must be prepared to contemplate the use of force, and to put pressure on our governments to use force if and when necessary.

Carol McQueen is an alumna of Concordia and a former news editor of The Link. She won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where she earned her PhD, and wrote this essay from Kigali, Rwanda. The full version was read by her mother, Jo, at a Lenten service recently in the Loyola Chapel.