Straight Talk
SIMON KENT - Old habits die hard for UN

Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire has survived Rwanda and was subsequently promoted and awarded medals, then made a senator on retirement. He is now a leading humanitarian voice on behalf of those facing genocide and against the use of child soldiers.



TORONTO - It didn’t have to end in utter shame for the United Nations, but then old habits die hard – if you’ll pardon the pun.

Exactly 19 years ago members of the rival Hutu and Tutsi peoples of Rwanda went to war.

On April 7, 1994 they started fighting. Then they fought and they fought and they fought.

By the time they stopped around 800,000 men, women and children lay dead, most hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs.

An impotent UN peacekeeper force, led by Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, could do little but look on. Dallaire had forewarned his superiors at UN headquarters in New York of the impending mass slaughter of ethnic Tutsis by Hutu nationalist extremists. He pleaded for permission to act and use force to prevent the looming conflict.

The UN refused.

Just one more tragic example of how failure and the UN have long been conjoined twins, the organization famous for its inertia when confronted with acts of pure bloody evil.

Be it the streets of Sarajevo or the arid desert wastes of the Sudan, the UN is defined by its inability to act, an organization where failure is the rule and success a rare exception.

Sunday marks the tragic anniversary of one of its most conspicuous failures and the man at the helm of UN peacekeeping at the time, who refused General Dallaire’s request, was a Ghanaian diplomat by the name of Kofi Annan.

He of course went on to run the organization as secretary-general until he retired in 2006.

Annan did return for one last hurrah in 2012 when he served six months as special U.N. envoy to Syria, armed with his six-point peace plan.

It failed too. So Annan went back on the international speaking circuit to help sales of his book Interventions: A Life in War and Peace and in doing so prove it is possible to fail upwards for one’s entire professional career.

Such failure doesn’t come cheap — especially when it is delivered on a UN platter.

The budget for UN Peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 alone is about $7.33 billion — and rising.

I have seen UN field operations on two continents and both times been amazed by the sheer profligacy of the organization.

I was in Cambodia in 1993 and then Mozambique in 1994 working as a foreign correspondent. Between the two interventions around $1.5 billion U.S. was spent helping to first prop up and then renew those failed states.

In the case of Cambodia it worked — but through a massive show of military force and robust rules of engagement. Canada joined the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom in providing armed troops to separate the murderous Khmer Rouge from the people they once ruled.

At its height the United Nations Transition Authority Cambodia (UNTAC) numbered almost 22,000.

Soldiers simply marched disarmed Khmer Rouge cadres into cantonments rather than have Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) politely ask for the equivalent (the same robust use of military force, this time by Australia alone, saved East Timor in 1999-2000 from Indonesian subjugation).

A year or so later in Mozambique, I saw something different again. Millions squandered for no return in a country that remains blighted by poverty, corruption and poor governance on the back of its Communist past.

I recall one infamous incident of a car park collapsing in the Mozambique capital Maputo under the sheer weight of UN aid trucks. They were waiting as local war loads squabbled about how that booty would be divided up between them.

All this is written in the context of something important that happened this week. Canada said “no” to the U.N.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced we would pull out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification because the program has proven too bureaucratic and not worth the $350,000 Canada contributed each year.

If only more nations followed Harper’s lead and held the UN to account for its waste, its profligacy, its jobs–for-life culture and unaccountable spending then the world would be a better place.

It would also never again have to witness the genocide the UN failed to prevent in Rwanda back in 1994 or the misery that is Syria today under a dictator like Bashar al-Assad.

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