- Nov 22, 2003
The Sunday Times October 01, 2006
Is there blood on his hands?
As Kofi Annan prepares to stand down as UN secretary-general, Adam LeBor investigates the accusations made against the worlds chief defender of human rights
THE CASE AGAINST KOFI ANNAN
The bodies were still warm when Lieutenant Ron Rutten found them: nine corpses in civilian clothes lying crumpled by a stream, each shot in the back at close range. It was July 12, 1995, and the UN-declared safe area of Srebrenica had fallen the previous day. The lush pastures of eastern Bosnia were about to become Europes bloodiest killing fields since 1945.
Refugees poured into the UN compound. But the Dutch peacekeepers (Dutchbat) were overwhelmed and the Serbs confiscated their weapons. From the moment I found those bodies, it was obvious to me that the Bosnian Serbs planned to kill all the men, Rutten said. He watched horrified as Dutch troops guided the men and boys onto the Serb buses.
Srebrenica is rarely mentioned nowadays in Annans offices on the 38th floor of the UN secretariat building in New York. He steps down in December after a decade as secretary-general. His retirement will be marked by plaudits. But behind the honorifics and the accolades lies a darker story: of incompetence, mismanagement and worse. Annan was the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) between March 1993 and December 1996. The Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 men and boys and the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda happened on his watch. In Bosnia and Rwanda, UN officials directed peacekeepers to stand back from the killing, their concern apparently to guard the UNs status as a neutral observer. This was a shock to those who believed the UN was there to help them.
Annans term has also been marked by scandal: from the sexual abuse of women and children in the Congo by UN peacekeepers to the greatest financial scam in history, the UN-administered oil-for-food programme. Arguably, a trial of the UN would be more apt than a leaving party.
The charge sheet would include guarding its own interests over those it supposedly protects; endemic opacity and lack of accountability; obstructing investigations, promoting the inept and marginalising the dedicated. Such accusations can be made against many organisations. But the UN is different. It has a moral mission.
It was founded by the allies in 1945 to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights. Its key documents the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the genocide convention are the most advanced formulation of human rights in history. And they have been flouted by UN member states for decades.
A more specific charge would be that, under the doctrine of command responsibility, the UN is guilty of war crimes. Broadly speaking, it has three principles: that a commander ordered atrocities to be carried out, that he failed to stop them, despite being able to, or failed to punish those responsible. The case rests on the second, that in Rwanda in 1994, in Srebrenica in 1995 and in Darfur since 2003, the UN knew war crimes were occurring or about to occur, but failed to stop them, despite having the means to do so.
Charge one: Rwanda