THE CASE AGAINST KOFI ANNANThe 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 Europe’s 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 Annan’s 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 UN’s status as a neutral observer. This was a shock to those who believed the UN was there to help them.
Annan’s 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
That in 1994, Annan and the DPKO refused the UN commander General Romeo Dallaire (below) permission to raid Hutu arms caches, despite his warning mass slaughter was planned, that they failed to inform the security council, and failed to clarify the extent of the genocide
Unamir, the UN mission to Rwanda, was deployed in October 1993 to implement the Arusha peace accords, with the aim of ending the civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis. The Hutu government continued to plan a mass slaughter of Tutsis. By January 1994, ethnic tension was at boiling point. The 2,500 Unamir troops were under-equipped. Dallaire lacked everything from intelligence-gathering capability to batteries for troops’ torches.
By January 1994, Dallaire had received detailed information about the planned mass murder from a source inside the Hutu militia known as “Jean-Pierre”. The general asked the DPKO for authorisation to raid the arms caches and offer sanctuary to Jean-Pierre and his family. On January 11, 1994, he cabled New York: “Since Unamir mandate, he [Jean-Pierre] has been ordered to register all Tutsis in Kigali. He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1,000 Tutsis.” He said he planned to raid the arms caches within the next 36 hours. He concluded: “Peux ce-que veux. Allons-y” – “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s go.”
There was no will and no way. Annan’s office replied, in a cable signed by his deputy, Iqbal Riza: “We must handle this information with caution.” Dallaire warned of mass slaughter, but Annan counselled prudence. “No reconnaissance or other action, including response to request for protection, should be taken by Unamir until clear guidance is received from headquarters.” Dallaire was furious. The next day his boss, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, replied to Annan, backing Dallaire, emphasising that Jean-Pierre only had a maximum of 48 hours before he was due to distribute the arms for the massacres. Annan’s reply, again signed by Riza, was negative. He ordered Dallaire not to proceed with the planned raid. It was, he said, beyond Unamir’s mandate under resolution 872. This was untrue. UN mandates were interpreted by DPKO officials as they saw fit. Resolution 872 mandated Unamir to “secure the city of Kigali” within “a weapons-secure area established by the parties in and around the city”. This was sufficient mandate. Dallaire was not even allowed to help Jean-Pierre. “The overriding consideration is the need to avoid entering into a course of action that might lead to the use of force and unanticipated repercussions,”
Annan’s cable concluded.
Had Annan permitted Dallaire to carry out his raids, the genocide might never have taken place. Not only did Annan and Riza twice refuse this, they then sat on his fax. They neither alerted other UN departments nor brought Dallaire’s warnings to the attention of the security council. The council then downsized Unamir from 2,500 troops to around 250. Dallaire stayed on. He helped save thousands of lives but, tormented by memories of those who died, he later became depressed and attempted suicide. He retired in 2000 and is now a senator in the Canadian parliament, active on human-rights issues.
Charge two: Srebrenica
That from July 6 to July 11, 1995, Unprofor, the UN mission in Bosnia, repeatedly failed to authorise air strikes to save the town, despite having the means to do so, and was in grievous breach of its obligations to protect civilians
Srebrenica was one of six “safe areas” under security-council resolutions 819, 824 and 836, passed in 1993. UN commanders could call for Nato air strikes but only to defend themselves. UN officials were obsessed with preserving the UN’s neutrality, over and above its humanitarian obligations. Probably none more so than a Japanese diplomat called Yasushi Akashi.
Akashi was the political chief of Unprofor. On May 7, 1995, the Bosnian Serbs shelled Sarajevo, killing and injuring several people. General Sir Rupert Smith, the British commander of Unprofor in Bosnia, recommended Nato launch an air strike. Akashi withheld permission. He sent a cable to Annan arguing that air strikes might “weaken Milosevic [the Serbian president]”, who he believed was needed to help negotiate a peace settlement. By refusing to make a distinction between aggressor and victim, and by treating both as equal partners, the UN became a de facto ally of those carrying out the atrocities.
Conditions inside Srebrenica were appalling. More than 20,000 people, half-starved and diseased, were jammed into the town. Fleas, cockroaches and vermin flourished. The Bosnian Serbs refused soap and disinfectant for the inhabitants, and fuel and ammunition for UN peacekeepers. “There was no support from Unprofor headquarters in Sarajevo,” recalls Ron Rutten. “They did not care what was going on. From the moment we got there, in January 1995, we were sitting in a mess, surrounded by the Bosnian Serbs. All the major troop-contributing countries to Unprofor knew what was happening. There were SAS guys who were sending messages to General Smith in Sarajevo. I listened to their messages; they were reporting about everything.” But none of the information had any effect.
The Serbs launched their final attack on Thursday, July 6, and the town fell the following Tuesday. The UN refused its commanders’ repeated requests for air strikes, claiming they didn’t fall within the UN guidelines. Outnumbered, the peacekeepers fired only over the heads of the advancing Bosnian Serbs, fearful they would be wiped out if they fought. Once the town fell, Rutten and the other troops looked in vain to Lt Col Thomas Karremans and his deputy, Major Robert Franken, for leadership. Rutten tried to convince his commanders to get the civilians inside the UN compound and alert the world. “Fighting the Serbs would have been a suicide mission because of our poor logistics and useless ammunition. But we could have done something more.” Nothing came of his plan. “At the very moment when we needed leadership, Karremans and Franken gave us no direction. Every soldier was prepared and willing to do something, but nobody was given the command.”
Rutten forced his way into a building known as the White House, which was holding hundreds of men and boys. Their identity cards and passports were piled up outside. Their terror was almost tangible. “You could smell death. I saw the men, I saw the passports and how it was organised. How much more do you need to see to be sure that this is well prepared? The Bosnian Serbs were trying to erase the whole male population.” Despite Rutten’s protests, Dutch troops helped the Bosnian Serbs take the men and boys away. He photographed the process. They believed that by keeping order the prisoners would be in less danger, says Rutten. “The troops thought they could stop the atrocities by guiding people onto the buses. But we should know our history, what happened when people were taken away.”
Perhaps the greatest betrayal was of Ibro Nuhanovic, a local man who had assisted Franken. One of Nuhanovic’s sons, Hasan, worked as a UN translator. Ibro and Hasan were listed as UN staff. Ibro’s wife, Nasiha, and his younger son, Muhamed, were not. The list was the difference between life and death. Despite Ibro and Hasan’s pleas, Franken refused to add their names, and ordered them off the base.
Initially, the attack caused few ripples at the DPKO. Annan was away. The secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was travelling. Shashi Tharoor, the DPKO team leader on Yugoslavia, was on leave. So was General Sir Rupert Smith. On Saturday, July 8, Boutros-Ghali, Annan, Smith, and other senior UN officials met in Geneva. They barely discussed Srebrenica. Incredibly, they sent Smith back on leave. By the time Tharoor finally returned to his desk, Srebrenica had virtually fallen. It was left to Peter Galbraith, the then US ambassador to Croatia, to alert Washington. “In Akashi’s world, the reaction to something like this was that the UN had to be careful because it was dangerous and could lead to military action. The UN always needed proof and they had strategies to ensure there was no proof. They would sit on reports or ensure the information was not highlighted, and when it was reported to the press it just became more of the same from Bosnia.”
Once out of Serb-controlled territory, Dutchbat got roaring drunk and danced in a line. The men and boys of Srebrenica were also being lined up, but not to dance.
Charge three: Darfur
That the UN, in particular the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), repeatedly ignored reports from humanitarian officials of atrocities because they were politically inconvenient, and that the UN still refuses to take action to stop the slaughter
The crisis in Darfur erupted in 2003 after rebels rose up to demand a greater share of resources. Khartoum’s response was ferocious, launching a systematic “scorched earth” campaign. Hundreds of villages have been burnt down, over 2m people displaced, and over 400,000 have been killed or died of disease or malnutrition. Rape is used as a weapon of war. The perpetrators are members of a militia named the Janjaweed: trained, armed and funded by the Sudanese government.
The UN has launched a large-scale humanitarian operation that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But the powerful DPA helped ensure little pressure was exerted on Sudan over Darfur, for fear of jeopardising an accord that ended a separate, decades-old conflict between the government and rebels in the south. Over 10,000 peacekeepers have been deployed in Unmis, the UN mission to southern Sudan, to implement the accord, but there are still none in Darfur. “There was a fundamental feeling among very senior people that Darfur was a very inconvenient development and they would rather not know about it,” says Dr Mukesh Kapila, the former UN humanitarian chief in Sudan, seconded by the British government in March 2003. He set up a crisis cell, dispatching human-rights investigators across Darfur. Kapila sent reports to the secretariat detailing abuses committed by the Janjaweed and the Sudanese army and how they were protected by the Sudanese government. None had an impact in New York. “Trying to alert the DPA about what was happening in Darfur was like speaking into a well, where your words just disappeared into nothingness. I told them this was not purely a humanitarian issue, it was a political issue as well. But the DPA washed their hands of Darfur.”
Despite Kapila’s warnings, Annan did not speak publicly about Darfur until December 2003, almost a year into the crisis. It was only after Kapila gave an interview to Radio 4’s Today programme in March 2004, describing the carnage, that his boss, the UN humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, briefed the security council. Before he left Sudan in April 2004, Kapila sent a lengthy memo to the DPA leadership, other senior UN officials and Annan’s chief of staff, Iqbal Riza. It detailed a “scorched-earth policy” of “organised pogroms” of “extreme violence”. He asked Riza to pass a copy to Annan. “Nobody could say I had not followed the proper track.
I had made repeated representations within the secretariat and to important countries on the security council. I had documented the human-rights violations and every time there was an incident I wrote to the Sudanese government.” Like Dallaire and Lt Rutten, Dr Kapila stood up for what he knew was right. “Because of my experience in Srebrenica and Rwanda, and because people in authority have a personal responsibility for taking action when dealing with extraordinary crimes against humanity, I had a duty to speak out.” He didn’t receive a reply.
UN officials argue that the organisation is merely the sum of its member states and the secretariat are impartial civil servants waiting for instructions from the security council. If member states lack the political will or means to stop a conflict, there is nothing the UN can do. This argument has undoubted appeal, not least to the consciences of those responsible for the UN’s failures. If everyone is guilty then nobody is guilty. If everyone is responsible then nobody is responsible. But it is not adequate. However responsibility is divided between the secretariat, the security council and the general assembly, the UN functions as an institution itself. It has decades’ worth of experience of conflict zones, a powerful institutional memory, considerable moral authority – however battered by recent scandals – and, for many, symbolises the hope for a better world.
Most discussion about UN reform focuses on arcane theoretical questions. A concrete start would be to make the secretariat accountable. Annan has expressed regret over Rwanda. “I believed at that time I was doing my best. But I realised after the genocide there was more I could have and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support,” he said in 2004. But many questions about his term as DPKO chief remain unanswered. Why did he refuse General Dallaire permission to raid the Hutu arms caches? With whom did he discuss this decision? Why did he not pass Dallaire’s faxes warning of massacres to the security council? When did he first hear that the Serbs were massacring the men and boys of Srebrenica? And where was he when the Serb attack began in early July? Stephane Dujarric, Annan’s spokesman, referred all these inquiries to the UN’s reports on Rwanda and Srebrenica, which do not provide answers.
If there is any sense of shame about the UN’s failures, it is no hindrance to promotion. Annan brought several of his protégés with him to the 38th floor. Shashi Tharoor was made his director of communications and special projects. In 2001, Tharoor was promoted to run the UN’s communications department. India has nominated him for secretary-general and he has been lobbying hard for the top job, with Annan’s tacit support, according to the UN insiders’ website unforum.com. Iqbal Riza, Annan’s deputy in the DPKO, was promoted to Annan’s chief of cabinet, one of the most influential behind-the-scenes positions. Riza resigned in December 2004 in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal. He is now Annan’s special adviser on the Alliance of Civilizations.
Not all UN officials approve of the lack of accountability. “It is a much-debated question here whether officials should be called to account in a judicial or at least an administrative process,” says David Harland, head of the DPKO’s Best Practices Unit. “Opponents says no, because then nobody will contribute to peacekeeping missions if we get into the blame game. But this lack of accountability is convenient. There is this endless ping-pong game between the secretariat and the member states. The states blame the secretariat for making mistakes and they blame the member states for a lack of political will.” But consequences flow from people’s decisions, argues Harland. “Are those people, from the officers on the ground up to the security council, responsible for what happened at Srebrenica? [If you mean] responsible in the sense of a causal link, that the victims might be alive if they had taken other decisions, then the answer is yes.”
There are some signs of change. A UN report on peacekeeping, published in 2000, criticised the emphasis on impartiality. It noted that when one party to a UN operation repeatedly violated its terms, “continued equal treatment” of both sides “can in the best case result in ineffectiveness and in the worst may amount to complicity with evil”. In September 2005 the UN adopted a new principle, the “responsibility to protect”, as a basis for collective action against war crimes and genocide, possibly including military action. Accepting the principle was one thing, implementing it another.
This August the security council finally authorised Unmis to deploy in Darfur, but Sudan has categorically refused to accept UN peacekeepers. Even where peacekeepers are deployed, little has changed, argues one UN human-rights official: “Every mission now has a standard paragraph in its mandate saying that the peacekeepers are obliged to protect civilians at risk and not only themselves when they are at risk. Member states do not yet understand and have not internalised what it means to go into a country and claim responsibility for that situation.”
What can change after Annan? In recent months, Annan has strongly condemned both the continuing violence in Darfur and the UN’s inaction. The conundrum is that a new secretary-general could help reinforce the reputation of the organisation as a force for good, and return it to its humanitarian ideals.
But a secretary-general who took resolute moral stands on humanitarian issues would doubtless threaten the security council’s power brokers, and so is unlikely to be appointed. The council will continue to prefer an emollient, helpful secretariat over a confrontational one.
Hasan Nuhanovic, who pleaded in vain with Major Franken to add his family to the Dutch peacekeepers’ list, survived. His mother, father and brother were never seen again. In November 2002, Nuhanovic launched legal action against the UN, through Liesbeth Zegveld, a human-rights lawyer based in Amsterdam. His case is based partly on the concept of command responsibility.
“Whatever mistakes the Dutch peacekeepers made on the ground, the UN was in full operational command and control over them. Therefore, Dutchbat’s conduct is – at least in part – legally attributable to the UN,” argues Zegveld. The UN disputes this. Hans Correll, undersecretary-general for legal affairs, replied that Nasiha, Ibro and Muhamed Nuhanovic had not been staff members of the UN and Hasan had not designated them as dependents.
“Your claim is not of such a character as to disclose any violation of your client’s legal rights by the organisation.” Zegveld then argued that Hasan had assumed that, as his family was staying in the UN compound, they would be protected. She is still waiting for a reply.
Ron Rutten stayed in the Dutch army and is now a major. In April 2000 he testified at the UN war-crimes tribunal at the Hague, at the trial of General Radislav Krstic, who was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide at Srebrenica and sentenced to 35 years. Rutten eventually handed his film of the corpses by the stream and the Dutch soldiers guiding the Bosniak men out of the UN compound to a Dutch officer. He didn’t ever see his pictures: the film was “accidentally” destroyed while being developed. Srebrenica, he says, will never leave him. “The UN says that the Dutch are responsible for what happened. But we were working for the UN and we were part of the UN. The UN knew about our poor situation and they saw the Serbs preparing their offensive around the enclave. We had a poor mandate and they gave us no instructions when we asked for assistance. The UN was in command and the UN is responsible.”
Complicity with Evil: The United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide, by Adam LeBor, is published by Yale University Press on October 31, price £17.99. It is available at the Sunday Times BooksFirst price of £15.99, including p&p. Tel: 0870 165 8585
The United Nations was founded in 1945 to prevent future wars between nations. It has 192 member states. Its principal bodies are the general assembly, the security council and the secretariat – the UN’s civil servants. Satellite agencies include the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the World Food Programme. The UN headquarters in New York (right) covers 18 acres of downtown Manhattan, stretching from 48th Street and First Avenue to 42nd Street. There are also regional headquarters in Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Beirut and Santiago.
The general assembly, the gathering of member states, has no political power. The security council does: it can authorise measures from economic sanctions to armed intervention. The council is composed of 15 members – the permanent five, known as the P5: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China and 10 non-permanent members elected by the general assembly’s regional groups. Despite this, power rests almost exclusively with the P5, any one of whom may veto a resolution.
Who runs it?
Born: Ghana, 1938.
Salary: $397,245 gross, plus use of luxury villa and $25,000 entertaining allowance. All expenses paid while travelling.
First secretariat official to get top job. Took office in January 1997, thanks mostly to strong support of US, a love affair long since soured. Has worked for the UN since 1962, apart from a brief spell as Ghana’s director of tourism. Led UN team negotiating oil-for-food after first Gulf war in early 1990s. Head of peacekeeping from 1993 to 1996.
Born: Rhodesia, 1953.
Salary: $258,394, plus $73,600 non-pensionable allowance and $4,000 entertainment allowance. All expenses paid while travelling.
Former Economist journalist, previously Annan’s chief of cabinet and head of the UN development programme. Has also worked for the World Bank and the UN high commissioner for refugees. Probably Annan’s most trusted associate. Holds a first-class degree from Cambridge. Likely to leave UN once Annan’s term is over.
Under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator
Born: Norway, 1957.
High-profile expert in conflict resolution. Twenty-five years of humanitarian experience with the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, Amnesty International, the UN and others. Helped organise the secret contacts between Israel and the PLO that led to the 1993 Oslo accords. Outspoken on Darfur, and was the first UN official to brief security council on the extent of the carnage.
There are 58 undersecretary-generals, paid $176,877 a year, and 57 assistant secretary-generals, paid $160,574. These are the highest grades, but after several years of service a UN staffer in a middle-ranking position can expect to make between $80,000 and $120,000 a year. Most UN staff do not pay income tax, but between 25% and 30% of their salary is deducted at source. The ‘post-adjustment’ index boosts wages in line with local cost of living. A UN staffer posted to New York, earning $59,132 a year, will receive an annual post-adjustment of $37,667. UN staff are also eligible for rent subsidies of up to 40%, and education allowances. Danger zones bring hazard pay of $1,000 a month, and peacekeeping operations also pay a mission subsistence allowance. The position of envoy of the secretary-general is keenly sought after. It brings a UN laissez-passer for official travel, with diplomatic status, opportunities for tax-free purchases and per-diems to pay for five-star hotels.
What it costs
The UN’s basic annual operating budget for 2006 is $1.9 billion, covering staff, basic activities and infrastructures at the UN headquarters around the world.
This excludes UN peacekeeping operations, UN programmes and funds, and satellite organisations. There are more than 80,000 UN staff working on 15 peacekeeping missions including Kosovo, Georgia, Cyprus, the Congo and Liberia. The peacekeeping budget is likely to reach $5 billion in 2006. UN programmes and funds, including Unicef, the World Food Programme and the UN Development Programme, have a budget of around $10 billion.
Satellite organisations such as the International Labour, Unesco and the World Health Organization have a budget of about $3.7 billion. The
UN is funded by mandatory contributions from its member states, and these are calculated according to their gross national income. The US is the biggest contributor, at 22% of the annual operating budget – about $420m. The UK pays the following: 6% of the annual operating budget – £58m; 7.4% of the peacekeeping budget – £171m; and £10.2m towards war-crimes tribunals. Total annual UN budget: around $20.5 billion.
DON’T MENTION THE CAR
Kofi Annan lost his cool when James Bone, the Times UN correspondent, pressed him about a car that his son Kojo had imported into Ghana. The car was allegedly bought in Kofi Annan’s name, so securing a diplomatic discount and a tax exemption that totalled more than $20,000. Annan snarled: “Listen, James Bone, you’ve been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many, many months and years. You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and your profession. Please stop misbehaving and let’s move on to a serious subject.” Bone’s colleagues protested at Annan’s undiplomatic behaviour. Kojo Annan later offered to reimburse Ghana for the $14,103 customs duties.
THE UNITED NATIONS AFTER KOFI
The secretary-general wields great power both within the UN and outside, and whoever wins the role will face huge challenges. Who are the contenders?
Goh Chok Tong
Pedigree: prime minister of Singapore (1990 to 2004).
Currently: cabinet minister.
Form: on-message over threat of terrorism, so may gain support of US and UK. Contacts with Israel and Iran could make him a useful bridge between East and West.
Ban Ki Moon
Nationality: South Korean.
Currently: foreign minister.
Form: worthy but dull. May appeal as a ‘steady hand at the tiller’ to P5 countries who want an obedient secretary-general.
Currently: undersecretary-general, department of public information.
Form: self-publicist, protégé of Kofi Annan. Relative youth and ancien-régime connections likely to count against him.
Currently: deputy prime minister.
Form: Harvard graduate; bright, flamboyant, economic reformer. Could be sunk by Thailand’s poor human-rights record, and the recent military coup.
Currently: head of UN development programme.
Form: economics specialist; worked for World Bank for 22 years.
Prince Zeid al-Hussein
Currently: Jordanian ambassador to the UN.
Form: strong on humanitarian issues. Would be first Muslim secretary-general.