When the UN decided to send a contingent to Rwanda in 1993, they thought that it would be a straightforward peacekeeping mission. They felt that the world’s confidence in international peacekeeping missions would be restored by an easy success story. Instead, the 2,548 troops sent to Rwanda under the command of Canadian Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire would find themselves caught in the middle of a brutal, hundred-day genocide that took the lives of an estimated 800,000 people.
On the evening of April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the Rwandan president was shot down by two missiles and the country quickly plunged into chaos. Within an hour of the assassination the UN headquarters in Kigali began receiving phone calls from desperate Rwandan politicians whose homes were being attacked by radical Hutu militants. Among those killed inside their homes were the Rwandan Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, as well as ten Belgian peacekeepers charged with protecting her. When Dallaire telephoned the UN headquarters in New York to inform them of the occurring genocide and to request reinforcements, he was forbidden from intervening, told to avoid conflict, and instead, ordered to assist the evacuation of foreign nationals and UN personnel. As the situation deteriorated and ordinary civilians became the targets of the genocide, the Belgian government decided to withdraw their contingent from the UN peacekeeping mission. Nevertheless, Dallaire refused to give up on the mission and worked with reporters to ensure that the world knew what was happening in Rwanda.
Over four hundred Canadians served in Rwanda between 1993 and 1996. Many of them returned to Canada suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For a detailed account of Canadian peacekeeping in Rwanda, see Veterans Affairs’ PDF Canada Remembers: The Canadian Armed Forces in Rwanda.
Main photo: Canadian soldier cleaning a boy in Rwanda. (Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada/DND Img0059).