CBC Digital Archives

Blue Berets: Genocide in Rwanda

For half a century, Canada's Blue Berets have defused escalating tension and conflict with their peacekeeping missions. The United Nations Blue Berets have come to symbolize reconciliation and idealism. Initially, Canadians regarded our peacekeepers as a point of pride - our noble contribution to the global community. But with time, Canada was forced to measure the costs of success and the harsh realities of loss. CBC Archives examines five pivotal peacekeeping missions including the Suez crisis, the Cyprus mission, the Congo operation, the East Timor success and the Rwandan retreat.

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In 1993, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire and his Blue Berets landed in Rwanda to guard the peace between the battling Hutus and Tutsis. The country was in ruins, threatened by the chaos of civil war. Suspecting a plot of genocide, Dallaire planned pre-emptive action. But the United Nations curbed Dallaire's plans. Machete-wielding forces moved systematically through the country, slaughtering innocents. A year later, Dallaire and the peacekeepers left Rwanda. In 100 days, close to 800,000 Rwandans were brutally murdered by their fellow countrymen.

In this CBC Television interview, Dallaire recalls being undermined by the United Nations, his dismissal from the military, and his subsequent deep depression. Dallaire stoically recalls the Rwanda peacekeeping operation and says with emotion and regret, "I failed yes, the mission failed and they died by the thousands." 
• In October 1990, the Hutu Rwandan government clashed with the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front. The Hutus and the Tutsis, who had a long history of ethnic struggle, engaged in a brutal and bloody civil war. In April 1994, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. By 1994, rebel Tutsis gained the upper hand and quashed the genocide.

• When Dallaire left Rwanda, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. After he didn't respond to treatment, he was medically dismissed from the military. Dallaire subsequently fell into a deep depression and attempted suicide. After reaching his lowest point and fighting his way back, the retired lieutenant general published Shake Hands With the Devil, an account of his experiences in Rwanda.

• Dallaire served with the Canadian Forces for 35 years.

• In 2004, Dallaire published Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda in which he criticized the United Nations, the United States' isolationist policies, and a general lack of statesmanship.

• "Shell shock" or "battle fatigue" was first diagnosed by British military doctors in 1914. Some thought it was brain damage caused by artillery shells bursting overhead; others thought it was simply cowardice and sent their patients back to the front. Some of these soldiers disobeyed orders, deserted or committed suicide. Today it is called post-traumatic stress disorder: a witness or victim of something distressing is mentally or physically affected by their ordeal.

• Many Blue Berets suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the Rwandan mission. In 1999, the Canadian Forces produced a 33-minute video titled Witness The Evil, which addressed the trauma and stress of military service. The Department of National Defence also earmarked an additional $1.5 million to funnel into services providing post-traumatic stress treatment.

• Countries supplying peacekeeping forces included: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

• On March 8, 1996, after failing to receive an extension from the Rwanda government, the peacekeepers ended their mission.

• In 1999, an independent inquiry into the Rwanda peacekeeping operation said that the United Nations ignored evidence that a genocide was being planned and failed to act once the genocide had begun. Kofi Annan, who was head of peacekeeping at the time of the mission, accepted the blame. "On behalf of the UN, I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse," Annan said.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 24, 2003
Guest(s): Roméo Dallaire, Christine Shelly
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Carol Off
Duration: 17:52
Shake Hands with the Devil is published by Random House of Canada.

Last updated: April 8, 2014

Page consulted on October 1, 2014

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