1994: Rwanda, 1995: Srebrenica 2001: Nobel Peace Prize to Kofi Annan?
the Norwegian Nobel Committee
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Dear Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
We write to you to ask you not to award the centenary Nobel Peace Prize to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on December 10. In your statement of October 12, you motivate the planned award to Mr Annan by reference to among other things his emphasis on the UNs "obligations with regard to human rights". While it is true that Mr Annan often seeks to promote the ideas of human rights in a general sense, he gravely failed the victims of two of the most vicious crimes committed in the post-cold war era: the 1994 Rwanda Genocide and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of an estimated 7,000 people.
Only after years of increased public pressure and criticism, did Mr Annan commission two reports in which all UN member states were blamed for failing to prevent these two crimes against humanity. A claim that we fully support the international community should have intervened with force to stop these massacres, and the lack of adequate response is inexcusable.
However, a careful account of events show that Mr Annan who was the Head of UN Peacekeeping at the time neither denounced the sinister forces of Serb General Mladic nor the Rwandan Hutu extremist 'government' that both killed innocent civilians by the thousands. Nor did Mr Annan try to generate the kind of public support such interventions would require.
Yet he himself - then as Head of UN Peacekeeping with direct contact to UN troops in both places - was better informed and better situated than almost any other person in the world to confront those very governments that abandoned Rwandans and Bosnians. He could have spoken out on the atrocities and pleaded for forceful interventions to prevent the unfolding massacres.
In the case of Rwanda, he even received a stream of specific warnings from well-informed sources on the planning of genocide three months before the murderers set out. Warnings that he chose not to make public or pass on to those targeted for elimination, since he knew that such publicity would discomfort certain governments in the Security Council. Governments, who on the one hand did not want to intervene in Africa, but on the other hand did not either want to face embarrassing public criticism for being bystanders to genocide. And it is today well documented also in UN reports - that he even chose to stay silent during those 100 days when an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were massacred.
In the case of Bosnia, Mr Annan not only remained silent in the face of atrocities: he argued against the use of force. Despite the fact that in 1993, Srebrenica largely Muslim enclave in Serb-dominated eastern Bosnia had been designated as one of six safe areas by the Security Council, Mr Annan neither wanted UNPROFORs Rapid Reaction Force to intervene, nor did he want the Dutch UN Battalion based at Srebrenica to actively defend the enclave. Instead, Mr Annan continuously called for negotiations and dialogue with the Serb leaders, who had already before the Srebrenica killed scores of civilians. This strategy was so firmly defended that even when it became clear that the Serb forces were moving in on Srebrenica and the Dutch commander, Colonel Ton Karremans, asked UN Headquarters for air support, these requests were repeatedly denied.
Surely, a UN Secretary-General is not responsible for all UN actions - or lack of such, nor for decisions made by the Security Council. Mr Annan is however responsible for his own actions. During those fateful days in 1994 and 1995, he had a choice: standing up against the Security Council in an attempt to shame western politicians into intervening or keeping his head down and pretend he didn't know what was going on. Mr Annan chose silence, which satisfied hypocritical western governments bent on business as usual: seeing nothing and hearing nothing, means doing nothing.
It has been argued that the Security Council was not really 'interested' or 'willing' to intervene and that this exempts Mr Annan from blame. We do not dispute that many politicians were extremely reluctant to intervene with force both in Rwanda and in Srebrenica. But is it not exactly during such times when we most need a Secretary-General of the United Nations to speak up? Or, put differently, if western politicians were head over heels to intervene to prevent crimes against humanity, why would we need a Secretary-General of the United Nations? Besides, the (unfortunately very belated) intervention of France at the end of the Rwanda Genocide showed that it was indeed possible to create enough public awareness for the international community to react. In Bosnia, the UN forces had NATO air strikes at their disposal and could have called in the Rapid Reaction Force as well.
If Mr Annan had vigorously demanded a UN intervention and thereby confronted those governments in the Security Council that left Rwandans and Bosnians to their killers, he could rightly have washed his hands as he has since tried to do. However, for reasons of political and bureaucratic expediency he chose not to do so - and for those decisions only he himself can be held responsible.
We believe that Mr Annans record has proven that he is an unworthy recipient of your prestigious award, since he has gravely abandoned people in danger. We do not oppose the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the UN organisation as such. However, in respect of the victims and their relatives, but also and perhaps even more so in respect of the integrity of the UN, we strongly urge you not to award the Nobel Peace Prize to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan personally.