Human Rights

Rwanda: lost in filing system

Canada was the most informed country on Rwanda before the genocide, but the information never landed on the right desk.

Months before the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a steady stream of detailed messages about the killings of Tutsis arrived in Ottawa from Canadian diplomats stationed not only in Rwanda but also Kenya and Tanzania.

Never-before-seen documents obtained by the Star paint a clear picture of a Rwanda rife with ethnic tension, spiraling deeper and deeper toward war in the months leading up to the April genocide. All of it was laid out for the Canadian government of the day.

Telexes from the Canadian mission in the capital of Kigali in February and March 1994 report that the U.N. mission in Rwanda had proof of the existence of training camps for militia recruits, a massive distribution of arms. The telexes also warn there have been many “deaths by bullets” in which the “marksmen” walk away with impunity.

But the warnings never moved beyond the Africa desk in Ottawa at what was then known as the department of external affairs.

Major Brent Beardsley, the military aide of General Roméo Dallaire, gives this damning assessment:

“What’s the sense of sending it (messages and information) up,” he said of the mandarins back in Ottawa. “You know what you’re working on is not a priority and no one wants to do anything about it. So you read it, file it. No one’s interested. That sums up Canada and the United Nations. It wasn’t a priority and therefore the stuff just got filed with devastating consequences.”