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In Ban's UN, Rwanda Letters Lost or Denied, In Echo of Genocide Memo, Still Left Unclear

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, June 26 -- Rwanda is a relatively small country, but as a site of genocide and of UN inaction, it resonates and requires the UN's respect. At a minimum, questions about Rwanda merit clarity and disclosure.

            The Rwandan News Agency has reported, twice in recent days, that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received a letter from a Rwandan genocide survivors' group, Ibuka, the Kinyarwanda word for "Remember." But either the report is false, or Mr. Ban and his team don't remember. Inner City Press asked about Ibuka's letter, and another request, at Tuesday's noon briefing at UN headquarters.

            "He has not received these letters," Ban's spokesperson said. Inner City Press followed-up before 1 p.m. with copies of articles about the letter from not only the Rwanda News Agency but also Agence France Presse. Five hours later, nothing. Ibuka's leadership and two news agencies say the letter was received by Team Ban, but Team Ban says no.

            Earlier this year, the long-planned exhibition to commemorate the Rwanda genocide was cancelled at the last moment, so that a number of changes could be made. The widest reported change involved blurring a reference to genocide in Armenia. Click here for Inner City Press' coverage of the postponement. But other, still not fully disclosed changes were made to the Rwanda portions of the exhibition.

            Why this silence? Why this lack of clarity? The evolving story of Ban's UN and human rights continues to twist and turn (in the wind).

Mr. Ban at the postponed genocide exhibition, letters not shown

            Ibuka has also demanded that the UN system, including its International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, release its archives on the genocide. The UN's role remains less than full disclosed. In "The Horseshoe Table," a 2006 book by diplomat and UN official Chinamya Gharekhan, the infamous memo of January 1994, in which UN headquarters was told of genocide plans by an informant, is re-mystified. Mr. Gharekhan, whose job it was as Special Adviser to brief the Security Council about such communications, intentionally leaves the matter unresolved:

"On page 32, paragraph 86, of the UN Blue Book on Rwanda, published in 1996, the Secretary General says that 'On the same day (namely, January 11) in New York, my Special Adviser briefed the Security Council on reports which had been received from UNAMIR and on the actions the UN had taken in response.'.. This is where the practice of not keeping official records of informal consultations showed its worth. There was nothing to prevent the Secretary General from claiming that the Council had been briefed, since it said so in the Blue Book... I, in all honesty, could neither confirm or deny the claim in the book; after all, the allusion was to something what was supposed to have happened two years ago."

            In a generally interesting book, it is disturbing for Mr. Gharekhan to find benefits in wiggle-room on genocide forewarnings. It is this context that makes the current lack of clarity about even what Rwanda-related letter have been received by Ban Ki-moon, and his response to them, all the more troubling. Watch this space.

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