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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 330


Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The situation in Rwanda is now well and truly spinning out of control with violent loss of life on a scale not seen since the horrors of Cambodia. Is it not time now to move beyond a simple peacekeeping exercise proposed by the United Nations to a more interventionist peace enforcement operation? What is the Australian government going to do?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Whatever our other disagreements in this place might be, I am sure all honourable senators will agree with me that the humanitarian catastrophe in Rwanda is horrifying. The country is in chaos, with perhaps 200,000 people already killed—maybe rather more than that—many thousands wounded and more than a million people forced to flee their homes as a result of the intertribal violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi and other related civil strife.

  Efforts to re-open peace talks are continuing. These include attempts by the UN mission in Rwanda to broker a cease-fire and attempts by the Tanzanian government to reconvene talks at Arusha between the warring parties. Also, the United States is actively encouraging diplomatic efforts to press the parties to stop fighting. It is sending a high level team to investigate the situation and attempt to mediate a settlement.

  The question is of course: what is the international community to do if the killing continues, if the diplomatic efforts, these mediation efforts, prove as unsuccessful as they have to date? The UN Secretary-General has been active. In the first place, he has asked the Organisation of African Unity, the OAU, and some African countries whether they would be prepared to make troops available for a regional effort to actually restore law and order in Rwanda. So far, those efforts do not seem to have borne fruit.

  The UN Security Council, at the Secretary-General's request, has also been considering the situation. While the decision was first made to cut the size of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR, simply because it was a differently constructed mission with a different kind of peacekeeping mandate which was obviously unsustainable at the time in the changed circumstances, the Security Council, as a result of this change of circumstance, is now willing apparently to consider a larger peacekeeping force but only in the context so far of a cease-fire being agreed to and the parties actually supporting the UN's role.

  Again the question remains, I guess, for the UN and for the international community: what if those conditions cannot be satisfied? What can anyone do? It is a matter, I think, of recognising that to the extent that agreement cannot be reached, there is no point in talking about a traditional peacekeeping operation because such operations are premised on a halt to the fighting and the consent of the parties involved to a UN presence, as we know all too well from equivalent operations in Cambodia and elsewhere.

  There would be obvious difficulties in upping the ante and mounting some kind of peace enforcement operation under a chapter VII mandate. For such an intervention to be effective, a force would need to be deployed not only in the capital, Kigali, but across the country in very significant numbers. The force would have to be rather larger than that which has been contemplated so far for UNAMIR—maybe 30,000 or 40,000 troops. Such a force would need sufficient strength, certainly, to guarantee its own security, because some UNAMIR troops have already been killed with less significant resources. There is also all the evidence of the UNOSOM exercise in Somalia to remind us of the extreme risks of putting UN troops in situations where there is no effective government authority or local security protection, but where at the same time we are not dealing with a cross-frontier Gulf War kind of peace enforcement operation.

  The further problem which confronts a UN operation relates to doubts about the capacity of the UN actually to mobilise such an operation, even if the decision were to be made to do so, in the absence so far of a major power UN member state showing itself to be willing and able to lead an enforcement operation under a UN Security Council mandate. As we have seen in Bosnia and Somalia, in the absence of a single major country being prepared to take on that role in a peace enforcement operation, some very real difficulties of command and control can arise.

  I mention these difficulties because all of us in the international community are wrestling with the kinds of options which might now be able to be mobilised. All I can say is it still seems to be some distance away before the UN Security Council is prepared to initiate a peace enforcement operation of the kind I have been outlining. Certainly, it would be premature for Australia to be stating a position on any such request to participate in that were it to be made. All I can say is we would consider any such request very sympathetically indeed because of the concern that we as a government feel and which I know is felt by the whole community. We have now made a humanitarian contribution of $1 1/2 million, but the immediate need obviously is to do something more than that to actually try to stop further killing.