By Nat HentoffWashington Times
April 30, 2001
For five years, Kofi Annan has been secretary-general of the United Nations, and he would like to continue when his term ends in December. The early odds are that he'll get his wish. After all, both the New York Times and The Washington Times have supported his retention in lead editorials. The New York Times celebrates "Mr. Annan's Winning Record."
Adding to the hosannas, a New York Times news story was headlined "The Calmly Elegant Kofi Annan Seems Good Bet for Re-Election." And Richard Holbrooke, former American ambassador to the United Nations, says that Mr. Annan is "the best secretary-general since the organization was founded."
The Washington Times editorial at least had some reservations about Mr. Annan's tenure so far. But there has been scant mention in the media of the plain fact that it was Mr. Annan, when he was head of the United Nation's peacekeeping office, who could have prevented the slaughter of 800,000 Tutus and their sympathizers in Rwanda in 1994.
Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, head of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, urgently pleaded with Mr. Annan to intervene before the killings began, because Mr. Dallaire knew of the preparations for the genocide. Mr. Annan refused to act, or to say anything publicly.
This appalling complicity in the horrors that followed has been documented in a book, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), by Philip Gourevitch.
The lethal silence of both Mr. Annan and President William Jefferson Clinton was also reported, in unrefuted detail, on a "Frontline" broadcast titled "The Triumph of Evil." The show was made in collaboration with the BBC and broadcast on PBS on Jan. 26, 1999.
Finally, in 1999, after these and other disclosures of the responsibility of the United Nations for the massacres, the United Nations issued a report acknowledging, to some extent, its role in the killings, including the role of Mr. Annan. But for five and a half years he refused to accept any responsibility for the Rwandan holocaust until Mr. Gourevitch and others revealed that less than 5,000 U.N. troops could have stopped the killings if Mr. Annan had not closed his eyes.
To this day, moreover, Mr. Annan has said nothing about the massive enslavement of black Christians and animists in Sudan by the National Islamic Front government. Nor has he said anything about the gang rapes and murder that accompany slave raids on the villages of southern Sudan.
Also, as Mr. Gourevitch noted in the Wall Street Journal in 1999, "Despite clear warnings of impending massacres, the U.N. encouraged the people of East Timor to vote for independence from Indonesia last summer - without taking any meaningful precautions to protect them." "And it should be noted," Mr. Gourevitch continued, "that when the carnage began in East Timor, Mr. Annan said, 'Nobody in their wildest dreams thought what we are witnessing could have happened. We are no fools.' "
No one has ever accused "the calmly elegant Kofi Annan" of being a fool. But I would suggest that if a high school civics class were shown the record of deaths for which he is responsible, the students would agree with what Mr. Gourevitch recently told me: "If Kofi Annan has any respect for himself or his office, he would resign."Of course, Mr. Annan is far from solely responsible for the United Nations' lack of accountability for its failure to speak out against the savage violations of human rights on the part of many of its members. As Mr. Gourevitch says, "One of the U.N.'s chief legacies is as an institution that insulates its officials and its member states from accountability when they prefer to do nothing to stop mass political violence around the world."
To reward Mr. Annan to a second five-year term is inexplicable in view of his lack of courage and principles. But I have seen scant indignation so far from American legislators, opinion-makers in the press, religious leaders and ordinary citizens.
I remember being greatly encouraged about the future of the defenseless around the world when the United Nations was formed in San Francisco in 1945. To keep Mr. Annan in charge || with what the New York Times calls "his winning record" - is a betrayal of the fundamental mission of the United Nations. George W. Bush's State Department says that Mr. Annan's "performance as secretary-general has been outstanding." It, too, closes its eyes.
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