Karel Kovanda


The Rwanda civil war that in 1994 degenerated into a slaughter of the country’s Tutsi, amounting to genocide, was possibly the world’s most devastating blood- bath of the 1990s. In 1994, the newly formed Czech Republic took up its place as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council; Karel Kovanda was the Czech Ambassador at the time. Drawing on internal documents of the Czech Foreign Service and on his own private notes, as well as on a wealth of published information, Kovanda details in this personal memoir the step-by-step evolution of the Rwandan tragedy as he and his delegation perceived it, and the Czech reaction to it. He repeatedly highlights the information gap: on the one hand, insufficient and biased information provided by the UN Secretariat; on the other hand, the detailed, accurate, and timely information his delegation received from NGOs. Kovanda estimates that during the first weeks, the Security Council gave perhaps 80% of its attention to the civil war between Rwandan government forces and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and 20% to how to handle the difficult position of UNAMIR, the peacekeeping operation then on the ground in Rwanda. Only after weeks of delay did the Security Council even start to come to grips with the ongoing genocide—a term that Ambassador Kovanda was the first to employ publicly in an official UN meeting. While focusing on Rwanda proper, Kovanda also explains and describes the sometimes little-known mechanisms that play a role in the day-to-day workings of the Security Council: the role of the UN Secretariat, informal consultations, groupings of Security Council members, and so on.