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The idea of humanitarian intervention has an appealing moral clarity. It was not seriously considered in 1994, when the Rwandan genocide happened, however. It was tested in 1999—at the price of deep divisions in the Security Council, which did not authorize the operation—when NATO intervened in Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing. Four years later, in 2003, the Security Council was again confronted, repeatedly, with the question of intervention. The Iraq war was not a case of humanitarian intervention, and no agreement was reached on the use of force. But while most of the world was focused on Iraq, three African crises developed, all of which had the potential to become immense tragedies and raised the question of humanitarian intervention. I was involved in all three: What I did and did not do at the time illustrates the ethical dilemmas facing an international civil servant. Did I tell the Security Council what it “needed to know” rather than what it “wanted to hear,” to quote the 2000 Brahimi report on peacekeeping? Was I forceful enough? The three crises unfolded in very different ways, and they illustrate the difficulty of answering those questions even years later. As described in chapter 4, the first crisis was in Côte d’Ivoire, where the extremely violent tone of the media had ominous similarities with the hate messages of Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda at the time of the genocide. The Ivoirian crisis would actually last several years, and although it never exploded into a full-blown civil war, there were several dangerous spasms. The United Nations played a patient and thankless role, managing a delaying game that may have contributed to avoiding the worst, but there was never—until 2011—a decisive moment, just a long series of aborted dramas. The second crisis was in the Darfur region of Sudan, which was largely ignored in 2003 and early 2004, when violence was at its worst, but became a global cause in 115 five DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO The Limits of the Use of Force the middle of 2004. That is when I myself became deeply involved. The third crisis took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For 4.5 million Congolese living in Ituri, the north-eastern corner of Congo, 2003 was the year when they came terribly close to a total breakdown, as violence spiked and the prospect of massive killings—if not genocide—became more and more real. For me, those fateful weeks of May 2003 were to be the longest in my life, as I realized that I was facing in Congo the possibility of a replica of Srebrenica, Bosnia—where 7,000 people were murdered on the UN’s watch— or even Rwanda, where 800,000 people were murdered in 100 days, while the international community stood by. More than a decade after that decisive period in 2003, both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan are still in crisis, and the risk of major violence is still there. And yet, they are the two countries where the United Nations has invested the most. For the millions who mobilized to “save Darfur ,” and for me, who spent more personal efforts on those two countries than on any other, it is time to ask harsh questions: Did we do the right thing? Or was it all futile agitation? I will examine both cases in detail. In the case of Darfur, I have doubts. In the case of Congo, I continue to believe that we made a difference, but I now better understand how important luck and sometimes sheer coincidence can be, and how the moral and operational clarity of the public debate on humanitarian intervention does not really help us find our way in the fog of imperfect peace. In the confusion of events, we have to move one step at a time, exploiting momentum when we can, but sometimes even backsliding. In that protracted chess game with the devil—I should say devils, there are many of them, large and small—there is never a checkmate moment. The story I want to tell is the story of that uncertain march, in which you know that abstention would be wrong, but you can never be sure that you are doing right. From the outset, the international community had no grand design for Congo, and the members of the Security Council who at the end of 1999 authorized the UN mission known as MONUC in...


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