Global Policy Forum

UN: Black Box, Rwanda Genocide Not Tied


By Kim Gamel

Associated Press
June 7, 2004

The United Nations confirmed Monday that the cockpit voice recorder found in a filing cabinet at U.N. headquarters is not linked to a 1994 plane crash that triggered Rwanda's genocide. The so-called black box was discovered in March in the United Nations' Air Safety Unit, where it apparently had sat for a decade after its arrival by diplomatic pouch from the U.N. Mission in Rwanda.

The discovery was a major embarrassment for the world body. Even Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it a "first-class foul-up." A few weeks later, a private firm and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board in Washington determined that it probably wasn't linked to the crash.

The U.N. investigation concluded that the recorder was not from the plane shot down while carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart from Burundi from a meeting in Tanzania. Nor did it "contain any relevant information about the crash of that aircraft," according to the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The genocide in Rwanda began as news of Habyarimana's death spread, and by the time it ended more than 500,000 people had been killed. The report by the U.N. internal oversight office, the world body's watchdog, said U.N. staff at the time did not analyze the recorder or report its existence to senior officials because the box was in such "good condition."

The box initially was shipped to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at U.N. headquarters and the oversight office recommended that the department review its procedures for handling information. It arrived at U.N. headquarters with a sticker saying UNAMIR — the initials of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda — and the date 6/4/94.

But the report did not give any information about whether the box was connected to some other flight. Even if the black box had been from the downed plane, it is unlikely that the information inside would have changed the course of events. No one disputes that Habyarimana's plane was intentionally shot down, and there is little the flight data recorder could reveal about who was responsible.

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