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Pure Massacre

Aussie soldiers reflect on the Rwandan genocide

Authors: Kevin O'Halloran
(4 customer reviews)
Kibeho massacre, Australian peacke-keepers

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“This book is not the creation of an academic, an NGO, a senior military officer or a diplomat. This book is instead the account of an outstanding soldier, and that of his courageous peacekeeping comrades who served with him in Rwanda. In my view, soldiers who put their lives on the line to do the job for us deserve the right to describe events from their own erspectives, and in Pure Massacre their recollections are often harsh towards the UN and the whole peace keeping enterprise. The fact that their stories are totally uninhibited by political correctness also makes the account of UNAMIR II a refreshing change.” From the foreword written by Major General (retired) Guy Tousignant. United Nations Force Commander, UNAMIR II.

Pure Massacre is a compilation of perspectives from a group of Australian UN peacekeepers who where sent to Rwanda under a United Nations’ mandate. It describes the horror of the unimaginable atrocities that took place in Rwanda and the impact on these soldiers given their helplessness to stop the killing given their rules of engagement.

Fifteen years ago, on 22 April 1995, at a displaced persons’ camp in Kibeho, in full view of Australian UN peacekeepers, over 4,000 unarmed men, women and children died in a hail of bullets, grenades and machete blades at the hands of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). Constrained by the UN peacekeeping Rules of Engagement, these Australians could only watch as atrocities they’d never imagined where carried out in front of them knowing that they could not — would not — interfere with these brutal acts.

Up until now, the Australian public have had limited access to first-hand accounts from these soldiers regarding what actually occurred in Rwanda. Author Kevin “Irish” O’Halloran, a Platoon Sergeant at the time, has not only drawn on his own personal experiences, but others who served with him. Before ‘Irish’ and his platoon was deployed to Rwanda, he learnt as much as possible about the long history of bloodshed between the Tutsi people and Hutus, the civil war, the 1994 genocide and the part the UN was playing in trying to rebuild the country, so he knew, or thought he did, what he was getting his men into. It was a daunting picture.

Irish takes the readers with him into his world at “Club Med Kigali”, where there was no running water so bathing became a weekly not a daily occurrence, on daily morning runs through Kigali backstreets passing RPA units with many of the RPA soldiers in a drug-induced state, chanting war songs and feeling invincible, to the escalating tension and violence leading up to the massacre at Kibeho and accounts of the aftermath. He also stresses the weakness of the UN charter and the lack of recognition for those who served during this tragic time.

More than 600 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel from the Australian Defense Force were sent to Rwanda as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). The operation was predominately a medical one and their role was to provide humanitarian aid and security for the return of the displaced persons to their homes. However, these Australians would be exposed to a lack of humanity they were not prepared for and found hard to fathom.

It takes a special type of bravery, discipline and compassion to do what these soldiers did. Little did they know, when the second tour of Rwanda was over, that they would be the highest decorated UN peacekeeping contingent since the Korean War.

For many, their service in Rwanda would come with a personal toll. No Australians died during and immediately after the massacre at Kibeho, but as Pure Massacre testifies, the suffering and tragedy is embedded in their memories. Irish expands upon, “We are all obviously very proud of how we performed in Rwanda and believe it’s very sad that people don’t talk much about the operation because it implies that we did something wrong, which we all know is not true. On this 15th Anniversary of Australia’s UN operation in Rwanda, my book aims to serve as a small part of the healing process for those veterans who said how good it was to talk about their experiences there.”

Kevin O’Halloran

Kevin O’Halloran

Kevin ‘Irish’ O’Halloran was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1961 and migrated to Australia with his parents, elder brother and two sisters in 1970. He grew up around the inner suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, for most of his teenage years. In April 1981, he joined the Army and has served on four operational tours of […]

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4 reviews for Pure Massacre

  1. On The 22nd April 1995, a crowd of refugees seeking shelter from a storm was fired upon by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. The horror of what followed defies description. However, that horror provided a setting for conduct, on the part of the Australians at Kibeho, which adds lustre to the proud history of Australia’s service personnel in their country’s cause in war and peace.

  2. A new book has laid bare the deep psychological wounds caused to the Diggers who watched, powerless to act, as the horror of the Rwandan conflict unfolded in front of them. Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) – 28 March ’10

  3. Kevin “Irish” O’Halloran, in his debut book “Pure massacre” offers a scathing view of The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR I1). O’Halloran was the Infantry Platoon Sergeant that provided protection for the Australian Contingent in 1995. He examines the history of the UN and what Australia’s involvement was in Rwanda. The soldiers who had not been on UN Peacekeeping Operations before, had high hopes of the UN being an organization that provided workable and positive outcomes between warring factions or civil wars. O’Halloran describes the UN as an organization racked by internal politics, cultural differences, and in dire need of reform. “The UN is a kind of polyglot men’s club of hypocrisy and bureaucratic blindness in which you do not call a fellow official a murderer even though the world knows he or she is. Countries with the worst human rights abuses sit and give judgment on other countries with much cleaner records”. “Pure massacre” can make for uncomfortable reading at times. O’Halloran describes in detail what happened at the Kibeho Displaced Persons’ Camp. The strict `Rules of Engagement’ that the UN placed on the Australian soldiers meant that Australian infantrymen’s mandate did not allow them to intervene to stop the slaughter. “Under constant goading and threats to their lives the Australians were forced to watch as a heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) force of around 2,000 massacred at least 4,ooo refugees in two days of frenzied killing”. There were only thirty three Australians that faced the insurmountable sea of humanity that cried out for help. O’Halloran offers the reader an insight to his own thoughts as well as intertwining the stories of his soldiers. Some of them speak for the first time about their experiences in Rwanda. Lance Corporal Glen Snijders “It was evident leading up to the massacre at Kibeho that the rhetoric was getting stronger and the tension was in the air.” Some of the soldiers recall for the first time the `unseen wounds’ that have haunted them for the past 15 years. Private Matt Jones, “Prior to the Rwandan deployment, I thought the UN was a vital organization that was there to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Clearly, I was wrong. I’m very proud of the job the Australian contingents did in Rwanda, however, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget what happened and wonder if there was anything more we could have done”. The stories that O’Halloran and other members of UNAMIR II recall are heartfelt and frank in detail. It is truly amazing how these brave Australians handled themselves in such terrifying and stressful conditions as they faced the RPA blatantly killing women and children in front of their eyes. We will never forget the images that George Gittoes and Robyn Bird took to show the world that genocide did happen in Rwanda.

  4. The book is excellent, and written by the perfect person to write it. Irish – well done mate, you have given first-hand insight to all. You and all of your guys should be proud of how you conducted yourselves in such intense moments. Lest We Forget.

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