The former secretary-general of the United Nations, whose death at 93 was confirmed today, is perhaps best known for overseeing the U.N.’s response to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which is remembered for being woefully inadequate. As told in Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, Boutros-Ghali and his subordinates failed to heed the so-called “genocide fax” warning of an imminent campaign to exterminate Tutsis sent by Major General Romeo Dallaire, the head of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda:
Dallaire labeled his fax “most immediate,” and signed off in French: “Peux ce que veux. Allons’y” (“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s go”). The response from New York was: Let’s not.
Boutros-Ghali’s tenure at the U.N. was also marred by the Bosnian War, another calamity that appeared to underscore the impotence of U.N. peacekeepers in the face of mass slaughter. Boutros-Ghali would go on to bitterly blame the Clinton administration for undercutting the U.N.’s efforts.
But for a number of reasons—his patrician charm, his fluency in French and English, and, most of all, his distinctive name—Boutros-Ghali managed to infiltrate pop culture in a way that Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon never did. His name, along with Yo-Yo Ma’s, became a euphemism on Seinfeld, while he was one of the few guests to distinguish himself on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show. RIP, Boutros Boutros Boutros Boutros-Ghali.