Stefan Stec (UN peacekeeper)

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Stefan Steć
Born October 20, 1964
Warsaw, Poland
Died September 29, 2005
The Hague, Netherlands
Rank Major
Unit UNTAC, UNAMIR
Awards Cross of Merit for Bravery

Stefan Steć (November 20, 1964 in Warsaw – September 29, 2005 in The Hague) was a major of the Polish Armed Forces. In 1994 he served as a peacekeeper in the UNAMIR forces in Rwanda under general Roméo Dallaire. For his dedication in saving lives during Rwandan genocide at the risk to his own he was awarded the Cross of Merit for Bravery by Polish President Lech Wałęsa. He died at the age of 41 due to complications from posttraumatic stress disorder.[1]

Youth and service in UNTAC[edit]

Stefan Steć began his studies in 1982 at the Warsaw Military University of Technology, but then volunteered for service in Polish peacekeeping UN forces and completed training at the Polish peacekeeping centre in Kielce-Bukówka.

On his first UN mission he was assigned in 1992 to UNTAC forces at Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The goal of the mission was to supervise the first Cambodia parliamentary election. Poland provided a contingent in the size of the battalion containing engineering and logistic units repairing roads and bridges and providing operational units with water, food and fuel.[2] The mission ended in September 1993.

Service in UNAMIR during Rwandan genocide[edit]

His next mission was small and ill-equipped UNAMIR mission intended to oversee a transition from dictatorship to democracy in Rwanda and described by optimistic politicians as "classic".[3] Only five[2] Polish officers and cadets, mostly from finished UNTAC mission in Cambodia served in the UNAMIR mission that lasted from October 1993 till March 1996. They arrived to Kigali in November and December 1993 and their task was to prepare plans and organization of logistic support for the UNAMIR.

Upon arrival Steć noticed however how the other UN soldiers called the mission as "Mission Impossible" due to the racism, the Hutu Power militia and the human rights abuses. "It felt as though we were sitting on a barrel of gunpowder, waiting for a spark. (...) the genocide hanged in the air", and "the international community was playing for time, waiting for some final solution to the Rwandan problem".[4] But no one could ever have imagined the scale of what was to come.[3]

When the genocide in Rwanda begun on April 6, 1994, Steć was one of the first (with Polish major Marek Pazik, Canadian major Brent Beardsley and a three-man Bangladeshi crew) who, called upon by two other Polish UNAMIR officers major Jerzy Mączka and major Ryszard Chudy, arrived by Czech made Armoured personnel carrier to the place of the massacre in Gikondo, the first massacre discovered by UNAMIR.[5] Steć filmed the bodies with his camcorder in order to gain the proof of the genocide and was the first UNAMIR officer to use this word. As noted later "we were explicitly forbidden to use the word genocide in our correspondence to New York".[3][4]

Massacres like the one in Gikondo would become commonplace. "We had a well-organised genocide rolling through the country".[4]

There were an estimated 10,000 people being killed each day by Interhamwe. Steć and four fellow polish officers created a Humanitarian Action Cell to co-ordinate and organise rescue teams. By April 15, 1994 they devised a plan for the creation of secure zones, the co-ordination of relief agencies and protection of the population. This evoleved into Dallaire's Humanitarian Assistance Cell HAC with Steć, Pazik, two Canadian majors under the command of a Ghanaian Colonel. [3] None of these points was entirely realised because of the pressure from the UN Security Council, or rather from Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and Brussels. "Instead of saving people, we were engaged into talks on impossible ceasefire. Basically it sounded to us like: do not save people, play for time and see how it develops".[4] They created 91 such secure zones in Rwanda, but there were only enough Unamir soldiers to stand guard at four of them.[3]

In May 1994 Steć, Pazik, Major Donny MacNeil of Canada and Colonel Clayton Yaache of Ghana along with four Tunisian UNAMIR peacekeepers[1] attempted unsuccessfully an evacuation of some of those trapped in the Hotel des Mille Collines with MacNeil and Steć reading the names of those to be evacuated in the crowded hotel lobby. "I had a 'Schindler's List' of the people we were allowed to save. The conditions were: they did need a visa guarantee and a financial guarantee that they would be received outside Rwanda (...). Although approved by the Rwandan Chief of Staff, the convoy was halted by military and militia and following a very dangerous stand off they managed to return the refuges safely to the Hotel des Milles Collines. A few blocks away from the Mille Collines, there was a church, l' Eglise St. Famille, with more than 5000 refugees. Every night militia were killing people there. We did nothing to evacuate them and I guess it was because they didn't have visas".[4]

In May 1994 Steć tried also to revive his humanitarian assistance plan. Together with General Dallaire they concluded that it was the right thing to do but they could not save people because of political liaisons. "At that time, the sense of rebellion was very strong in UNAMIR. The words nonsense operation were commonly used by military observers to describe the refugee transfers we did".[4] It was then when Steć was considering deserting UNAMIR and joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front in protest.[4] But still he had the list of people that were allowed to save and actually were.

When the United Nations Security Council, at the instigation of the United Kingdom, had determined that UNAMIR be withdrawn, leaving only a "token force" to "appease public opinion",[3] Steć remained in Rwanda even though the council terminated sending supplies to the remaining peacekeepers.

Amahoro Foundation[edit]

Stefan Steć along with street children in Ndera (Kigali Province, Rwanda)

After the genocide was over in July 1994 Steć left UNAMIR and made a home with his partner Heather Kilner in The Hague. Working in computer technology, he saved enough money to establish in December 2001 along with Kilner the Amahoro Foundation. Since then the foundation assists children, particularly orphans, advances education and relieves poverty in Rwanda, connecting people of goodwill, in general supported only by a website designed by Stec.[3]

For his exceptional courage in Rwanda, saving lives at the risk to his own he was personally thanked by the Polish President Lech Wałęsa, who honored him with the Cross of Merit for Bravery. Steć dedicated this cross to all volunteers who stayed with UNAMIR and especially to General Dallaire, "whose courage and leadership kept us running against the will of the international community".[4]

In 2005, Steć was invited on a special showing of Hotel Rwanda movie in the Hague. After the film, which portrays the peacekeepers as ineffectual, there was a panel discussion during which Steć was publicly blamed for not having done enough to save Rwandan lives.[1]

Steć fell ill after the viewing of Hotel Rwanda. He stopped eating and, in spite of help from psychiatrists who had treated soldiers from the Dutch UN battalion in Srebrenica,[1] died due to complications from posttraumatic stress disorder in September 2005.

In the 2007 Canadian drama feature film Shake Hands with the Devil Steć is played by Mark Antony Krupa[dead link].

References[edit]

External links[edit]