The Rwandan massacres

The massacres in Rwanda were a changing point in my life. Perhaps a million people slaughtered and it played out in graphic detail in our media. I watched people pleading for their lives, then being hacked to death for a label, a slight difference in culture. I came to realise that I was a bystander in the world, and decided that wasn't good enough. To consider ourselves a good person, we must do more than not deliberately contribute to others suffering.

As Rwanda and so many other terrible incidents prove, there is a recurrent disease in the heart of humanity. We need healing. Unless individuals together call for a global community, one capable of responding to such situations, we will not stop tragedies of this scale. To be an isolationist, to look away, to hide inconvenient facts from your conscious thought, to be apolitical, is to be one more person who allows these things to be perpetuated. 

Rwanda proved to me, as the holocaust and so many other incidents have proved to people of other times, that there is no ethically neutral ground to stand on in life. To not act for justice is what those who would commit injustice hope for.

Below I have included a couple of later articles which detail what went on and the international response to it.

Panel Issues Rwanda Genocide Report

Associated Press Writer


In the broadest investigation of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, an international panel on Friday blamed the U.N. Security Council, the United States, France and the Catholic Church for allowing more than 500,000 people to be slaughtered.

The 90-day genocide was orchestrated by a small group of Hutu extremists against the Tutsi minority. More than half a million Tutsis and thousands of moderate Hutus were killed in a slaughter that ended when Tutsi-led rebels seized control.

`A small number of major actors could directly have prevented, halted, or reduced the slaughter,' said the seven-member panel, established in 1998 by the Organization of African Unity.

Calling the conclusions ``very shocking,'' former Canadian Ambassador and panel member Stephen Lewis told a news conference releasing the report that the French government knew exactly what was happening and could have prevented the genocide.

``We repudiate the position of the government of France _ the position that asserts that they had no responsibility,'' he said. ``There is almost no redemptive feature to the conduct of the government of France.''

Lewis called the U.S. role in blocking the U.N. Security Council from sending an effective military force to halt the genocide ``an almost incomprehensible scar of shame on American foreign policy.'' ``I don't know how Madeleine Albright lives with it,'' he said.

At the time, the U.S. secretary of state was the American ambassador to the United Nations. Rwanda's U.N. Ambassador Joseph Mutaboba said the report succeeded in ``pointing a finger to where it had to be pointed in the first place _ to adequately describe what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.''

The 318-page report traces the roots of the genocide back to Rwanda's colonial rulers from Germany, and then Belgium, who along with Roman Catholic missionaries fostered the belief that the country's minority Tutsis were superior to its Hutu majority.

It then links the genocide to current African conflicts.

The Security Council bears the greatest responsibility in the genocide because it could have dispatched an international military force, the report said.

It said the United States deserves the greatest blame of the 15 council members because it made sure that no serious military mission was sent to stop the killings ``even after it was known beyond question that one of the 20th century's greatest tragedies was unfolding,'' the panel said.

The United Nations had a 2,500-strong peacekeeping mission in the country when the genocide began, but governments pulled out all but a few hundred troops after 10 Belgian peacekeepers were killed.

An independent report on the U.N. role in the genocide, commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, concluded in December that the organization and its members lacked the political will and resources to prevent or stop the genocide.

But Friday's report was much more direct.

``Weeks into the genocide, the Security Council, led by the U.S., actually voted to reduce the inadequate military mission that had earlier been authorized for Rwanda,'' the report said.

``Later, once a new mission was finally authorized, American stalling tactics ensured that not one single additional soldier or piece of equipment reached Rwanda before the genocide had ended.''

After losing 18 soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the United States was largely opposed to the Security Council authorizing any new serious peacekeeping missions, with or without American participation, it said.

The French government is also singled out for failing to use its ``unrivaled influence'' with Rwanda's government and military to denounce ethnic hatred.

French troops allowed many Rwandan leaders who played a part in the genocide to escape across the border into Zaire, the report said. Now many of those leaders are helping fuel the civil war in Congo.

Like the French government, the Catholic and Anglican hierarchies were blamed for failing to use ``their unique moral position among the overwhelmingly Christian population to denounce ethnic hatred and human rights abuses,'' it said.

Belgium was cited in the report for insisting that its soldiers leave Rwanda when the genocide started, knowing ``they could save countless lives if they were allowed to remain.''

Since the genocide, the report noted, President Clinton, Annan, the prime minister of Belgium and the Anglican church have all apologized for failing to stop the killings. But France and the Catholic Church have not yet offered any apology, it said.

The panel recommended Annan appoint a commission to determine reparations owed by the international community to Rwanda.

The seven panel members were Former Botswana President Ketumile Masire, former Mali President Toumani Toure, former Liberian minister and presidential candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, former Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Algerian Senator Hocine Djoudi who was a U.N. ambassador, and Lisbet Palme, head of the Swedish Committee for UNICEF and widow of assassinated prime minister Olof Palme.

America 'in touch with genocide suspect' as UN force left Rwanda

By Alex Duval Smith, Africa Correspondent

22 August 2001

Even as America was lobbying for the withdrawal of United Nations forces from Rwanda in 1994, US officials knew massacres were being perpetrated and they were in contact with one alleged mastermind of the genocide, evidence in newly declassified archives shows.

Among 16 documents on American actions in the wave of frenzied killing that claimed 800,000 Rwandan lives, one details a conversation on 28 April 1994 between Prudence Bushnell, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Colonel Theoneste Bagosora of the Rwandan army.

"She said that, in the eyes of the world, the Rwandan military was engaged in criminal acts, aiding and abetting civilian massacres," said a summary of the conversation that was later cabled between American embassies. Col Bagosora, who is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, is said to have told her the mass killings of Tutsis were being committed by the people, without the support of the newly installed extremist Hutu military government.

William Ferroggiaro, a researcher at the National Security Archive, a private US organisation that collects declassified military and diplomatic documents and analyses them, said: "We knew who to call. We knew how to call them, and we did call them."

Rwandan genocide raged for three months while America, which had been humiliated in Somalia the previous year, lobbied for the removal of the small UN contingent in the Great Lakes country. At the same time, France was taking action that has since been proved to have aided the Hutu genocidaires.

Other released documents detail the debates in lower-level US policy circles, especially over whether to term the events in Rwanda a genocide. The documents show some State Department officials feared using the term genocide would compel the United Nations - and therefore America - to comply with the 1948 Genocide Treaty, which demands intervention. In 1998, President Bill Clinton said: "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name - genocide."

A similar debate surrounded proposals to use a $70m (£48m) electronic warfare aircraft called Commando Solo, capable of jamming the inflammatory broadcasts of Radio Milles Collines, which incited Hutus to kill Tutsis throughout the genocide.

On 5 May 1994, Frank G Wisner, who was the American under-secretary of defence for policy, wrote to Sandy Berger, then the deputy national security adviser, advising that jamming would be "an ineffective and expensive mechanism that will not accomplish the objective", given Rwanda's mountainous terrain and concerns for the safety of the slow, prop-driven aircraft.