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Rwanda ten years after the genocide

Summary & Comment: The 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide will soon be marked. This article provides some stark reminders of the international response to the crisis with a strong anglo-saxon bias.

Author: Gerald Caplan Date Written: 6 February 2004
Primary Category: Central Region Document Origin: UNA-Canada, Editorial from www.pambazuka.org
Secondary Category: Human Rights Source URL: http://www.pambazuka.org 02.01.04
Key Words: Rwanda, genocide, crisis, international response, background,


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Rwanda ten years after the genocide

Around the world, commemorations of the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide are about to be launched.

The central actors responsible for allowing Hutu extremists to perpetrate the genocide are well known: the government of France, the United Nations Security Council led by the USA with British backing, the UN Secretariat, the government of Belgium, and, by no means least, the Roman Catholic Church. The Organization of African Unity also refused to condemn the “genocidaires” and proved to be largely irrelevant throughout the crisis. As a consequence of these acts  of commission and omission, 800,000 Tutsi and thousands of moderate Hutu were murdered in a period of 100 days. Reviewing the events of those days, I find myself thinking not once but repeatedly: It's almost impossible to believe that any of this actually happened.

The following  is a selection of some of those events . They, and the lessons they  suggest, are worth bearing in mind as we who refuse to let the memory of  the genocide dissipate begin our commemorations of the 10th anniversary:

1. Time and again in the months prior to and during the genocide, the Commander of the UN military mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) pleaded with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York to expand his very limited mandate. The only time his request was ever approved was in the days immediately after the Rwandan president's plane was shot down, triggering the genocide. UNAMIR was then authorized to exceed its narrow mandate exclusively for the purpose of helping to evacuate foreign nationals, mainly westerners, from the country. Never was such flexibility granted to protect Rwandans.

2. Heavily armed western troops began materializing at Kigali airport within hours to evacuate their nationals. Beyond UNAMIR's 2500 peacekeepers, these included 500 Belgian para-commandos, 450 French and 80 Italian troops from parachute regiments, another 500 Belgian para-commandos on stand-by in Kenya, 250 US Rangers on stand-by in Burundi, and 800 more French troops on stand-by in the region. None made any attempt to protect Rwandans at risk. Besides western nationals, French troops evacuated a number of well-known leaders of the extremist Hutu Power movement , including the wife of the murdered president and her family. All non-UNAMIR troops left within days, immediately after  their evacuation mission was completed.

3. From the beginning of the genocide to its end, no government or organization other than NGOs formally described events in Rwanda as a genocide.

4. From beginning to end, all governments and official bodies continued  to recognize the "genocidaire" government as the legitimate government of  Rwanda.

5. The months of the genocide happened to coincide with Rwanda's turn to fill one of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council. Throughout those 3 months, the representative of the government executing the genocide continued to take that seat and participate in all deliberations, including discussions on Rwanda.

6. Almost all official bodies remained neutral about the "genocidaires" and the Rwandan Patriotic Front , the mostly Tutsi rebels in the civil war that was being fought at the same time as the genocide. As if they were morally equivalent groups, both the “genocidaire” government and those fighting to end the genocide were called upon by the UN, the Organization of African U nity and others to agree to a cease-fire. They did not call on the "genocidaires" to stop the genocide. Had the RPF agreed to a cease-fire, the scale of the genocide behind government lines would have been even greater.

7. Only days after the genocide began, 2500 Tutsi as well as Hutu opposition politicians crowded into a Kigali school known as ETO, where Belgian UN troops were billeted; at least 400 of them were children. They were seeking protection against menacing militia and government soldiers outside the compound. In the midst of the stand-off, the Belgian soldiers were ordered to depart ETO to assist in evacuating foreign nationals from the country. They did so abruptly, making no arrangements whatever for the protection of those they were safeguarding. As they moved out, the killers moved in. When the afternoon was over, all 2500 civilians had been murdered.

8. After 10 Belgian UN soldiers were killed by Rwandan government troops the day after the Rwandan President's plane was shot down, Belgium withdrew all its troops from the UN mission. So that Belgium would not alone be blamed for scuttling UNAMIR, its government then strenuously  lobbied the UN to disband the mission in its entirety.

9. Two weeks after the crisis had begun, with information about the magnitude of the genocide increasing by the day, the Security Council did come very close to shutting down UNAMIR altogether. Instead, led by the USA and the United Kingdom, it voted to decimate the mission, reducing it from 2500 to 270.

10. After the deaths of 18 American soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the United States decided to participate in no more UN military missions. The Clinton administration further decided that no significant UN missions were to be allowed at all, even if American troops would not be involved. Thanks mostly to the delaying tactics of the US, after 100 days of the genocide not a single reinforcement of UN troops or military supplies had reached Rwanda.

11. Bill Clinton later apologized for not doing more to stop the genocide. However, his claim that his administration had not been aware of the real situation was a lie.

12. French officials were senior advisers to both the Rwandan government and military in the years leading to the genocide, with unparalleled influence on both. Virtually until the moment the genocide began, they gave unconditional support as well as considerable arms to the Hutu elite. Throughout the 100 days and long after, French officials and officers remained hostile to the "anglo-saxon" RPF, whose victory ended the genocide. To this day the French have never acknowledged their role nor apologized for it.

13. After 6 weeks of genocide, France, which offered no troops to the UN mission, suddenly decided to intervene in Rwanda. Within a week of the decision, Operation Turquoise was able to deploy 2500 men with 100 armored personnel carriers, 10 helicopters, a battery of 120 mm mortars, 4 Jaguar fighter bombers, and 8 Mirage fighters and reconnaissance planes - all for an ostensibly humanitarian operation. The French forces created a safe haven in the south-west of the country which provided sanctuary not only to fortunate Tutsi but also to many leading Rwandan government and military officials as well as large numbers of soldiers and militia - the very Hutu Power militants who had organized and carried out the genocide. Not a single person was arrested by France for crimes against humanity. All were allowed to escape across the border into Zaire - entirely unrepentant and often still armed. Predictably, these “genocidaires” were soon launching murderous excursions back into Rwanda, beginning a cycle that led to the subsequent bloody conflict that destabilizes central Africa still.

14. France long remained hostile to the post-genocide government in Rwanda and sympathetic to the previous French-speaking Hutu regime. Many of the leaders of the new government were from English-speaking Uganda and were considered the "anglo-saxon" enemy by the French government. In November 1994, barely four months after the end of the genocide, Rwanda was deliberately excluded from the annual Franco-African summit hosted by France. Zaire's President Mobutu, who had been ostracized by the French government in recent years, was invited, as was Robert Mugabe, the anglophone president of anglophone Zimbabwe.

15. The Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda was the largest and most influential denomination in the country, with intimate ties to the government at all levels. It failed to denounce the government's explicit ethnic foundations, failed to denounce its increasing use of violence against Tutsi, failed to denounce or even name the genocide, failed to apologize for the many clergy who aided and abetted the “genocidaires”, and to this day has never apologized for its overall role. The Pope has refused to apologize on behalf of the Church as a whole.

16. Within months of the end of the genocide, relief workers and representatives of the international community in Rwanda were telling Rwandans they must, "Quit dwelling on the past and concentrate on rebuilding for the future" and insisting that "Yes, the genocide happened, but it's time to get over it and move on."

17. George W. Bush, during the campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, was asked by a TV interviewer what he would do as president if, "God forbid, another Rwanda" should take place. He replied: "We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside our own strategic interest. I would not send US troops into Rwanda."

18. The new Rwanda Patriotic Front government inherited a debt of close to $1 billion, some of it incurred by the previous government in genocide preparations---expanding its army and militias and buying arms. After the genocide, the RPF was obligated to repay in full the country's debt to its western lenders.

19. Following the genocide, the World Bank was left with a $160 million program of aid to Rwanda that it had extended to the previous government. Even though the new government was penniless, the Bank refused to activate that sum until the new government paid $9 million in interest incurred by its predecessor. A Bank official told a UN representative: "After all, we are a commercial enterprise and have to adhere to our regulations." The sum was eventually paid by some donors.

20. In the first nine months after the genocide, the donor community provided $1.4 billion in aid to the Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire and Tanzania. Since, as was universally known, “genocidaires” had taken over the camps, a good part of these funds went to feed and shelter them and to fund their re-training and re-arming as they planned cross-border raids back into Rwanda. For Rwanda itself, while donor funds for reconstruction were generously pledged, in the first year after the genocide only $68 million was actually disbursed. To this day, Rwanda has never received reparations remotely commensurate with the damage that the international community had failed to prevent.

21. Once the genocide ended, the UN military mission was finally expanded. As UNAMIR II, it remained in Rwanda for almost two more years as a peacekeeping force, costing the UN $15 million a month. But the main challenge had become less one of peacekeeping and more one of peace-building - the reconstruction of a totally devastated country. UNAMIR had the equipment, the skills and the will to play a major role in reviving the country's shattered structures. What it lacked was the mandate and modest funding from the Security Council to perform such a  role. But UN headquarters never sought such authorization from the Security Council, nor did the Council ever initiate such a move.

22. When a UN mission leaves a country, it follows a formula to determine how much of its equipment should be left behind. UNAMIR owned much desperately needed equipment, from computers to vehicles to furniture. When the mission wrapped up in April 1996, both UN officials in Kigali and members of the Security Council urged UN headquarters to interpret the formula with maximum generosity and flexibility; they believed that 80% of all non-lethal equipment should remain in Rwanda. UN headquarters announced that 93% of all equipment was to be transported out of the country for storage or use elsewhere . After much pressure was applied, the UN bureaucracy decreed finally that 62% of all equipment be removed.

23. So far as is known, not a single person in any government or in the UN has ever been fired or held accountable for failing to intervene in the genocide. In fact, the opposite is true. Some careers flourished in the aftermath. Several of the main actors were actually promoted. We can consider this the globalization of impunity.

24. Despite the unanimity of every major study undertaken and in the face of the testimonies of survivors and the first-hand accounts of international humanitarian workers in Rwanda at the time, denial of the genocide persists. Deniers include Hutu Power advocates , many of them still active in western countries, as well as lawyers and investigators  working for Hutu clients at the International Criminal Tribunal for  Rwanda . Denying the Rwandan genocide is the moral equivalent of denying  the Holocaust.

Note : Gerald Caplan is the author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide   (2000), the report of the International Panel of Eminent Personalities appointed by the Organization of African Unity to investigate the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the founder of "Remembering Rwanda: The Rwanda Genocide 10th Anniversary Memorial Project".
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