Thursday, April 08, 2004


From: NPR. Caption: Refugees standing near a mass grave cover their mouths and noses. At the time, radio broadcasts called on Hutus to kill the "cockroaches." Neighbors killed neighbors, and many seeking safe haven in churches and schools met their deaths there.

After the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian leaders on 6 April 1994, the genocide started immediately. The same day, Hutu extremist gunmen started killing moderate Hutu opponents and all Tutsis. By 9 April, a mere three days later, newspapers were already reporting "tens of thousands" of dead. On this date, Gen. Dallaire requested that his 2500 man UN peacekeeping force be doubled in size. Even though this would only be filled by countries who volunteered peacekeepers, the request was shot down in the Security Council by France, the US and Belgium, all for different reasons (as will be explained later).

The next week, ten UN peacekeepers from Belgium were slain by the extremists and paraded them through the streets of Kigali, Rwanda's capital, before the TV cameras. The plan was to shock the Belgian public into demanding withdrawal, as happened to American troops in Somalia, a year earlier. The plan worked to perfection as Belgium did withdraw all its peacekeepers on 15 April.

Embarrassed to be withdrawing alone, Belgium asks the U.S. to support a full pullout. Secretary of State [Warren] Christopher agrees and tells Madeleine Albright, America's U.N. ambassador, to demand complete withdrawal. She is opposed, as are some African nations.

Instead, a "compromise" plan is adopted which keeps Blue Helmets in Rwanda but rather than doubling the force, as Dallaire requested, the plan reduces their manpower by 90% to a few hundred.

Not content to merely refuse use of their own troops, France, Belgium and the US were loathe to authorize ANY intervention to halt or slow down the genocide, even by others.

Belgium didn't want to be further embarassed after their withdrawal with their tails between their legs. The US was paranoid that if anyone else intervened, Americans would somehow eventually get sucked in, something that was unacceptable a year after Mogadishu. France had long entertained good relations with its client regime in Kigali, the regime that had planned and was implementing the genocide.

Eager to avoid even the remotest possibility of getting drawn into doing anything, the Clinton administration earnestly avoided use of the word 'genocide,' even after it was clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was occuring. Far from being coincidental, it was very deliberate, since the international convention against genocide (ratified by the Senate in 1986) would've obliged the US and others to act. As PBS, among others, have reported: A Defense Department discussion paper, prepared for a meeting of officials having day-to-day responsibility on the crisis, is filled with cautions about the U.S. becoming committed to taking action. The word genocide is a concern. "Be careful. Legal at State [the lawyers at the State Department] was worried about this yesterday -- Genocide finding could commit [the U.S.] to actually 'do something.'"

Six weeks into the slaughter, the Security Council finally agrees to Dallaire's request for 5000 peacekeepers, but they'd be mainly from African countries. Washington offers to lease military equipment to the Africans. However, not content with simply not sending avoiding the sending of American troops, the Pentagon argues with the UN for two weeks over logistics. During those two weeks of bureaucratic inerita, over 100,000 likely perished in the slaughter. The equipment doesn't actually arrive until a month later.

Near the end of the genocide, the UN authorizes France to unilaterally intervene in southwest Rwanda. Operation Turquoise was supposed to be a safe area and it was, for the killers. The "zone turquoise" permitted members of the genocidal regime, the French government's friends, to flee to the eastern part of what was then Zaire. The genociders were losing the civil war to the RPF, which captured Kigali the following month.

The French government's supreme contempt was part of a long tradition. French governments of the left and right had supported ruthless African dictatorships for years, in much the same way the US did in Latin America. In fact, a French language word was even invented to describe this un-self-conscious neo-colonial exploitation: la Françafrique (Franceafica). Thus, it was hardly surprising that the then French leader François Mitterand reacted to the genocide in a supremely dismissive manner. The late president opined that "In those countries, genocide is not very important."

A French commission set up in 1998 to investigate France's role in the genocide was chaired by an erstwhile Mitterand ally. Not surprisingly, the report was a whitewash and declared that France was "not at all responsable" in any way. Both Belgium and the UN conducted investigations of their own which were somewhat more scrupulous. No inquiry has been conducted in the US.

Much could've be done to halt or disrupt the genocide short of sending French, Belgian or American troops. This is an absolutely essential point often lost on those who would reduce such questions to the simplistic dichotomy: send troops or do absolutely nothing.

But that will be expanded upon in tommorrow's entry.

Recommended reading: Ghosts of Rwanda and The Triumph of Evil. PBS' Frontline documentaries.

Tommorrow: myths and realities about the genocide and about the world's (non-)reaction.


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