Saturday, April 10, 2004

RWANDA: MYTHS AND REALITIES ABOUT THE GENOCIDE (part 2)


From: BBC News. Caption: This stark picture conveys the extent of the killing. It was taken in Nyarubuye church, the site of an infamous massacre. Many of the skulls are smashed, clearly bearing signs of the blows inflicted by the killers' clubs.



-There were atrocities committed on both sides.

So what? This is the same moral equivalency nonsense used to justify inaction in the Balkans. I remember reading one journalist in the Balkans telling a story. She said filed a report detailing Serb atrocities but her editor was upset. The editor wanted her to find examples of Bosnian atrocities to even things out. Even though evidence pointed to about 90% of the atrocities being committed by Serbs, reporting had to be "balanced." That's why, as I wrote earlier, fair and balanced are not necessarily the same. Objective reporting is not always neutral. There were certainly atrocities committed on the RPF (rebels fighting against the genociders), but nothing in the same universe in terms of scale. While war crimes should be punished regardless of who committed them, making a moral equivalency between crimes committed by individual units and an meticulously organized mass slaughter is disgusting. It's a bit like those fools who equate Saddam and George W. Bush just because both invaded two countries; while I opposed the invasion of Iraq, Bush never ordered the use of poison gas. Yes, RPF soldiers committed atrocities; but punish them as individuals, don't make a blanket equivalency between the RPF and the genociders.


-The UN was there. Why didn't it act?

The UN didn't act because those France, the US and Belgium didn't want it to act, as explained in previous entries. Notice how two of those three countries are veto-wielding members of the Security Council. The head of the UN peacekeepers, Gen. Dallaire, requested that his force be doubled in size. The Security Council cut it by 90%. Once he was informed that a genocide was imminent as well as after the slaughter started, he requested that the Security Council give his force a stronger mandate allowing to intervene. The Security Council denied this request and forced he and his troops to observe the slaughter without doing anything The UN Blue Helmets wanted to intervene; the UN MEMBER STATES refused to allow this. (This is why speaking of the UN as an abstract entity with some sort of inherent authority is either pointless or disingenuous).


-The killing was so widespread and chaotic that even a UN intervention couldn't have done anything.

This is a variation on the myth of Rwanda=Somalia. Rwanda was not Somalia. First, the slaughter in Rwanda was intricately planned. The violence was choreographed down to Hate Radio reading off the names of people to be killed. People were ordered to kill by the organizers, lest them themselves be killed. As the most Catholic country in Africa and after 35 years of dictatorship, Rwandans were used to giving unquestioning obedience to authority. If any kind of serious international pressure had been put on those at those at the top to halt the massacres or risk intervention, it would've quickly stopped.


-The US had no influence in Rwanda and thus could've done nothing.

While the US had little influence in Rwanda, in contrast to the French and Belgians, it could've supported those who DID want to intervene. Instead, it actively obstructed ANY (not just American) intervention. You know who you can thank for designing this policy? A guy named Richard Clarke. Yes, the same Richard Clarke who was recently canonized by the American left. As Samantha Power noted in her brilliant article in The Atlantic Monthly: America's new peacekeeping doctrine, of which Clarke was the primary architect, was unveiled on May 3, [1994] and U.S. officials applied its criteria zealously. PDD-25 did not merely circumscribe U.S. participation in UN missions; it also limited U.S. support for other states that hoped to carry out UN missions. Before such missions could garner U.S. approval, policymakers had to answer certain questions: Were U.S. interests at stake? Was there a threat to world peace? A clear mission goal? Acceptable costs? Congressional, public, and allied support? A working cease-fire? A clear command-and-control arrangement? And, finally, what was the exit strategy?


-The US is not the world's policemen. It can not send troops to every place where something bad happens.

This is not a myth. It's the truth. But it's also a straw man. Of all the nonsense that needs to be demolished, this is number one on the list. Just because we choose not to send troops does not mean we should do absolutely nothing. Whenever there is genocide or horrible civil war or something like that, many people frame the responses in a false dichotomy: send troops or do absolutely nothing. Bury our head in the sand. Pretend it doesn't exist. Say it's really bad and then go back to lauding Gadaffhi. Even if the US or other western country chooses not to send its own troops, there is almost always something else it can do that would help the situation.

As Power noted in a Radio Netherlands interview: In addition, and I think this is important to mention, the toolbox that states normally have at their disposal when they're serious about something, which doesn't just involve sending additional troops, but rather such things as freezing the assets of perpetrators, threatening prosecution, denouncing genocides underway, expelling ambassadors from international institutions who're standing up and telling lies about what their governments are doing - which was true for Rwanda – rallying troops from other countries so not only reinforcing with those western European paratroopers, but let's say the United States going to the Security Council and trying to generate enthusiasm from African countries or itself of course to send its troops or to get enthusiasm on the international stage by drawing attention to what's happening. None of these things were done.

In Rwanda, there is a lot that the US could've done short of sending its own troops. (I focus on them because Belgium left with their tails between their legs and France had ulterior motives, like protecting their genocidal former client regime). For example, the US could've:

*supported the strengthening of the UN mission already there, composed of troops from countries who'd VOLUNTEERED men

*been more forthcoming in leasing military equipment to East African countries who wanted to intervene, rather than engaging in bureaucratic stalling

*jammed the broadcasts of the Hate Radio station broadcasting the names of people to be killed and spurring on the murderous mob mentality by exhorting "The graves are not yet full."(the Clinton administration opposed jamming because they were afraid it might violate international broadcasting treaties)

*denounced the events as genocide and warned the organizers that they would be held responsible

*pressured France to lean on their allies in the regime to stop the slaughter

*expelled the Rwandan ambassador to Washington and pushed for expelling Rwandan representatives from the UN and related bodies

Instead, the Clinton administration publicly denied the a genocide was underway until long after it was over. In late May, they actually used the 'g' word but mitigated it by saying that "acts of genocide" were occuring in Rwanda.

But the false dichotomy of "send our own troops or do nothing" prevailed.

Though he is overreliant on the military end of international affairs, the false "all or nothing" dichotomy seems to have been broken by President Bush. He froze the American assets of and issued a travel ban against Zimbabwean thug Robert Mugabe and his cronies. He publicly condemned the Sudanese regime for their ethnic cleansing in the eastern region of Darfur. His destruction of this false dichotomy was most evident in Liberia. Though Bush did not order US troops to intervene, as requested by all parties, Bush didn't have the US bury its head in the sand. He condemned dictator Charles Taylor, froze his assets and, most importantly, leaned hard on Nigerian president Obasanjo to pressure Taylor to quit. In the end, Taylor accepted Nigeria's offer of asylum and left Liberia, much to the relief of everyone involved. Especially the Liberians themselves. Though he didn't do everything the Liberians wanted, many people were surely spared a fight-to-the-death in Monrovia. It's not often I praise Bush but many lives were saved, in part, because of Bush's rejection of this false choice. Had Clinton applied the same in Rwanda, some of the 800,000 probably wouldn't have died.

**

Tommorrow: the genocide's orphans.

Recommended reading: Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let the Rwandan Tragedy Happen, by Samantha Power, The Atlantic Monthly, September 2001. This is by far the best summary around of the genocide and international non-reaction. If you don't have time to read any of the excellent books I've suggested, then please read this article.


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