Friday, April 30, 2004

Road Safety in Africa

Road accidents have been a big theme in the African press this month.

The BBC World Serivce ran a series of reports to coincide with the World Health Organisation's Road Safety Day (7 April) examining how road traffic accidents are becoming a global epidemic.Each year 1.2 million men, women and children around the world lose their lives as a result of road traffic accidents, it reported. Hundreds of thousands more are injured on our roads, some of whom become permanently disabled.

The WHO's website also has a lot of information on road safety.

This Day reports that the last five years have deadly on Nigeria's roads. The Nigerian paper cites the country's Federal Road Safety Commission has adjudged the last five years as the worst since inception due to the high ratio of road crashes during the period. The commission resolved to set up two committees on the controversial issues of night travel and the recklessness of Okada riders with a view to advising management appropriately.

Africa Blog cites an interesting statistic to underline how grave the problem is. In South Africa, road accidents cause the most deaths among children between 4 and 15 years. Nearly every day two children die on our roads. Half of these children are younger than 8 years. About 800 children, all victims of road accidents, are treated at the Red Cross Children's Hospital. About 15% of these children are orthopedic patients.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ivory Coast Secession Movement? -- Ex-Guinean PM Facing Coup Plot Charges

Guinea's opposition leader Sidya Touré has been charged with plotting to overthrow the government of Gen. Lansana Conté, according to his lawyer. Touré was detained on Monday and freed on bail. The BBC reports: Last week, Security Minister Moussa Sampil announced on national television that members of Mr Toure's Union of Republican Forces (UFR) party had discussed killing Mr Conte and dissolving the country's government at a meeting on 10 March. Touré, who was Conté's prime minister from 1996-98, denied any knowledge of a plot to assassinate the dictator.

Sudan's strongman paid a visit to his country's troubled western province . Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir travelled to Darfur, where a United Nations' team is investigating claims of that government sponsored militias are engaging in ethnic cleansing against the region's black residents. The UN says more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than one million displaced during the conflict in Darfur.

Troubling news from a troubled land. The BBC reports that the Ivory Coast's rebels are mulling secession. On a tour of the north of Ivory Coast, the leader of the New Forces, Guillaume Soro, has announced a range of measures to restore normality in the territory under New Force control. In particular Mr Soro has called for the creation of New Forces police and customs officers. Some say that is the first step towards the north declaring its independence. Though Soro insists this is not an option for the short term. This is something for the xenophobic young thugs, er "young patriots," loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo to consider.

Kenya's Daily Nation calls on the country's NARC government to recover cash Nigeria way. The paper editorializes that If Narc leaders claim they were not party to [embezzlement], they must initiate processes by which to repatriate that money. Let them take a leaf from President Olusegun Obasanjo's relentless pressure on the Swiss to return Nigeria's wealth.

The Ghanaian Chronicle reported on efforts by the Togolese government to revamp the country's press laws. The Togo press code of 1998 which was passed by the country's multi-party parliament had representatives from Togo's traditional opposition parties. It was considered quite liberal and did not recommend prison terms as part of sanction for erring journalists who fell foul of the laws. But the fresh amendments adopted by the Togo National House of Assembly on September 3, 2002 were considered "draconian" by many media and human rights organisations including the London - based Amnesty International and the French Reporters Without Borders. The current laws recommend harsh terms of one to five years in case of defamation of the President. "This initiative of the government is laudable.When journalists are involved in making laws for the press, it will be difficult for them to turn round and break them," observed Lucien Messan, editor of the indepenent Le Combat.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Indicted War Criminal Taylor Wants to Help War Orphans - Mugabe Wonders Why Zimbabweans Fleeing Paradise

-Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor broke his silence last week from his exile in eastern Nigeria. The indicted war criminal granted an hour-long interview to the independent Channells Television. Among other things, the mastermind of Liberia's devastating civil war and godfather of Sierra Leone's brutal rebels stated that he wanted to return to Liberia and set up a foundation for orphans, war wounded and gifted children. How quaint.

-Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe addressed the nation in Independence Day celebrations earlier this week. The strongman of Harare blasted the Commonwealth as "evil" and blamed the "bloodthirsty" western world for an onslaught to "recolonize" the country, reported the SABC. The South African broadcaster also quoted Mugabe as wondering, "Some of our people are running away to wash the bodies of elderly people in England," referring to the large numbers of Zimbabweans there who work as carers for the elderly. Mugabe added: "Yet we are giving farms to people here. What are you running away for? Zimbabwe's problems can only be solved by Zimbabweans, not by foreigners," he said. "We have got medicine to sort out our problems, we have got traditional healers." What are they running away for, indeed? Personally, I'd love to live in a country that maintains torture camps, runs "re-education" camps and harassing those religious leaders who speak out as well as uses food aid as a political weapon, attacks protest marches and wages war (literally, not just figuratively) on what remains of a domestic free press. It sounds like a virtual paradise. Why would anyone leave this for London?

-Nigeria's The Guardian ran an editorial blasting the decision by the country's National Broadcasting Commission [NBC] to ban the re-broadcast of unedited foreign news. The daily writes that the decision sends the wrong signal about the direction of our democracy, adding that the move has had the effect of depriving listeners across the country of a popular source of national and international news. We wonder why these broadcasts, which had been allowed for many years, have suddenly become unacceptable to the NBC. In a global village of free information, it is arguable whether the NBC can decree what should be on the information menu. There are sensitive areas such as obscenity and pornography where a regulatory body can lay down the rules quite clearly with punishable recourse. But it is quite another matter to seek to ban uncomfortable information even when it is true. This is what dictatorial regimes do all over the world, and Nigeria should not be seen to be setting a bad example.

-Southern Ugandans are finally waking up to the reality of the war in the north, according to The East African. The savage Lord's Resistance Army and its insane leader Joseph Kony have reeked havoc in northern Uganda, despite great government effort to rid the country of the scourge. So while we should be discussing boosting foreign trade, reducing HIV infection rates and putting more computers in schools, Mr Kony refuses to go away. Now impatience with him is giving way to desperation and finally reflection, people have begun to see the war in a new light: Kony’s entire army is now made up of abductees. The people who are being recruited from Acholi region to fight them are their brothers. If you sign up for service, you are being sent to kill your own brother who was forced into the fight. If you don’t join, you will be killed by your brother. It is a no-win situation. The present appeals to God may, after all, not be such a naive thing, notes an opinion in the weekly.

-A contributor to The Somaliland Times is unimpressed by the BBC's Somali service. He writes It is alarming to see the BBC Somali service of today is like a third world dictator's broadcasting station. Strangely enough, the BBCsomali radio and its website are controlled by two cousins of Abdulqasim Salad Hassan who infiltrated the BBC during his short period as a leading Somali warlord, or as he calls himself Somalia's TNG [Transitional National Government] President. Somaliland is a self-declared republic in the northwestern third of what used to be Somalia. It has a functioning government and institutions, yet its sovereignty is not internationally recognized. A Taste of Africa is the blog of an aid worker in Somaliland.

Quote of the Week

"Some of our people are running away to wash the bodies of elderly people in England. Yet we are giving farms to people here. What are you running away for? Zimbabwe's problems can only be solved by Zimbabweans, not by foreigners. We have got medicine to sort out our problems, we have got traditional healers."

-Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, as quoted by South African Broadcasting Corporation. What are they running away for? I can't imagine! Personally, I wouldn't mind at all living in a country with torture camps, arbitrary arrests, 0% rule of law, 100% corruption and government manipulated famine.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Rwanda: Lessons and Conclusions

From: BBC. Caption: Since 1994, the numbers of students attending secondary education has increased five-fold - to 200,000. Before the genocide, girls were not encouraged to go to school but today more girls than boys receive an education.

Rwandans and the rest of the world learned many lessons from the genocide, most of which were not pleasant.

MYTH DESTROYED: "Never again" will the world allow genocide. As Holocaust consciousness exploded in the last few decades, "Never Again" was one of the lines that was repeated ad nauseaum. People intoned "Never Again" constantly but when it came time to put that into practice, when it came time to act (both in Bosnia and Rwanda), those people had a million reasons/excuses not to intervene. Ancient ethnic hatreds. Chaos. Morally equivalency between those committing 5% of the atrocities and those committing 95%. But many members of the "Never Again" crowd contented themselves with lighting candles, holding ceremonies and giving speeches while other genocides raged. Such memory is dangerous when it becomes a shackle on action rather than a motivation.

LESSON LEARNED: "Never again" doesn't really mean never again. "Never Again" really means "Never again will the world permit a genocide of Jews in the heart of Europe." I don't know if this is what the phrase's original proponents intended. I've written and read extensively about Rwanda. In the course of doing so, I've come to believe that though the Holocaust has sensitized us to genocide, it's inadvertantly made us more loathe to react. Simply put: if there's not 6,000,000 dead (not even counting the non-Jews killed by the Nazis), then it's not on the same scale as the Holocaust. If it's not on the same scale as the Holocaust, then it's not genocide; it's "merely" ethnic cleansing or 'ancient ethnic hatreds' or tribal warfare or 'inadvertant casualties of war' some other eupehemism. Tragically, there's a sense that calling something "genocide" before the magic 6 million mark somehow demeans the Holocaust's memory; that we diminish the word by overuse, so it's better never to use it at all. We've chosen to take the Holocaust and make it THE standard for future genocides, rather than saying: it must never get THAT bad ever again. We end up saying: we won't act until it gets that bad. Maybe the lesson is that we should stop pretending that the "Never Again" mantra applies to people who aren't Jewish.

MYTH DESTROYED: The US didn't stop the Holocaust because it didn't know. Saying that Americans would've supported intervention in Europe if they knew the Holocaust was taking place is a dubious assertion. But the Rwandan genocide (and that of Bosnia) were both broadcast live and in color to the US and the world on CNN and the BBC. Americans were bombarded with stories of slaughter by machete in central Africa and concentration camps in the heart of Europe. There was no groundswell for intervention. I'm sure some will give reasons why this was a legitimate choice, but no one can pretend non-intervention was based on ignorance.

LESSON LEARNED: The "international community" doesn't exist. And there isn't really any reason we ought to expect that it should. The "international community" comprises some 200 countries, each with their own interests, values and priorities.

LESSON LEARNED: The UN is nothing more than a collection of member states. Its peacekeepers can not act if UN member states don't want it to. When there's a crisis, there's usually a call from some quarters for "the UN" to do something. Except "the UN" isn't a sovereign entity. People think the secretary-general is the president of the world. In reality, he has no authority, other than moral. He's less like the president of the United States and more like the Pope. In Rwanda, UN peacekeepers wanted to intervene to halt the genocide but UN member states immmorally refused to allow it. (Some people just use "the UN" casually to mean many different things). Then-UN Rwanda peacekeeping head Gen. Romeo Dallaire contends that the this responsibility was not simply moral but criminal.

LESSON LEARNED: If you're planning a genocide, impliment it when something else big is going on in the world. It's easy to say that the world ignored Rwanda because it was in central Africa, the stereotypical "heart of darkness." And while this is surely true in part, there's more to it. One of the tragic ironies of the Rwandan genocide is that occurred at the same time as South Africa was having its historic first-ever democratic and multiracial elections. Almost all international media attention was focused on South Africa. This is ironic because for years, developing country advocates complained that the American and western press only reported negative stories about Africa. South Africa was the media's chance to show balance, to report a truly good story from the continent. I think in their hearts, the media WANTED an unambiguous good story from Africa. Unfortunately, this good story deflected attention from what was really one of the worst atrocities ever to occur in the continent in the 20th century. I doubt international reACTION would've been significantly different but public pressure might've forced western governments at least to adopt smaller measures like hate radio jamming or giving the UN force already there a stronger mandate.

LESSON LEARNED: If you're planning a genocide, make sure you buddy to a western power. This is certainly not news to Guatemalan Mayans or to Iraqi Kurds. Contrary to popular belief, a western country DID intervene during the genocide. Except it was on behalf of the murderers. The French "Operation Turquoise" was authorized by the UN Security Council ostensibly to create a humanitarian corridor. In reality, it allowed members of the genocidal regime, the French government's old buddies, to escape to then-Zaire. This was after France resolutely refused to strengthen the UN peacekeepers, a somewhat less tainted force, or even to permit the Blue Helmets to try to stop the genocide. As this column in The Guardian noted, Dallaire's mission was a sham force designed to trick the rest of the world into thinking it was doing something but weak enough that the genociders knew it would never actually enforce its pretend mission. "Operation Turquoise" promised a more robust enforcement but since it was entirely French-run, it implimented French objectives. Specifically, making sure no one ever knew fully how complicit Paris was in the slaughter.

LESSON LEARNED: Whether or not the world pays attention to a tragedy has little to do with the magnitude of that tragedy. This is perhaps the most important thing people around the world in desperate situations must learn: Don't expect foreigners to help you. They might. They might not. But it will be largely random. If other countries help you, it will be more due to a series of fortunate coincidences that have more to do with them and less to do with you. You can't count on it. For example, the US intervened in Kosovo because President Clinton wanted to distract people from his sex scandal; the action was right, but had the same decision been called for five years earlier, pre-Lewinsky, the choice would've been different. The people of Bosnia can attest to this. Kosovars got the luck of the draw; Bosnians didn't. People in Charles Taylor's Liberia and Saddam Hussein's Iraq both lived under a vicious, bloodthirsty dictatorship that cost countless lives and was internationall condemned; but one of those nations was deemed worthy of "liberation." The dichotomy had more to do with the disparity of American economic considerations in those countries and less to do with the actual repression of Taylor's and Hussein's regimes. In even some of the most extreme cases, western powers have been on the wrong side of human rights. American support for Saddam during the Kurdish genocide. France and Operation Turquoise. British and American support for the apartheid regime in South Africa for economic reasons. People living under desperate totalitarianism may hope for the series of coincidences required to attract the attention of a major western power, but they are foolish to bet their lives on it.

To the people of Rwanda, I wish you the best of luck. You are proceeding down a difficult, possibly unprecedented path. Your president has noted that Rwandans must fix their society themselves. This self-reliance is a good message since history has shown relying on others is dangerously self-deceptive. Hopefully, you've learned the most important lesson of all: arbitrary divisions between human beings rarely leads to anything productive.


Recommended reading: Deliver Us from Evil: Warlords and Peacekeepers in a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross. Addresses the successes and failures of international humanitarian interventions and non-interventions during the 1990s.

Recommended listening: Days of Darkness, Days of Light, BBC World Service documentary.

Monday, April 19, 2004


From: NPR. Caption: Refugees returning to their villages in 1996, between Gisenyi and Kigali [Rwanda's capital]. In the 10 years that have passed, the country has worked hard to move past the event. Today, Rwanda's capital is considered safe, orderly and peaceful. Many, including the current president, who was a leader of Tutsi rebels, refuse to talk about ethnicity, choosing instead to speak of themselves simply as "Rwandese."

Despite the above caption's implication, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has hardly been without controversy since his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power in 1994 after evicting the genocidal regime. Kagame deserves credit for navigating the country though an incredibly delicate period; one which, as I mentioned in the previous entry, is possibly without precedent. However some of Kagame's actions are more remiscient of a stereotypical African big man than of a Mandela-esque reconciliator.

Initially, the signs were good that the RPF would avoid a policy of retribution when it took power. The interim government established after the genocide comprised seven political parties. Although the RPF was seen as a Tutsi-dominated organization, the party's titular head was a Hutu: Pasteur Bizimungu. Bizimungu became president of the republic and Kagame, who'd been head of the RPF's military wing, became the country's vice-president. The symbolism was unmistakable: no anti-Hutu oppression to replace anti-Tutsi oppression, no victors' justice, no winners and, save the genociders, no losers. Yet despite the official titles, there was no doubt that Kagame was really in charge and that Bizimungu was a figure head.

As the genocide and civil war wound down, over two million Rwandans fled into refugee camps in eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). This included not only those who perpetrated the genocide, but those who organized it. This exodus/escape was facilitated by the French. The UN Security Council authorized Operation Turquoise. French troops thus created a so-called humanitarian corridor in the south of Rwanda whose objective was to allow Rwandans to safely flee to Zaire. In reality, its widely-assumed objective was to allowe the genocide's organizers, France's friends, to escape justice. If the organizers had to face justice, they just might reveal how much blood the French government had on its hands.

So the genocidal militias escape to eastern Zaire where they virtually controlled every day life in the refugee camps. Humanitarian organizations (NGOs) and the UN refused to crack down on the militias because they were afraid that action would compromise the NGOs' and UN's "neutrality." Militias used the refugee camps to launch raids into Rwandan territory. Several NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), stopped work in the refugee camps in protest of the unwillingness to tame the militias.

As a result, Kagame and his ally, the Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, invade eastern Zaire under the pretext of creating a buffer zone so that Zaire would no longer be the staging grounds for attacks on Rwandan (and Ugandan) villages. In theory, this didn't seem entirely unreasonable. In practice, Rwandan and Ugandan troops occupied most of the eastern third of Zaire. Far from creating a small safe area, Rwandan troops occupied territory as far as 1000 miles into Zaire. It is believed by many that Rwanda and Ugandan profited handsomely from the mineral richness of that part of Zaire.

Even worse, one-time allies Kagame and Museveni had a falling out and Rwandan and Ugandan troops fought with each other several times on Zairean soil!

Domestically, Kagame has shown little patience with the opposition. The press is largely muzzled; the government controls all broadcast media and only one independent paper exists in the country. Opposition party activities are severely limited. All of these things are done under the pretext of fighting "divisionism." Unfortunately, Kagame invokes the genocide as an overly broad justification for everything in much as President Bush invokes 9/11.

The RPF does seem genuine in talking the talk of reconciliation. President Kagame has a reputation as an austere, no-nonsense, incorruptible figure. He invokes the excuse of "preventing another genocide" as a cloak to justify his every move and his group stopped the genocide when the rest of the world stuck their head in the sand. As a result, the "international community," frought with a guilty conscience, gives Kagame and the RPF a much larger benefit of the doubt than they would to other regimes that engaged in the same authoritarian behavior.

Kagame was recently elected president (he'd ascended to the presidency in 2000 when Bizimungu resigned). The opposition cried foul because of an alleged campaign of intimidation. But despite a dubious official tally of 95% for Kagame, the
oppoistion eventually accepted his election as reflective of the will of Rwandans. However, the opposition leader called on Kagame to "accept what he has promised, to give peace to Rwanda, to accept freedom of speech and association and also to accept democracy."

However, the most persistent allegations surrounding Kagame concern the 6 April 1994 assassination of then Rwandan dictator Juvenal Habyiramana, the event which set in motion the pre-planned genocide (any doubts that the genocide was pre-planned were removed by the admission of Jean Kabanda, Rwandan prime minister during the genocide).

The shooting down of the plane carrying Habyiramana and the Burundian leader has been a subject of fierce speculation ever since it occurred. One theory is that the plane was shot down by extremists within the regime furious that Habyiramana had agreed to power sharing with the RPF. According to the theory, the pre-planned genocide needed a pretext to set it in motion. The assassination of the dictator was the perfect excuse to feed the anti-Tutsi paranoia the extremists needed to incite mass genocide.

The other theory is that the downing of the plane was ordered by the RPF. In fact, a long French police investigation concluded that Kagame himself gave direct orders for the plane to be shot down. The investigation's conclusion was reportedly based on interviews with hundreds of witnesses, including one man who allegedly belonged to the assassination squad. This theory claims that Kagame knew the assassination would trigger mass reprisals against Rwanda's DOMESTIC Tutsi population but was willing to "sacrifice" that population since the RPF members and their families primarily came from the community of Tutsi EXILES in Uganda. This is a fairly severe allegation.

Personally, I consider this allegation unlikely but not inconceivable. Yet, I might be more willing to believe an inquiry conducted by authorities from a country that was not chummy with the genocidal regime overthrown by Kagame's forces.

Not surprisingly, the Rwandan government denied French allegations as "fantasy."

Kagame replied with equally grave allegations of his own. It had been previously believed that the French government was merely negligent in not exerting more influence on its client regime to stop the massacres. But Kagame went much further. While acknowledging that Rwandans themselves bore primarily responsibility for the genocide, he repeated accusations that France had trained and armed the Hutu militias who carried out the mass killings.

It had been widely known that the French had trained those who would eventually commit the genocide. Kagame's accusations go much further: France KNEW they were going to commit the genocide, according to the Rwandan president. "They (France) knowingly trained and armed the government soldiers and militias who were going to commit genocide and they knew they were going to commit genocide," he is quoted by Reuters.

A French junior minister strenuously denied the allegation as "unacceptable, humiliating and lying."

Suffice it to say, relations between Rwanda and France are not presently very warm.

The RPF's refusal to cooperate with the international tribunal in Arusha is a black mark against Kagame. The government legitimately complained that the Arusha Tribunal was slow and inefficient. The UN has tried dilligently to address those concerns, but RPF stonewalling continues. It is widely believed that Kigali is afraid of RPF members being before the Arusha Tribunal, possibly even President Paul Kagame himself. The RPF is suspected of having committed war crimes as well, but none have been tried either in Arusha or before domestic tribunals.

This wall of silence is perhaps the most serious threat to national reconciliation in Rwanda. The government may speak the words of reconciliation but until their actions match the words, it will not happen. The government must recognize that Hutus were victims of atrocities as well. It can claim that its overall fight against the genociders was morally right while still acknowledging that some of its forces occassionally acted beyond the bounds of what is acceptable. The government can say that although spontaneous war crimes are not morally equivalent to systematic genocide, both should be punished appropriately. By doing so, the RPF would send two important messages. Firstly, that the decades-long tradition of impunity was no longer. Secondly, that both sides' suffering must be recognized and must be part of the discussion.

The rest of the world has given the Kagame government a ton of leeway in the last ten years. It's time for the rest of the world to move beyond its paralysis by guilt and start nudging Kagame to act in a responsible manner consistent with his government's professed goals. International reaction may go a long way in determining whether Rwanda goes the way of Mandela's South Africa or Mugabe's Zimbabwe.


Tommorrow: conclusions.

Recommended reading: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International dossiers on the Rwandan government's human rights' record.

Friday, April 16, 2004


From: BBC News. Caption: Here at Kibungo prison families meet for a few minutes on a Saturday morning. Under the government's Gacaca programme killers must confess their crimes and apologise if they want to be freed. The prison's deputy administrator and a prisoner - the "Gacaca co-ordinator" - were urging the prisoners' families to convince their jailed relatives to confess and apologise so they can be released. The jails are crowded and it is the government's way of reducing the prison population.

To say that, Rwanda is a country in a very challenging situation is an understatement. A genocide which cost some 800,000 lives and sent several million into exile occurred only ten years ago. Nearly a hundred thousand genocide suspects remain in jail without charge. Over 600,000 children under 15 are orphans, 1/6 of whom are heading a household.

Rwanda seems to be a historical anomaly. In Germany, the country was split after World War II and most of the Jews had fled Europe anyway. After the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Armenia got its independence (albeit briefly, before the Soviets conquered it). The Balkans were partitioned after those wars and even within "multi-ethnic" Bosnia, the groups tend to live apart. Though there may be a precedent, I can't think of one off the top of my head. When it comes to reconstructing a shattered society, Rwanda is operating essentially without a historical model.

The justice end has gone in fits and starts. The UN established an ad hoc war crimes' tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, to try the genocide's organizers. The Arusha tribunal has been beset by problems from the start. It was poorly run in its early days. It's been met with resistance by the current RPF government (who fought against the genociders) who say the tribunal is inefficient and pointless, though some suspect the RPF is afraid that some of its members might be hauled into the dock.

Some worry that the tribunal's site in northern Tanzania, hundreds of miles away from Rwanda, dilutes the deterrent effect. Only a handful of trials have taken place during its nine-year existence. Critics say that the tribunal is nothing more than an half-hearted attempt by other countries to assuage its conscience for having done nothing during the actual massacres. Some say the tribunal is administering "victors' justice" by focusing too much on atrocities by the genociders and ignoring RPF war crimes. Most agree on one thing: the Arusha tribunal serves more to create a body of international legal precedents than to doing anything for the genocide's survivors or to its perpetrators. [The article Healing Rwanda from The Boston Review deals further with the promise and problems of the Arusha Tribunal.]

The Rwandan government has set up trials in domestic courts concurrent to the Arusha Tribunal. However, the country didn't have a ton of lawyers and judges to begin with and many of them were either killed in the or fled during the genocide or were implicated in it. The domestic justice system was never going to be able to deal with all the accused if things were done normally.

In another article for The Boston Review, Helen Cobban noted that the execution of the Rwandan genocide was very different from most other genocides in history because of the widespread implication of ordinary people.

What was the intent of this mass mobilization for genocide? Was it intended simply to complete the killing of the country's Tutsi population as rapidly as possible? Or were the organizers of the genocide also hoping to give the largest possible number of Hutus the bonding experience of participating in a pan-Hutu baptism in the blood of their foes? Was it designed to implicate as many individuals as possible in the killings, and thus to make any future assignation of responsibility for specific acts of genocide just about impossible? Whatever the reasoning of the organizers, the mass-participatory aspect of this genocide gave it a psychosocial content significantly different from that of the European Holocaust with its more 'sanitized,' mechanized, and secret methods of killing. Unlike the Shoah, too, once this genocide had been brought to a halt there was no clear place for survivors to flee to or regroup.

She points out out the limits of the judicial system in helping the country move forward. Given that Tutsis still only make up 1/7 of the country's population, Cobban concludes that they desperately need to find a way to coexist with the Hutus: there is no place either inside or outside the country where they can hope to regroup in a compact and self-supportive way. But given the events of 1994 and the sharp demographic imbalance between the two groups, finding a mechanism to bring this about presents a profound political challenge—for Rwanda's leaders and for their friends in the international community.

The Rwandan government decided a fairly interesting path for dealing with the multitude of problems, one that is trying to kill several birds with one stone. They set up community-based courts called gacaca, which is a Kinyarwandan word meaning "justice on the grass." Gacacas are a traditional Rwandan practice in which trial occurs in a community gathering, the focus of which is on reconciliation of the community.

The BBC described the gacaca process: elders in a village would congregate to solve disputes. Suspects are taken to the villages where they allegedly committed their crimes and confronted directly by their accusers. The trials are not overseen by legally qualified judges but local people respected for their integrity.

Amnesty International added that gacaca merge customary practice with a Western, formal court structure. The gacaca tribunals are legally established judicial bodies. Gacaca judges can impose sentences as high as life imprisonment. The Rwandese government re-invented and transformed the existing mode of conflict resolution, gacaca, in order to try the more than 100,000 genocide suspects who overfill the country's prisons...

The new gacaca court system further represents an ambitious, groundbreaking attempt to restore the Rwandese social fabric torn by armed conflict and genocide by locating the trial of those alleged to have participated in the genocide within the communities in which the offences were committed. Neighborhoods selected the gacaca judges who will hear the genocide cases. Local residents will initially aid the gacaca benches and general assemblies at the cell level in the listing of genocide victims and suspected perpetrators within their community. Later, community members will provide information about the genocide offences during the gacaca hearings. The government proposes that community hearings in which community members themselves serve as witness, judge and party will more effectively ventilate the evidence, establish the truth and bring about reconciliation than what has been achieved thus far by either the specialized genocide chambers or the ICTR [Arusha Tribunal].

I found this intringuing as it aims to kill several birds with one stone. Human rights groups complained that Rwandan prisons were intolerably overcrowded and that most of the detainees had been imprisoned for the better part of a decade without any sort of progress on legal proceedings. Yet the formal justice system was woeful unequiped to deal with such a huge number of accused. Gacacas are meant expedites the process. Furthermore, it implicates the entire community in the justice process, not just a few judges and lawyers. Gacacas are part of an organic process. It gets everything out into the open, rather than keeping resentments simmering inside. This restorative (rather than solely punitive) justice helps reconciliation.

Amnesty noted Post-conflict situations, particularly ones involving the heinous crime of genocide, demand a resolution of the conditions that led to them in the first place. If this is not done, the foundation for further conflict remains in place. Peace is the most desired commodity in post-conflict situations. Peace, however, depends not only on the absence of war but also on the existence of both justice and truth, with both justice and truth dependent on the other. Without justice and truth, the deep rifts in the Rwandese social fabric will not be healed and peace will not be achieved.

One of the main fears is that some gacacas may degenerate into mob justice. This is certainly a risk. Gacacas rely on the good faith of those involved; only a decade after a genocide, you could hardly blame anyone for being in short supply of good faith. Others fear that guilty suspects might be released, a risk linked precisely to the non-detached nature of gacaca. Yet no one has really offered a better solution. As far as I can tell, the other alternatives are either the wholesale release of all suspects or the indefinite detention of all 80,000 remaining suspects until the "normal" justice system takes its course. Rwandans would consider either of these solutions just as unacceptable as would the international human rights groups in the comfortable London and New York offices.

Gacacas are far from the ideal. Despite the aforementioned praise, Amnesty criticized them as failing to conform to international standards of fairness so that the government's efforts to end impunity, and the trials themselves, are effective. It's worth noting that Amnesty underlined the problems of gacaca without offering any concrete solutions.

Human Rights Watch described gacaca, in principle, as an innovative, participatory, state-run justice system meant to speed up genocide trials and promote reconciliation. But HRW complained that in practice, gacacas have become overly centralized (the antithesis of their community-based intent). HRW accused the Rwandan government of refusing to let gacacas investigate accusations against current members of the Rwandan military, many of whom were in the RPF's rebel army. Though this a bizarre "charge" since HRW admits that such accusations can still be brought before regular courts.

Yet gacacas seem to be making the best of a bad situation. And until Amnesty, HRW or any one else comes up with any better ideas that can be implemented on the ground, then gacacas will remain the imperfect way forward for a country with no historical model to follow.


Recommended reading: The Legacies of Collective Violence from The Boston Review addresses the limits of law in a post-genocide situation. While Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth and Alison DesForges offer a counterargument.

Recommended listening: Revolutionary Justice from American Radioworks on the gacaca courts.

Tommorrow: the post-genocide RPF government's record since 1994.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

In light of common misunderstandings concerning genocide and legitimate disagreements about interpretation, I thought it would be useful to offer this addendum to my Rwanda series. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations' General Assembly in 1948. The convention was finally submitted to the US Senate by then President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and later ratified that body. Agree or disagree, this is the basis for American law concerning genocide.

From: Human Rights Web

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948.

Article 1

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article 2
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article 3
The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
Article 4
Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.

Article 5
The Contracting Parties undertake to enact, in accordance with their respective Constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3.

Article 6
Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

Article 7
Genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition.

The Contracting Parties pledge themselves in such cases to grant extradition in accordance with their laws and treaties in force.

Article 8
Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3.

Article 9
Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

Article 10
The present Convention, of which the Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts are equally authentic, shall bear the date of 9 December 1948.

Article 11
The present Convention shall be open until 31 December 1949 for signature on behalf of any Member of the United Nations and of any non-member State to which an invitation to sign has been addressed by the General Assembly.

The present Convention shall be ratified, and the instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

After 1 January 1950, the present Convention may be acceded to on behalf of any Member of the United Nations and of any non-member State which has received an invitation as aforesaid.

Instruments of accession shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Article 12
Any Contracting Party may at any time, by notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, extend the application of the present Convention to all or any of the territories for the conduct of whose foreign relations that Contracting Party is responsible.

Article 13
On the day when the first twenty instruments of ratification or accession have been deposited, the Secretary-General shall draw up a proces-verbal and transmit a copy of it to each Member of the United Nations and to each of the non-member States contemplated in Article 11.

The present Convention shall come into force on the ninetieth day following the date of deposit of the twentieth instrument of ratification or accession.

Any ratification or accession effected subsequent to the latter date shall become effective on the ninetieth day following the deposit of the instrument of ratification or accession.

Article 14
The present Convention shall remain in effect for a period of ten years as from the date of its coming into force.

It shall thereafter remain in force for successive periods of five years for such Contracting Parties as have not denounced it at least six months before the expiration of the current period.

Denunciation shall be effected by a written notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Article 15
If, as a result of denunciations, the number of Parties to the present Convention should become less than sixteen, the Convention shall cease to be in force as from the date on which the last of these denunciations shall become effective.

Article 16
A request for the revision of the present Convention may be made at any time by any Contracting Party by means of a notification in writing addressed to the Secretary-General.

The General Assembly shall decide upon the steps, if any, to be taken in respect of such request.

Article 17
The Secretary-General of the United Nations shall notify all Members of the United Nations and the non-member States contemplated in Article 11 of the following:

(a) Signatures, ratifications and accessions received in accordance with Article 11;
(b) Notifications received in accordance with Article 12;
(c) The date upon which the present Convention comes into force in accordance with Article 13;
(d) Denunciations received in accordance with Article 14;
(e) The abrogation of the Convention in accordance with Article 15;
(f) Notifications received in accordance with Article 16.
Article 18
The original of the present Convention shall be deposited in the archives of the United Nations.

A certified copy of the Convention shall be transmitted to all Members of the United Nations and to the non-member States contemplated in Article 11.

Article 19
The present Convention shall be registered by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the date of its coming into force.


And since some people consider a consensually ratified treaty to be "non-binding," here is another text. If you reject international law, then here's American law. Some should take note of subsection (c).

U.S. Code: Chapter 50A

Section § 1091. Genocide

(a) Basic Offense. - Whoever, whether in time of peace or in time of war, in a circumstance described in subsection (d) and with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such.

(1) kills members of that group;

(2) causes serious bodily injury to members of that group;

(3) causes the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;

(4) subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part;

(5) imposes measures intended to prevent births within the group; or

(6) transfers by force children of the group to another group; or attempts to do so,
shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
(b) Punishment for Basic Offense. - The punishment for an offense under subsection (a) is -
(1) in the case of an offense under subsection (a)(1), where death results, by death or imprisonment for life and a fine of not more than $1,000,000, or both; and

(2) a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both, in any other case.
(c) Incitement Offense. - Whoever in a circumstance described in subsection (d) directly and publicly incites another to violate subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
(d) Required Circumstance for Offenses. - The circumstance referred to in subsections (a) and (c) is that -
(1) the offense is committed within the United States; or

(2) the alleged offender is a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101).

(e) Nonapplicability of Certain Limitations. - Notwithstanding section 3282 of this title, in the case of an offense under subsection (a)(1) an indictment may be found, or information instituted, at any time without limitation.

Section §1092. Exclusive remedies

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as precluding the application of State or local laws to the conduct proscribed by this chapter, nor shall anything in this chapter be construed as creating any substantive or procedural right enforceable by law by any party in any proceeding.

Sec. 1093. Definitions

As used in this chapter -
(1) the term ''children'' means the plural and means individuals who have not attained the age of eighteen years;
(2) the term ''ethnic group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of common cultural traditions or heritage;
(3) the term ''incites'' means urges another to engage imminently in conduct in circumstances under which there is a substantial likelihood of imminently causing such conduct;
(4) the term ''members'' means the plural;
(5) the term ''national group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of nationality or national origins;
(6) the term ''racial group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent;
(7) the term ''religious group'' means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of common religious creed, beliefs, doctrines, practices, or rituals; and
(8) the term ''substantial part'' means a part of a group of such numerical significance that the destruction or loss of that part would cause the destruction of the group as a viable entity within the nation of which such group is a part.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


From: Reuters via Ferdinand Nahimana and Hassan Ngeze listen to their sentence of life in prison being read. Four members of Rwanda's hate media became the first "journalists" ever convicted of genocide.

One of George Orwell's favorite topics was language. Particularly, how language is perverted. Several of his essays as well his two most famous novels (Animal Farm and 1984) dealt with how totalitarians manipulate language and information to perpetrate their misdeeds and perpetuate their authoritarianism. This was used to particularly vicious effect in Rwanda.

Simply put: without the constant harranguing of hate media, the genocide would never have cost so many lives.

The most infamous of the hate media was the Radio Mille Collines (RTLM). The judge who read out Nahimana's and Ngeze's sentences noted: "RTLM broadcasts was a drumbeat calling on listeners to take action against Tutsis... RTLM spread petrol throughout the country little by little, so that one day it would be able to set fire to the whole country.

RTLM was created in April 1993, a year before the genocide started. This itself was surprising on the surface, since private broadcasters weren't especially welcomed by the dictatorship. But RTLM was allowed precisely because it was controlled by extremist elements of the regime. Radio Netherlands observed: It is widely believed that RTLM was set up to circumvent the ban imposed on "harmful radio propaganda" to which the Rwandan government had formally committed itself to in the 1993 peace agreement with the RPF.

Before the genocide, RTLM continuously demonized the RPF (rebels fighting the regime) and all Tutsis as well as the UN peacekeeping force, which it claimed had a pro-RPF bias.

Though most genocides in history have been committed by governments and their arms, the Rwandan genocide was different. Though the regime, its army and government-sponsored militias planned the genocide and gave the orders executing it, it was ordinary Rwandans who did much of the killing. Many were forced to kill, lest they be killed themselves.

The Rwandan genocide was unique in that it was a huge chunk of Rwandan society that actually carried it out. It was part of the extremists' plan to collectivize action and thus guilt. The more Rwandans who were implicated in the genocide, the more who had a stake in it being fully and successfully carried out. Hate media made this possible.

By demonizing the Tutsis collectively, it gave ordinary Hutus a scapegoat and thus a motivation to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do: kill their neighbors and relatives and friends

RTLM read off over its airwaves the names of Tutsis and moderate Hutu political opponents to be slaughtered. The hate radio's personalities exhorted the masses to exterminate the "cockroaches" (Tutsis). To send their bodies via a river back to Ethiopia (where they supposedly came from, thus reinforcing the non-existent ethnic distinction). RTLM urged the masses to "go work" and "go clean" the country because "the graves are not yet full."

Western countries never grasped how dangerous RTLM was because of cultural assumptions. Though there were newspapers spewing the same vitriol, RTLM was the most prominent. In Rwanda, illiteracy is high and newspapers are often available only in the cities so radio remains the most important medium. Though television is the primary medium in the developed world, it's impossible to overstate how influential radio is in other parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

The then Canadian ambassador, Lucie Edwards, later said: "The question of Radio Mille Collines propaganda is a difficult one. There were so many genuinely silly things being said on the station, so many obvious lies, that it was hard to take it seriously... Nevertheless, everyone listened to it - I was told by Tutsis (sic) - in a spirit of morbid fascination and because it had the best music selection."

RTLM garbage seemed silly to a Canadian, who grew up in a country with a long tradition of a free and independent press. But Rwanda was a country that had lived for decades under a dictatorship preceded by decades more of paternalistic colonialism. Ambassador Edwards came from a country where skepticism of the government line was expected; Rwandans had learned that such skepticism could be hazardous to their health and well-being.

In the Rwanda chapter of her brilliant book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power presents an example which demonstrates the failure to appreciate how powerful radio is in Africa in general, and Rwanda in particular.

The head of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, requested that RTLM's signals be jammed. US Deputy Ambassador to Rwanda Prudence Bushnell concurred and tried to convince her colleagues at the State Department to procede. As Power writes: In early May [1994], the State Department's Legal Advisers Office issued a finding against radio jamming, citing international broadcasting agreements and the American commitment to free speech. [ed. note: !!!!] When Bushnell raised radio jamming yet again at a meeting, one Pentagon official chided her for naivete: "Pru, radios don't kill people. People kill people."

It was the Pentagon official, not Bushnell, who was naive. And who knows who many lives would've been saved had Washington bureaucrats trusted those actually on the ground who knew what they were talking about.

Samantha Power has often described the US government's tolerance of genocide as a failure of imagination; the same could apply to other western governments. In most genocides, we have credible reports of atrocities, but they defy the imagination. We can't IMAGINE concentration camps in the heart of Europe in the 1990s. We can't IMAGINE anyone would use poison gas in 1988. And we believed that "radios don't kill people. People kill people."

There are times when the benefit of the doubt should be scrapped. In Rwanda, the failure of our imagination is a death sentence was hundreds of thousands.

Tommorrow: why the international community buried its head in the sand during the genocide.

Recommended reading: Dossier on hate media during the Rwandan genocide from Radio Netherlands' English service. Includes links to pages on how hate radio has been used in other parts of the world. From Radio Netherlands' English service.

Monday, April 12, 2004


From: UNICEF. Caption: Rwandan children pose for a photograph outside their classroom.

As is the case in most wars, Rwandan children were the primary victims. The fact that survivors also lived through a genocide complicates the present even further. According to an article at World Press Review: A 1999 UNICEF study found that 96 percent of Rwandan children had witnessed the 1994 massacres. 80 percent had lost at least one family member* and added that this nightmare is being further aggravated by HIV-AIDS pandemic.

[*-This shows how much Hutus and Tutsis were really one group and how much intermarriage had occurred between them. Tutsis only represented 15% of Rwanda's pre-genocide population yet 80% of ALL Rwandan children had at least one family member killed.]

Many children saw their families slaughtered before their very eyes. Some managed to survive by remaining still for over a week under their relatives' decomposing corpses, noted a Radio Netherlands report.

Many children lost their entire families to the genocide or to illness in refugee camps. Others now find their families imprisoned for having participated in the genocide; even as of a year ago, over 120,000 Rwandans remained in prison. In traditional society, orphans would be assimiliated into the village and be taken care of collectively. But with so many people killed or imprisoned, traditional notions of community were shredded.

As a result, UNICEF reports that 613,000 Rwandan children between the ages of 0 to 14 years old are orphans. There are an estimated 101,000 children heading up some 42,000 households. Astonishing numbers for a country with a TOTAL population of less than 8 million.

Think about it. Over 100,000 children are living in households headed by children. Some of the heads of household are as young as 11 years old. [Note: UNICEF reports some as young as 9] There are usually three to eight children per household, according to Radio Netherlands.

They quoted a report by World Vision which added: "child-headed households are deprived of love, security, sense of belonging, acceptance and care. They have no one to turn to and live in very difficult circumstances, without the basic necessities of life. This forces them to engage in a variety of casual jobs to earn a living. They are usually exploited or taken advantage of, hence the loss of trust in the society that is supposed to protect them. This compels them to grow up overnight to face adult responsibilities and the harsh realities of life: caring for younger siblings, with hardly enough to survive on. Most of the property left behind by their parents has been taken away by relatives or neighbours."

Not surprisingly, one of the results has been a great increase in the number of street children. They live in appalling conditions and are often vulnerable to sexual violance.

Sometimes you get so caught up in the "big picture" aspects of such tragedies like the genocide, you forget that they are lived every hour of every day by people stuck in the middle. One girl named Charlotte Mupfasoni told Radio Netherlands:

In the city of Gitarama, they stopped me and while they were hitting me, a young woman came and took pity on me. She didn't know me. When they finished beating me, she took me with her. She was Hutu. When we came across a barrier and they stopped us, she would tell them, "this is my child." They would let us continue. When we arrived at the Pentecostal Church of Nyabisindu, I saw that there were many refugees there. But our numbers diminished quickly because they would come regularly to select young boys and young girls to kill. Whenever they came, I put myself next to the Hutu girl and she'd say I was her younger sister.


Tommorrow: how Hate Radio fueled the genocide

Recommended reading: UNICEF dossier on Rwanda and World Press Review article on Rwandan street children.

Recommended listening: Radio Netherlands documentary 'Deep Scars, Tender Lives' available via Real Audio. Click the above link and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Saturday, April 10, 2004


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.

Friday, April 09, 2004


From: UNICEF. Caption: In 1994 in Rwanda, a boy with a machete scar on the back of his head, caused by being attacked at the height of the civil conflict, stands with other children outside the Cyugaro primary school.

Lots people, even liberal internationalists, hold many myths about the Rwandan genocide and the world's non-reaction. Some of them are addressed below.

-It was pointless for any outsiders to doing because it was ancient ethnic hatreds that would inevitably flair up again anyway.

By 1994, the 'ancient ethnic hatreds' line had become the US State Department's new motto. The Clinton administration had used this excuse against engagement so many times regarding the Balkans that a transferal was seamless once Rwanda rolled around. As I mentioned in an earlier post, considering Hutus and Tutsis as two distinct ethnic groups is probably the greatest myth of all. They were one ethnicity divided by class* by the Belgians in the early 1900s. So even if you accept the dubious premise that they are two ethnicities and even if you questionably assume that they hated each other from the moment of the arbitrary division, the 'ethnic hatreds' were less than a century old. By contrast, the Catholic and Protestant "ethnicities" in Northern Ireland have been fighting each other since at least the 1600s. Bill Clinton tireless (and admirably) intervened in that dispute even though the tribal hatred was far more ancient than in Rwanda.

*-incidentally, this is a reason why I'm not keen on the class warfare rhetoric many Democrats and some Republicans eagerly use to score political points.

-The killings were spontaneous and the situation was so chaotic, that intervention could've done nothing.

Essentially, the unstated assertion of this is: Rwanda was another Somalia. The myth gained steam simply by people's ignorance of East African realities. Some of this ignorance was willful on the part of many people who didn't want to the US to intervene and thus believed that which supported their pre-conceived notions. Some of it was due to the fact that information in the midst of wars is necessarily difficult for journalists to assess. In fact, Rwanda was the polar opposite in every way of Somalia. The violence in Somalia was the result of anarchy. The violence in Rwanda was meticulously planned and executed. Somalia was a notoriously fractious society. Rwanda was a society with deep, and in this case excessive, obedience to hierarchy and authority. Somalia was random. Rwanda was choreographed, down to a radio station reading of names of Tutsis to be murdered. While the fog of war may have obscured things for journalists and the public, members of the Clinton administration had access to more detailed information which debunked this myth.

-Your hindsight is 20-20, isn't it? The Clinton administration probably didn't fully appreciate at the time how bad things were in Rwanda.

This was the line peddled by President Clinton during his 1998 visit to Kigali. Er rather, the Kigali airport, which he never left. "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate [pause] the depth [pause] and the speed [pause] with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."

The Sydney Morning Herald was one of many news outlets to report just last week: Papers prove US knew of genocide in Rwanda. The Australian daily wrote: Senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene. Intelligence reports obtained using the US Freedom of Information Act show the cabinet and almost certainly the president knew of a planned "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis" before the slaughter reached its peak... [investigations] discovered that a secret CIA briefing circulated to Mr Clinton, his vice-president, Al Gore, and hundreds of officials included almost daily reports on Rwanda. One, dated April 23, 1994, said rebels would continue fighting to "stop the genocide, which . . . is spreading south". Three days later the secretary of state, Warren Christopher, and other officials were told of "genocide and partition" and of declarations of a "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis". Why? "They feared this word would generate public opinion which would demand some sort of action and they didn't want to act," noted Alison Desforges of the group Human Rights Watch. It's not that the Clinton administration didn't know. It didn't WANT to know.

-It wasn't really genocide because many moderate Hutu political opponents were also killed.

There was certainly a political aspect to the genocide. In fact, all genocides have a political aspect: usually to find a scapegoat to focus people's anger and frustration about things they can't control (but the government often can). Genocide is, by definition, a political act. Why? Because the word genocide means 'race murder.' But all humans belong to the same race: homo sapiens. The main differences between "ethnicities" are sociological: religion, language, cultural practices and traditions; in the case of Rwanda: class. The Nazis targeted for extermination the Jews (different religion) but also gays (different mores) and Gypsys (different language and culture). Serbs targeted Bosnians (different religion and culture). No one would argue that the Holocaust wasn't really genocide just because the Nazis didn't target Jews EXCLUSIVELY.

-If the extremists were targeting all opponents, not just Tutsis, then shouldn't it be called politicide instead?

An intent of the extremists' plan was to purge Rwanda of all Tutsis. This is genocide, as clearly described by the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified by the US Senate in 1986. That Hutu extremists also targeted moderate Hutu political opponents adds to the severity of what the extremists did, not diminish it. What the Hutu extremists did was genocide AND politicide.

There are so many myths to debunk, I'll make this section in two parts.

Incidentally, since I've found so much to write about, I've decided to expand this series to ten parts.


Tommorrow: Myths and realities, part two.

Recommended reading: Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire. The general in charge of UN peacekeeping in Rwanda during the genocide gives his account.

And "A Problem from Hell" : America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. Though the chapter on Rwanda is obviously most pertinent to this series, the book is probably the most important one I've ever read, at least in terms of influencing my thinking.

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.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


From: BBC Caption: Marie can no longer get out of bed. She told me how she was captured by some Hutus. One of them took her as a sex slave. She was passed from man to man. She says she was raped more than 100 times. Marie contracted Aids from her rapists and is now in the final stages of the disease. She is worried about her two sons and doesn't know what will become of them. She now wishes she had not survived the massacres. I cried as I listened to her story.

The territory eventually called Ruanda-Urundi was colonized by the Germans, but reverted to Belgian control after World War I. The population was largely homogeneous with nearly everyone, save the small Twa (pygmy) community, speaking the same Kinyarwanda language and had the same cultural traditions. The Belgian colonizers decided to split the community up into two groups, which they called Tutsis and Hutus. Those who were merchants or otherwise considered bourgeoisie were called Tutsi and the rest (primarily farmers) were called Hutu. The Tutsis were assimilated into the public service and were used by the Belgians to do small tasks and run the country at the local level. It was a divide-and-conquer strategy.

In 1959, the territory was granted sovereignty and became two independent countries: Rwanda and Burundi. As part of the colonial elite ruling class, the arbitrarily named Tutsis were, by definition, a minority. As a result of this and since they were seen as complicit with the colonizers, a lot of anti-Tutsi resentment built up during colonial time. Once independence was achieved and a government controlled by the so-called Hutus took power, the anti-Tutsi resentment was fanned and exploited by politicians.

There were several anti-Tutsi massacres in Rwanda during the 1960s and 1970s, typically launched when the regimes needed a scapegoat to distract the citizenry from other problems (as is almost always the case with such massacres).

In 1990, the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an invasion of Rwanda from neighboring Uganda. After three years of civil war, a peace accord was signed in 1993 between the Rwandan government and the RPF, which provided for, among other things, a power-sharing interim government that included the RPF. These were called the Arusha Accords, named after the Tanzanian town where they were signed.

Many in the inner circle around Juvenal Habyrimana resented what they saw as the dictator’s capitulation. Naturally, the mafioso-like cabal were loathe to ‘share their toys’ and give up their ill-gotten privileged position in the country. Positions which naturally gave them various kinds of ‘access’ to wealth.

The most extreme anti-Arusha faction was led by the dictator’s wife Agathe (aka: Lady Macbeth), her family and their lackies.

These extremists saw which way the wind was blowing and panicked about losing their power. So they developed a plan to rid Rwanda of all their opponents. Since the RPF was Tutsi dominated, this was a plan for genocide.

Following the Arusha Accords, a UN peacekeeping mission was sent to Rwanda. However, they were given a small number of troops and a very limited mandate. Essentially, they were to be observers with no authorization to use force Any violations of the peace accord were to be reported to... the Rwandan government.

An article in The Atlantic Monthly noted In 1993 several thousand Rwandans were killed, and some 9,000 were detained. Guns, grenades, and machetes began arriving by the planeload. A pair of international commissions—one sent by the United Nations, the other by an independent collection of human-rights organizations—warned explicitly of a possible genocide.

In early 1994, the head of the UN peacekeepers, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, learned from informants that mass killings were being prepared. Dallaire was told that Hutu extremists "had been ordered to register all the Tutsi in Kigali," Rwanda’s capital.

Furthermore, Dallaire requested permission from the UN Peacekeeping Office in New York (then headed by Kofi Annan) for his men to raid the arms caches of the Hutu extremists. Annan’s deputy forbade Dallaire to do this. He ordered the general to pass his information to the French, American and Belgian governments... and, perversely enough, to the Rwandan government. The same government that was responsible for said plan.

Dallaire fought with New York for permission to act but was forbidden from doing so, under the pretext that western governments would never accept it anyway so why bother asking.

On 6 April 1994, the airplane carrying Habyrimana and his Burundian counterpart was shot down, killing both and others. This was the pretext for the extremists to launch the genocide. Within 100 days, some 800,000 people were murdered. Mostly Tutsi, but many Hutu moderates who wanted multipartyism or otherwise opposed the dictatorship.


Tommorrow’s topic: how the genocide unfolded and how the rest of the world (chose not to) react.

Recommended reading: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. This book is generally considered to be the definitive account of the genocide and events leading up to it. Click here for more info on the book.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Ten years ago today, the airplane carrying the leaders of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, killed both. This was the pretext used by a group of extremists to execute a pre-planned genocide against the minority Tutsi community. It also targeted Hutu political opponents, most of whom were moderates in favor of a power-sharing deal with the Tutsis, a deal opposed by the regime's hardliners. In the slaughter, around 800,000 people were killed in only 100 days -- approximately 5 1/2 murdered every single minute of every single day for over three months. It is widely believed to be the most "efficient" mass murder in history. And far from being secretive or in the fog of war like previous genocides, this was unique in that it was broadcast around the world live and in color on CNN and the BBC. Today marks the beginning of a week of commemorations in Rwanda of the trauma. In honor of this, I will try to post an article each day on the subject for the next week.


Tommorrow's topic: 20th century Rwandan history, pre-genocide.

To learn more: BBC News special section on the anniversary.