20 years have passed – Genocide in Rwanda & the world’s guilt

How our elected leaders let 1 million people get hacked to death

On April 7th 2014 it will be 20 years ago that the government and military of Rwanda started a total campaign of extinction, genocide, against the country’s Tutsi minority that would last for one hundred days and kill somewhere between 800 000 and one million people in April to July in 1994. These horrendous events were nothing but a state-sponsored attempt to exterminate a whole people based only on ethnic belonging. The fact is that the killing even out-speeded that of the Nazis in World War II, which articulates the enormous extent of this catastrophe. In conclusion, it means that a society succeeded in murdering almost one million of its own citizens in just three months.

At the time when the genocide began, I went to high school in my hometown in Värmland, Sweden, and that year I experienced one of my best summers ever with a fresh driver’s license and access to my dad’s new BMW, the soccer world championship on TV and a bunch of friends to hang out with. Certainly, I had no idea that about 10 000 km from my safe, carefree environment, a whole people was hacked to death with machetes. I could hardly imagine that a nation’s government had requested its citizens to murder their neighbours, colleagues and friends, including their families. The logic of the genocide was all about killing everyone, not to spare one single individual. At that time, in my happy, naive teenage life, I also didn’t know that our elected leaders of Sweden, Europe, the US and the rest of the world had deserted the minorities of Rwanda and therefore indirectly had allowed these enormous crimes to be committed. The truth is that to prevent the disaster, somewhat small means would have been needed, and that makes it even more upsetting. Now, many years later, I know what happened in Rwanda and therefore I feel I should tell the story.

After the outbreak, the world’s media reported of some tribal war in Africa which nearly passed us by unnoticed. But the war in Rwanda wasn’t about any tribal quarrels. It was a genocide that had been made possible through an ethnic conflict where, just like in Nazi Germany, a bunch of extremists with far too much power had decided to exterminate a people, and then executed it with the active help from its own population. Thus, the genocide was planned and deliberated with scientific precision during a long period of time.

In the capital of Kigali, before the nation-wide extermination campaign began, the citizens lived in roughly the same way as you and me. They walked the streets in Western clothes, drove their kids to school in Toyotas and went to their jobs five days a week. These people would later be hacked to death in their homes or wherever they were located when hell broke loose.

So how could the world let this happen? The international community with the United Nations as a front figure had promised the world that after the holocaust during WorldWar II, such crimes wouldnever be allowed to happen ever again. Following the war, the member-states of the UN obligated themselves to protect citizens from crimes against humanity wherever they would be committed.

Following the end of the Cold War in the beginning of the -90’s, many armed conflicts exploded in the power vacuum that occurred when the two superpowers pulled their support from their old proxy partners. One of these nations was Somalia, a failed state that imploded like a house of cards and turned into an inferno of chaos and lawlessness as a direct result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. During these first post-Cold War years, the world community with theUS in the lead saw a chance to restore the credibility of the UN as a peace-making organization. It was an opportunity that had presented itself when there were no longer any superpowers that felt it necessary to stop every UN resolution as a strategy in the Cold War rivalry.

Thus, in 1993 the US pulled off an extensive peacekeeping operation in the starving Somaliaas a pure goodwill operation, but too late realized their huge mistake. TV shots of Somali rebels dragging the corpses of killed American soldiers tied to cars were rolled out in the world’s Medias. This event would prove devastating to the roughly one million Tutsis that would later be murdered. Because, following the fiasco in Somalia the US refused to send any more troops to the African continent. To acknowledge genocide at that time would be to undertake interference, and that was the last thing the American government wished to do.

The other big powers in the UN Security Council – Russia and China – have never cared about saving human lives and weren’t expected to lift a finger for Rwanda, while France didn’t want to interrupt its prosperous trade relations with the Rwandan Hutu government. This argument for avoiding intervention sounds mad and utterly small-minded, but there are actually numerous reports and testimonies of the active contribution to the genocide of France’s “peacekeeping” force that was present in Kigali. The French army has been accused of training the murderous Interahamwe militia and then passively watching the killing take place. There are also reports that the French troops let thousands of killers escape into Congo-Kinshasa where they continued the mass murder of the civilian population. There are even testimonies that the French troops themselves committed murder and rape.

If there is even one stain of truth to these unbelievable reports, it a scandal of incredible proportions. For instance, The Independent reported of France’s involvement in an article in 2007 (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/french-troops-raped-girls-during-rwanda-genocide-463697.html).

At the beginning of the genocide, the UN already had a military presence inRwandato prevent the armed conflict that had broken out in 1990. Then, a rebel movement consisting of Tutsis operating from exile in Uganda had started a riot against the Hutu government in Kigali.

Three years later, in 1993, a cease-fire was achieved, and as a consequence the UN decided on a peacekeeping operation to monitor the split of power between the parties as well as the transition to peace.

However, the Hutu extremists that surrounded the Rwandan president couldn’t accept any deal with Tutsis and instead started planning for the “final solution”. The small UN peacekeeping force arrived during that year, but it was far too weak and equipped with a too inferior mandate to be able to prevent the hell that was about tobreak loose.

In order to sabotage the peace process, the extreme elements within the Rwandan government and military started a propaganda campaign that wasn’t second to that of the German Nazi party of the 1930’s. And they carried out their plans right in front of the UN, and thus in front of the whole world. They created the Interahamwe militia and with ease recruited thousands of unemployed young men and boys who were to be the actual front-line of the killings. The population was brainwashed through hate-propaganda in newspapers and on radio, and all too soon the common citizen was made to believe that the Tutsis actually were the cockroaches as was declared in the national media.

The UN was warned of the government’s plans of a fully-fledged genocide already in the beginning of 1994. The warning came in on January 11th through a fax message from a former high-ranking Rwandan government official. He had figured it all out when he was appointed the callously precise order to lead the training of the Interahamwe, a force that in the capital alone was expected to reach a capacity of killing 1000 Tutsis in 20 minutes.

The Red Cross Hospital during ongoing genocide in Kigali, 1994. (Photo: Aidan Hartley)

It was later stated that the world didn’t know what was planned inRwandaand that the genocide completely surprised the international community. But that is an utter lie. To find out what was planned, it was enough to read a Rwandan newspaper or turn on a Rwandan radio. It was all declared completely in the open, and that could never have been overlooked by the foreign embassies in Kigali. The UN got to know three months before the outbreak and every secret service in the whole world must have known exactly what was about to happen. Bill Clinton, The US president in office at the time, lied the Rwandan people right in their faces when he, during a visit in the country (and probably haunted by his bad conscience) stated that he didn’t know. A horrifying truth is that only a small extension of the UN force would have been needed to stop the genocide, a tragic fact that greatly increases the guilt of the world community, of our democratically elected leaders.

Following the shooting down of the president Habyarimana’s  airplane on his way home from a Arusha, Tanzania, on April 6th (where he was was negotiating the Arusha Peace Accord), the extremists easily grabbed power of the country. The murdering started on April 7th after the Tutsi rebels had been blamed for the president’s murder. Rwandan army factions, together with Interahamwe militias, got out first to eliminate the political opposition in order to clear the way before moving on to the real target – the Tutsi population.

During this stage, ten Belgian UN troops that had gone out to protect the Rwandan prime minister were kidnapped. The Belgians were tortured, murdered and mutilated, and the whole operation was thought out and executed with surgical precision. The new right-wing extremist government coldly counted on a complete foreign withdrawal if they only killed off a few UN troops, and they were all too right in their calculations. Clinton, as the most powerful leader in the world, had significant impact of UN decisions and demanded that the UN force should be pulled out. And it was UN ambassador of the US, Madelaine Albright, that convinced the Security Council to leave Rwandato its destiny.

French and Belgian troops were ordered to evacuate Westerners but didn’t do anything to save Rwandan citizens from being murdered. The tiny UN force wasn’t able to do much and stayed put in the barracks. On April 11th a number of UN troops guarding a school where 2000 Tutsis were hiding out, were ordered to pull back and to progress to the airport. Hence, they leaved the Tutsis to face a certain, brutal death. On April 21st the UN Security Council decided to reduce the UNAMIR peacekeeping force from 2500 to 270 troops.

In May, when the genocide no longer could be denied, the UN decided to increase the force into 5500 troops, but it was delayed due to bureaucratic issues and disagreements over minor, unimportant matters. The relentless killing was thus allowed to continue until the middle of July when the Tutsi rebel group RPF under the command of current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, finally captured Kigali and put a stop to the killing.

Kagame’s armed movement had probably reached the capital earlier if they hadn’t been delayed by the French army that tried to stop the Tutsi rebels from toppling the genocidal government. Furthermore, thousands of killers could have been arrested and put to justice if the French hadn’t let them slip through and escape to Zaire(currently Congo-Kinshasa), as the Tutsi rebels advanced towards Kigali.

The genocide had enormous consequences also to the rest of Africa. The fact is that the big war that broke out in the Congo in 1996, “Africa’s first World War” with five million deaths (!), had a direct connection to the events inRwanda. The escaping Hutu militia quickly grabbed power in the enormous refugee camps on the other side of the border, where they ruled with the same unbelievable cruelty as they had been trained to inRwanda. Still today these elements are present inCongoas one of the parties of the still ongoing war in North-eastern part of the country.

Ever since the genocide, there have been people who wish to diminish the horrific occurrences in Rwanda, who deny the guilt of the outside world, perhaps because the truth is too appalling to accept or understand. But the testimonies of innumerable journalists, UN-employees and aid-workers are far too many and unambiguous that such denying is as ridiculous and dense-headed as it would be to deny the holocaust.

There are people who wish to explain the genocide in Rwanda with the notion that Africans are brutal and primitive. But keep in mind then, that the Germans were equally deceived into accept the same kind of evil, i.e. to murder Jews because they were rats. Or keep in mind the citizens of the Balkans that were convinced that Muslims or Kosovo-Albanians should be exterminated from the face of the earth. These examples show that any population can turn into mass-murderers at any time if only the circumstances are ”right”, regardless if they are Africans or Europeans. The real explanation of how the genocide could be realized, is rooted in the Belgian colonial rule that introduced strict racial policies into the Rwandan society, favouring the Tutsi minority before the Hutus due to the Tutsis’ more European facial features. And for that reason they were regarded as higher ranked than the Hutus with more “African” features. Because of these policies, a conflict between the two ethnic groups was inevitable and that conflict would characterizeRwandaas well as the neighbouring countries fromindependence in 1962 and all the way up to the catastrophe.

Filip Ericsson

For more information about the genocide in Rwanda, I have listed some sources below that have also served as sources for this article:

# Internet: Frontline, The Triumph of Evil – how the west ignored warnings of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and turned its back on the victims, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/

# Literature: Roméo Dallaire, Shake hands with the devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda (The Canadian general and commander of the UNAMIR force during the genocide, wrote this book about his experiences. Dallaire is, just like the Red Cross’ brave ambulance drivers, one of few heroes who tried to stop the killing on site. He saved the lives of thousands of people but became ill due to post-traumatic stress, tried to kill himself and still eats anti-depressive medicine)

# Literature: Aidan Hartley, The Zanzibar Chest – a Memoir of Love and War (Reuter’s war correspondent who witnessed the genocide with his own eyes. A significant part of his book explains when he was imbedded with the Tutsi guerrilla that walked through the jungle from Uganda into Rwanda and then put a stop the the genocide)

War correspondent Aidan Hartley together with Tutsi rebels that ended the genocide (Photo: Aidan Hartley)

War correspondent Aidan Hartley together with Tutsi rebels that ended the genocide (Photo: Aidan Hartley)

# Movie: Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, 2004 (The movie about a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, who saved the lives of more than 1000 people by keeping them in his hotel. UN general Dallaire is played by Nick Nolte)

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5 Responses to 20 years have passed – Genocide in Rwanda & the world’s guilt

  1. rwandanheart says:

    This is a very good article…however there are a couple of comments I will make. President Juvenal Habyarimana was NOT returning from a “visit to Burundi” when his plane was shot down over Kigali. He and the President of Burundi were returning from Arusha, Tanzania where President Habyarimana was negotiating the Arusha Peace Accord. The President of Burundi had been offered a ride home from Arusha by Habyarimana. I also take exception to the recommendation of the movie “Hotel Rwanda” as an added source of information on the subject. It is well-known that the Hotel Milles Collines was a UN-protected site and therefore Paul Rusesabagina did NOT save anyone. Rusesabagina’s “hero” status is a Hollywood creation and he has done nothing to support the survivors of the genocide as he proclaims to the world.

    • Thanks for your comments. You’re correct about the plane incident, I have corrected it in the article. Hotel Rwanda didn’t actually serve as a source, the literature did however. If the movie is as bad as you say, I don’t know, but it does make the subject known to young many people, and that’s important.

  2. Michelle Abnet says:

    Hi Filip-
    I’m wondering where you got the photographs in your article. I am working on a video project about a young boy (now a young man) who survived the Rwandan Genocide, and we are looking for photographs of the massacre to add to the video. Please feel free to email me if possible.

    Thanks.

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