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2004-04-01

Rwanda Ten Years Ago: How the World Stood Back and Watched a Genocide

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Dan Murphy, Reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. Speaking from Baghdad.

Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the History Department of the University of Michigan. He runs an analytical website called Informed Comment in which he provides a daily round-up of news and events in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. Cole speaks fluent Arabic, Persian and Urdu and has lived all over the Muslim world for extended periods of time.

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Ten years ago Rwanda’s extremist Hutu government and military led a campaign to exterminate the nation’s minority Tutsis. Nearly a million people were slaughtered in an orchestrated, pre-planned campaign of genocide. We take a look at how the international community, the U.S. in particular, actively worked to ensure there was no international intervention until it was too late. [includes rush transcript]

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

Ten years ago, on April 6, 1994, Rwanda’s extremist Hutu government and military led a campaign to exterminate the nation’s minority Tutsis.

An estimated 800,000 people were killed in three months of tribal bloodletting. Men, women and children were slaughtered in an orchestrated, pre-planned campaign of genocide not seen since the Jewish Holocaust.

For 100 days the rampant killing continued throughout the country. The machete became Rwanda’s symbol of horror.

One much-practised strategy was to drive Tutsis into centers such as churches and schools and then kill them en masse. Stories abound of Tutsis being disabled by having a leg chopped off and left on the ground to await the return of their killers. Tutsis pleading to be put out of their misery quickly. Children being slaughtered in front of their parents. Women being gang raped, subjected to unspeakable acts before being killed.

The world claimed it was unaware of the magnitude of the slaughter. The United Nations peacekeeping force stationed in the country stood by helplessly and watched the massacre unfold.

On a visit to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in 1998 Clinton apologized for not acting quickly enough or immediately calling the crimes genocide. He said: "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 the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."

But the international community, and the U.S. in particular, are not just guilty of apathy. They had actively worked to ensure there was no international intervention until it was too late.

  • Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He is the former Canadian Ambassador to the U.N. and a former Unicef official. In 1997, he has appointed by the Organization of African Unity to a Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the Genocide in Rwanda. The 'Rwanda Report' was issued in June of 2000. It charged that the United States, France and Belgium, as well as the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, actively prevented peacekeepers from moving in to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!, and Democracynow.org as we turn to the anniversary of Rwanda.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this month marks the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Ten years ago, April 6, 1994, Rwanda’s extremist Hutu government and military led a campaign to exterminate the minority Tutsis. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in three months of tribal bloodletting. Men, women and children were slaughtered in an orchestrated pre-planned campaign of genocide not seen since the Jewish Holocaust. The killing continued for 100 days. In Rwanda, the machete became the symbol of horror.

AMY GOODMAN: One much practiced strategy was to drive Tutsis into centers such as churches and schools and kill them en mass. Stories abound by Tutsis being disabled by having a leg chopped off and left on the ground to await the return of their killers. Tutsis pleading to be put out of their misery quickly, children being slaughtered in front of their parents, women being gang raped and subjected to unspeakable acts before being killed. The world claimed it was unaware of the magnitude of the slaughter. United Nations peacekeeping force stationed in the country stood by helplessly and watched the massacre unfold.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On a visit to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in 1998, President Clinton apologized for not acting quickly enough or immediately calling the crimes genocide. He said, quote, "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 the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."

AMY GOODMAN: But the international community and the US in particular are not just guilty of apathy. They had actively worked to insure there was no international intervention until it was too late. We’re going to look at some of the latest documents that the National Security Archive have obtained, classified US intelligence reports that concluded as early as April 23, 1994, the slaughter in Rwanda amounted to a genocide. But first we turn to Stephen Lewis, who is the former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. Welcome to Democracy Now!. Can you talk about what the West knew, and when they knew it?

STEPHEN LEWIS: I can try, Amy. I think all of the efforts, the disgraceful efforts to distance oneself, and the West, from what happened and what they knew, even as late as ten years later, has to come to an end. The West knew. We all knew within days of the genocide beginning on April the 7th, 1994, that we were witnessing in Rwanda something that was unprecedented in the annals of human behavior since the holocaust in Nazi Germany and Europe. And the reports that were coming back from the various diplomatic missions, and a few of the journalists who were on the ground, and people like General Romeo Delaire, who headed the UN peacekeeping troops and is actually a Canadian as it happens, all of the information prior to the genocide breaking out, particularly in the fateful months of January to April of 1994, it was all being documented and tabulated and everyone knew what was coming, and when it started, what was happening. This disavowal is enough to make you weep. It was absolutely classic, the lack of intervention. And it flowed in significant measure from the American prior involvement in Somalia, but it also flowed from an international community that just wrote Rwanda off in an act of extraordinary racism.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You were appointed by the Organization of African Unity to head a panel of eminent personalities to investigate the genocide. Could you tell us from your perspective why — why did they wait so long and allow this to happen?

STEPHEN LEWIS: Sure. Just a footnote, I was a member of the panel. I did not head it. There were many complicating factors. I think that in part, no one cared about Rwanda. Rwanda didn’t count in the geopolitical flow of things. Post cold war, who cared about a little country in Africa? That was a continuing reality, not much acknowledged, but always in the background. Number two, the American experience in Somalia, when the marines were killed in 1993, put the United States into absolute reverse when it came to engaging in any international conflict by way of peacekeeping or peacemaking or bringing the peace. The United States was completely gun-shy, wanted no part of it, and was prepared to undermine the works of the Security Council in order to avoid it. One of the things which was very difficult for people like myself, I’m a democratic socialist. I’m a Canadian who is an open and public left winger. I’ve always had a natural feeling for the Democratic Party in the United States, if one makes the choice. But one of the things which astonished all of us was the way in which Madeleine Albright in the Security Council was the person who put up one of the strongest fights against anything — any response. And of course, she received her marching orders from William Jefferson Clinton. I have always found that hard intellectually to understand and rationalize. In addition to that, the French and the Belgians, and the Catholic Church and numbers of other countries in the background just wanted no part of what they thought was fratricidal interethnic rivalry. They were prepared to see it play out. And the African countries surrounding Rwanda, alas, were themselves detached because nobody was prepared to intervene. They didn’t have the resources, and they didn’t have the instincts.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Stephen Lewis who in 1997 was appointed by the Organization of African Unity to a panel of eminent personalities to investigate the genocide in Rwanda. The Rwanda report was issued in June of 2000. It charged the United States, France, Belgium as well as Catholic and Anglican Churches actively prevented peacekeepers from moving in to stop the genocide in Rwanda. When we come back, we’ll also be joined by a fellow at the National Security Archive who has just obtained classified US intelligence reports that talk about what the US knew and when they knew it. And we’ll also look at the role of Richard Clarke in the white house, and what he understood about Rwanda. Stay with us.

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