Never Again?

Ten years on, what has the international community learned from Rwanda?

This week, Rwandans commemorate the 10th anniversary of
the genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were
slaughtered over the course of 100 days.

The Rwandan government has scheduled a three-day
conference devoted to the genocide and African heads of
state will be present for the remembrance ceremonies on April
7th, the country’s National Commemoration Day. The U.S. is
sending Ambassador-at-Large Pierre-Richard Prosper to
represent President Bush. (Bush, like all Western leaders save

Belgium’s Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, is skipping
the commemorations.)

The absences are appropriate; they remind how, ten years ago, the U.N. reduced its skeleton peace-keeping force at a time when many believe that just several thousand armed troops could have
stopped what would become one of the worst human rights atrocities
since the Holocaust. The

Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., for its part, is
commemorating the anniversary with a “Remembering Rwanda
1994-2004” exhibit.

Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general in
charge of the U.N. forces in Rwanda during the genocide, at the time
pleaded for the U.S. and others to send him the needed

“Not all humans are human in the
international context. … I’m sure there would have been more
reaction if someone had tried to exterminate Rwanda’s 300
mountain gorillas…”

Newly released declassified materials offer more proof
that the Clinton administration, which claimed ignorance of the extent of atrocities, and which only acted when it was too late, knew perfectly well what was going on.

The CIA, for example, briefed Clinton in April of 1994 that
the Tutsi rebels were trying to “stop the

genocide, which … is spreading south,” while a a State
Department briefing to then Secretary of State Warren Christopher
mentions “a final solution to eliminate all Tutsis.”

Full-scale genocide began following the April 6th
downing of Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana’s
plane by a missile. Most likely, the crash was
orchestrated from within Habyarimana’s entourage, by extremists who
opposed implemenationa of the U.N.’s planned power-sharing agreement between the
majority Hutus and minority Tutsis. The
crash was blamed on the Tutsis and used as a pretext for
the genocide. Habyarimana’s death is still a mystery. France, for example, has pinned the
responsibility for the killing on the former Tutsi rebel
commander and the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.

The U.N. had advance warning of the planned genocide
from a reliable source within the Hutu government and was
even warned about impending attacks on the U.N.’s Belgian
peace-keepers. The attacks succeed in their aim: following
the deaths of ten Belgians, the U.N. severely reduced
its force.

Public officials and “genocidal radio” mobilized Hutus kill their Tutu neighbors, not to mention the
Hutus brave enough to shelter them. Often, the victims were
killed in churches where they sought safety.
Machetes were the low-tech weapon of choice. In a
terrifying, but very much calculated, manner, neighbor hacked neighbor to death. As Gitera Rwamuhuzi, one of the

participants in the genocide describes it:

“We thought that if they had managed to kill
the head of state, how were ordinary people supposed to
survive? On the morning of 15 April 1994, each one of us
woke up knowing what to do and where to go because we had
made a plan the previous night. In the morning we woke up
and started walking towards the church… You wouldn’t be
normal if you start butchering people for no reason. We had
been attacked by the devil. Even when I dream my body
changes in a way I cannot explain. These people were my

The pleas for intervention on the part of Dallaire,
human rights workers, and other foreigners on the ground
made Clinton administration’s claims of ignorance
preposterous, but it would be long before the public would
become aware of Rwanda’s tragedy. When the administration eventually spoke out on the issue, it sought
to downplay what transpired in Rwanda not as “genocide,”but
as “acts of genocide,” a legalism as cowardly as it was empty.

In 1998, plagued either by guilt or concern for his
legacy, Clinton went to Rwandan and apologized; he promised
that “never again”would the world allow Rwanda’s fate to be
repeated. All the while, Clinton continued to insist that
his mistakes, and those of international community, stemmed
from their lack of information about Rwanda’s tragedy, not —
as was the case — for their refusal to stop what they knew
to be a genocide. As

Clinton told Rwandans:

“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

It was unfortunate that Clinton included such a shameless
lie, in a much-needed, if belated, apology.
Nevertheless, Clinton’s apology was well well received. In
the run-up to the slaughter, Tutsis believed that the
presence of the UN forces in Rwanda meant that they would be
protected and some of those who could have fled to
neighboring countries, stayed because of what proved to be a
false sense of security. Having been abandoned during the
genocide, Rwandans weren’t expecting much from the
international community. As Philip Gourevitch, the author of

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed
With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda,” which tells the
history of the genocide, says:

“When I heard the apologies, what I was
struck by is how generously Rwandan survivors of the
genocide received them. And it made it hard to be as cynical
as, say, a reporter on the White House beat might be,
because I knew these people, after being in Rwanda a lot.
And what I realized was how desperate they were for the
acknowledgment of their ordeal by the very people who had
ignored it, refused to acknowledge it, and essentially made
it nonexistent while it was taking place; and that it was
awfully late and awfully light or easy at this time to do

Rwanda did not really become a pressing concern for the
international community until after the Tutsi rebels drove
out the Hutu junta, after the worst of the slaughter was
over with. Many of the perpetrators of genocide fled – both
organizers and executors, to neighboring Congo. Ironically,
the international sympathy was initially directed at these
Hutu refugee camps, not at the hundreds of thousands of
Tutsis these refugees were guilty of murdering. As

Gourevitch says:

“…what was being established was this rump
genocidal state. What was being established was a
replication of the Hutu power regime in camps sponsored by
the U.N. And the world poured in money. It poured in
support. It poured in humanitarian aid. The world basically
completely coddled these camps, presided over by the

Kagame’s regime, with good reason, was not fond of these
U.N. humanitarian efforts, and as the Economist points out,
“was justified in

invading Congo to disperse the génocidaires who were using
the place as a base for attacks on Rwanda, but it surely did not have to kill 200,000 people in the process.”
Rwanda’s current stability is partly the result of Kagame’s
authoritarian rule. Kagame dismisses international criticisms of human rights
abuses in Rwanda’s prisons as hypocritical, and is a skeptic
of the U.N.’s

International Criminal Court Tribunal for Rwanda.

The U.N. had instructed the court to wrap up its work in the
next ten years. Among its

, as the tribunal’s Web site boasts, are the following:

“Completed trials of several of those
arrested, including Jean Kambanda, the former Prime
Minister, Jean-Paul Akayesu, and other political and
military leaders. Kambanda, the first Head of Government to
be convicted for such crimes, has been sentenced to life
imprisonment. The Akayesu judgement and the Kambanda
sentencing were the first- ever by an international court
for the crime of genocide.”

If the tribunal’s record at extraditing and sentencing
the master-minds of the genocide is checkered at best,
Rwanda’s courts have a different problem: the nation’s
prisons are filled with tens of thousands of people who took
part in the genocide. Many will be released because there
are no resources to properly prosecute the cases, the state
can’t afford to maintain such a large prison population if
the sentencing is carried out, and because the civilian
participation in the killings was so widespread. As the

Boston Globe points out:

“About 500 people have been sentenced to
death, but 75,000 remain in prison; as many as 40,000 of
them may be released in the coming weeks. They will move
back into communities alongside the survivors of the
killings and the rapes…Those newly released prisoners still
will face trial under a citizen-based judicial system called
“Gacaca,” during which many victims will testify.”

Inevitably, the question of what, if anything, the West
has learned from the tragic consequence of its
non-intervention in Rwanda is being asked. The

Economist argues that since the Rwandan
Genocide, the West has been more willing to intervene in
crises based on strictly humanitarian grounds and has
established international criminal tribunals to try
genocidal crimes:

“Then, the West’s reluctance to get involved was largely a
consequence of America’s shambolic intervention in Somalia
the previous year. Since then, the response to all remotely
similar emergencies has been guided by a desire not to allow
a repeat of Rwanda. Some of the results have been
encouraging. NATO eventually checked Serb aggression in the
Balkans, though only after the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
British troops ended Sierra Leone’s terrible civil war. Last
year, in Congo’s Ituri region, UN peacekeepers found
themselves in a position with ominous echoes of Rwanda in
April 1994: outnumbered, lightly armed and unable to prevent
horrific tribal killings. Instead of cutting and running,
Europe sent a French-led force to restore order, with some

Though moral outrage played a part in
the West’s intervention in the Balkans, the NATO bombings
were not so much dictated by the lessons of Rwanda as by the desire
to stabilize Europe’s “back-yard.” True, support
for international intervention on purely humanitarian
grounds is gaining wider acceptance, that support is neither
strong nor universal. The idea does not have many fans in
the United States. And with U.S. troops and aid committed
to the much more “strategically ” important region of the Middle
East, it’s unlikely that Africa’s famines, civil wars,
and AIDS crises will become top foreign policy priorities
any time soon. This week’s absence of Western leaders at
Rwanda’s commemorations is one more confirmation of its
indifference to Rwanda’s — and Africa’s — tragedies.