Genocide in Rwanda – 20 years on

April 6, 2014 at 7:40 am (africa, genocide, history, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", tragedy, UN)

Above: Jean-Paul Samputu, who lost his family, sings and talks about the genocide

The tragic events surrounding the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must never be forgotten. They are a major reason why some of us despise the isolationists of the right and the so-called “anti-imperialist” “left.” It occurs to me that a new generation of socialists has grown up largely unaware of these events, and miseducated by the isolationism -in-principle of people like the ‘Stop the War Coalition.’

The following is a modified and edited version of the account written by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head in their book War Crimes and Atrocities (Futura, 2007):

*********************************************************************************************************

In a period of 13 weeks from 6 April 1994, about half a million people perished in a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda, a tiny country in Central Africa. Thousands of the majority Hutus were also slain for opposing the killings

Background

Rwanda’s population is divided into two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus are the more numerous and are by tradition crop growers and farmers. Over the centuries, Hutus have encouraged Tutsis from northern Africa to come and work in Rwanda and, for over 600 years, the two groups shared the same language, culture and nationality.

Rwanda was first colonised by the Germans, but during World War I it was taken over by the Belgians, who caused a rift between the two groups by granting preferential status to the Tutsis. Then European missionaries added a further twist, by encouraging the Hutus to fight back, resulting in the loss of over 100,00 lives in a rebellion in 1956. Three years later the Hutus had seized power and over 200,000 Tutsis retreated to neighbouring countries where they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an army dedicated to taking on the Hutus.

When Rwanda became independent in 1962, the Hutus took power, but were constantly fearful of Tutsi retaliation, which eventually came in 1990, when the RPF attacked, forcing the then-president to sign a power-sharing agreement that was never properly implemented due to Hutu opposition. The situation was made even worse when a plane carrying the Burundi president (a Hutu) was shot down.

Aware that the fragile ceasefire was about to crumble, the UN sent a peacekeeping force of about 2,500 multinational soldiers, but by this time the majority of Hutus, including much of their political and religious leadership, had decided that the Tutsis had assassinated their president and that the only solution was to annihilate the entire Tutsi population.

In April 1994, amid ever-increasing threats of violence, the Rwandan president, Habyarimana and the new Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, held peace talks with the Tutsi rebels. But disaster struck on 6 April, when the small plane carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Kigali airport. Their deaths plunged Rwanda into a frenzied state of political violence, leading to genocide.

The Genocide

Just 24 hours after the plane was shot down, road-blocks started to appear  on the roads around Kigali, manned by the Interahamwe militia. The Interahamwe (meaning ‘Those Who Stand/Fight Together’) was the most effective of the Hutu militias. They identified Tutsis and hacked them to death with machetes. Tutsis who could afford to pay were given the option of dying by a bullet. Specially organised death squads, working from prepared lists, went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in Kigali. Not only did they round up all the Tutsis, but they picked on moderate Hutus as well, including prime minister  Agathe Uwilingiyimana: he was guarded by Belgian UN guards, who the attackers arrested, tortured and then killed, causing Belgium to withdraw the remainder of its UN troops.

The violence spread like wildfire from Kigali. Via the radio, the government urged Tutsis to congregate at churches, schools and stadiums, promising that they would make these safe places of refuge. Little did the Tutsis know that by gathering in large groups they in fact made themselves easy targets. Some of the victims managed to ward off attacks by using sticks and stones — until the joint forces of  the Rwandan army and presidential guard were brought in to wipe them out with machine guns and grenades. In just two weeks, by 21 April, it is generally estimated that about 250,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, making this one of the most concentrated acts of genocide ever.

What made the genocide even more atrocious is the fact that it was encouraged by government and church officials, who even bribed the killers to do their dirty work. Local officials and leaders of Anglican and Catholic churches conspired with the killers and in many cases took an active part in the slaughter. Men, women, children and babies were killed in their thousands in schools and churches where, tragically, they had gathered in the hope of finding sanctuary. The victims had to bear the knowledge that they were being killed by people they knew — neighbours, fellow workers, sometimes even relatives by marriage.

The Interahamwe weren’t driven by drink, drugs or even mindless bloodlust, but a fanatical devotion to their cause. They were cold-blooded killers who were urged on by the media and by the government. Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and were even told they could keep the land of the Tutsis they killed.

The radio was important in spreading the killing. Even the poorest households would possess a radio and people would listen intently to government broadcasts. When Hutus heard the voices coming through the radio calling on them to “kill, kill. kill the Tutsi minority”, they responded accordingly.

The genocide was initially aimed mainly at young male Tutsis who could have been members of the RPF guerrilla force. However, as the days went by women and children also became victims. Survivors later told stories of being aped by individuals or gangs, sometimes using sharpened sticks or gun barrels. Sometimes they were sexually mutilated or forced into “marriages” that made them a sex slaves.

The Aftermath

The killing didn’t stop until July when the RPF finally managed to capture Kigali, causing the collapse of the government. A ceasefire was declared as soon as the Hutus realised that the RPF was victorious, and an estimated two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It wasn’t until the killing stopped that UN troops and aid workers arrived in significant numbers — while it was going on there had been just a token and entirely impotent UN presence.

Why was it that while the genocide was happening the international community deserted Rwanda? Erratic media coverage conveyed the false notion of two ‘tribes’ of African ‘savages’ mindlessly killing each other as they had done for many years. As a result there was little public pressure in the West for governments to intervene. Controversy has raged ever since over the role (or lack of it) of foreign governments and the UN in allowing the genocide to proceed. It wasn’t until 7 April 2000, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, that Belgium’s prime minister apologised for the international community’s failure to intervene. He told an audience at the site of a memorial that, “A dramatic combination of negligence, incompetence and hesitation created the conditions for the tragedy.”

Linda Melvin, in the Guardian, points out that General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander in Rwanda in 1994 had wanted just 5,500 reinforcements to stand guard at places where desperate people were sheltering; this would have sent a clear signal to the machete-wielding Interahamwe that the world would not stand for their brutality.

Melvin concludes her important piece as follows:

The 20th commemoration of the genocide sees fine words spoken by all and it seems timely to reflect on why Rwanda was so quickly abandoned to its fate in 1994. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for the indifference over Rwanda. Western governments – the US, UK, Belgium, France – continue to withhold a wealth of information about events. Neither the US nor the UK, two permanent members of the UN security council, has ever answered accusations of a failure to abide by obligations under the 1948 genocide convention, nor revealed the information on which their decisions were based. The failure to critically examine the role of ministers and officials has further encouraged the sort of secretive and unaccountable decision-making that will no doubt shroud the decision-makers today and those who sit and read the cables.

With no official inquiry by either the US or the UK, blame for inaction over the genocide has simply slipped away from the officials and politicians responsible. This might be a suitable time to find out why the UK government was so determined in the security council that Dallaire’s UN peacekeepers be withdrawn from Rwanda, leaving behind a “token force” in order to “appease public opinion” – not to protect civilians but to try to negotiate a ceasefire in the civil war.

Since 1994 there has been an almost continuous series of debates, studies and resolutions on the failure over Rwanda. These have shown how little true humanitarianism there is at the heart of states that both possess abundant resources and profess a commitment to human rights. Nothing has changed.

29 Comments

  1. Genocide in Rwanda – 20 years on | OzHouse said,

    […] Apr 06 2014 by admin […]

  2. flyingrodent said,

    Controversy has raged ever since over the role (or lack of it) of foreign governments and the UN in allowing the genocide to proceed. It wasn’t until 7 April 2000, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, that Belgium’s prime minister apologised for the international community’s failure to intervene.

    Of course, the international community didn’t “fail to intervene” – the French intervened, sending 3,000 troops, 100 APCs, plus air and artillery support…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Op%C3%A9ration_Turquoise

    …And it was useless and politically compromised, as most of these things are.

    It’s very strange, how many of the recent retrospectives don’t appear to recognise that there actually was a military reaction from the UN, far less acknowledging that it was rubbish. It suggests to me that the cause here isn’t the promotion of humanitarianism, but the promotion of “humanitarian intervention”. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, the two aren’t the same thing.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Mr Rodent: as usual, you are being deliberately obtuse. The link that you yourself have provided, makes the point that:

      Opération Turquoise is controversial for two reasons: accusations that it was a failed attempt to prop up the genocidal Hutu regime and that its mandate undermined the UNAMIR (http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/unamirS.htm)

      The RPF, well aware that French assistance to the government had helped blunt their 1990 offensive, opposed the deployment of a French-led force. By early June, the RPF had managed to sweep through the eastern half of the country and move south and west, while besieging Kigali in the center. The advance resulted in a massive refugee outflow, though the Hutu government was also implicated in encouraging the flight (see Great Lakes refugee crisis.) Regardless, the Zone Turquoise was created in the steadily shrinking areas out of RPF control. The RPF was one of many organisations that noted that the French initiative to safeguard the populace was occurring six weeks after it had become apparent mass killings were occurring in Rwanda. On 22 July, French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur addressed the Security Council, stating that France had a “moral duty” to act without delay and that “without swift action, the survival of an entire country was at stake and the stability of a region seriously compromised.”[6]

      In May 2006, the Paris Court of Appeal accepted six courtsuits deposed by victims of the genocide to magistrate Brigitte Reynaud.[10] The charges raised against the French army during Operation Turquoise from June to August 1994 are of “complicity of genocide and/or complicity of crimes against humanity.” The victims allege that French soldiers engaged in Operation Turquoise helped Interahamwe militias in finding their victims, and have themselves carried out atrocities.[11] The former Rwandan ambassador to France Jacques Bihozagara testified, “Operation Turquoise was aimed only at protecting genocide perpetrators, because the genocide continued even within the Turquoise zone.” France has always denied any role in the killing.[12]

      UNAMIR Force Commander Dallaire had also opposed the deployment, having sent extensive communication back to U.N. Headquarters that the placement of two U.N.-authorised commands with different mandates and command structures into the same country was problematic. Dallaire was also a strong proponent of strengthening UNAMIR and transitioning it to a Chapter VII mandate, rather than introducing a new organisation. Concern over conflicting mandates led to five countries on the UNSC to abstain in the vote approving the force. The UN-sponsored “Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the UN during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda” found it “unfortunate that the resources committed by France and other countries to Operation Turquoise could not instead have been put at the disposal of UNAMIR II.” On 21 June, Dallaire replaced 42 UNAMIR peacekeepers from Francophone Congo, Senegal and Togo with UN staff from Kenya after the negative reaction of the RPF to Opération Turquoise. Over the two months of the mandate, there were confrontations, and risk of confrontations, between RPF and French-led units around the zone, during which UNAMIR was asked to convey messages between the two. The UN independent inquiry drily noted that this was “a role which must be considered awkward to say the least.”[2]

      • flyingrodent said,

        Yes, Jim – as I said twice, the French operation in Rwanda was ineffective, politically compromised and may even have made the situation worse. Which is pretty much standard for “humanitarian interventions” of all stripes.

        I raise this to counter the idea that the world ignored the genocide and did nothing about it, an incorrect belief which is so popular with certain types of hacks that I can only imagine that it’s deliberate. In fact, there was a military response, and it was just as useless and bloody awful as 95% of these things tend to be.

      • Jim Denham said,

        As I said, you seem to be wilfully missing the point: the French intervention was in support of the aggressors: in no way was a “humanitarian intervention” of the type Dallaire and others wanted, utilising the UNAMIR forces that could have been deployed, but for international indifference and isolationism (including the isolationism of the US administration of the day: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB53/). Would you have opposed a robust UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent?

  3. februarycallendar said,

    Let us not forget Richard Littlejohn’s contribution at the time, objecting to the genocide receiving any coverage on British TV at all – shocking even by his standards.

  4. flyingrodent said,

    you seem to be wilfully missing the point: the French intervention was in support of the aggressors: in no way was a “humanitarian intervention” of the type Dallaire and others wanted…

    But that is what “humanitarian interventions” are, Jim – desperately flawed, politically compromised, larded up with ulterior motives and competing aims, with actual humanitarianism quickly relegated to a secondary concern. See also, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya*.

    Now, I realise that folk like yourself are talking about the wonderful interventions that live in your mind, but never occur in reality. And I’m sure those interventions are wonderful, in the way that imaginary things can be.

    What I’m telling you is, that e.g. Operation Turquoise is what humanitarian intervention actually looks like – when you call for one, this type of thing is what you’re very likely to get. This is why so many people who supported them wind up issuing “I wanted us to invade (x) but I am horrified by what has actually happened” statements like, for example, Ian McEwan did.

    Because politicians and armies generally aren’t at all concerned about the desires of people who choose to support them, you see.

    Would you have opposed a UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent?

    I’m not sure – I was about sixteen at the time and didn’t really watch a lot of news. So probably not.

    *I’d be grateful if you’d just accept this point as broadly correct, rather than quibbling over whether e.g. Iraq was humanitarianism or not.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “Would you have opposed a UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent? ”

      “I’m not sure – I was about sixteen at the time and didn’t really watch a lot of news. So probably not.”

      ********

      Ah! At last: something approaching an answer to the actual question, which is “should the left, under all circumstances, oppose foreign interventions?” And Rodent’s answer seems to be “I’m not really sure, but perhaps not.”

      • Pinkie said,

        That’s not quite a truthful response now is it James?

        The question was:

        “Would you have opposed a UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent? ”

        It was not:

        “should the left, under all circumstances, oppose foreign interventions?”

        The reply to “Would you have opposed a UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent? ”

        Was:

        “I’m not sure – I was about sixteen at the time and didn’t really watch a lot of news. So probably not.”

        It was not:

        “I’m not really sure, but perhaps not.”

      • Jim Denham said,

        I think it’s entirely fair and truthful, Pinkie: please explain why you think it’s not

  5. Pinkie said,

    I assume you mean that your comments were entirely fair and truthful. I’m not sure why I should explain why I think that they were not, since that is what I said in my post.

    • Jim Denham said,

      We’re going round in circles here, Pinkie: just tell me how, exactly, I have traduced Mr Rodent.

  6. flyingrodent said,

    Well Jim, you asked, ““Would you have opposed a UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent?”

    And I answered “I’m not sure – I was about sixteen at the time and didn’t really watch a lot of news. So probably not”. This was a bit jokey, because it’s true – I was sixteen-years-old, and I wasn’t paying that much attention. Teenagers, eh.

    And you then declared that the original question was not, “Would you have opposed a UNAMIR intervention to stop the genocide, Mr Rodent”, and changed it to a far more convenient “should the left, under all circumstances, oppose foreign interventions?”

    Which is a bit dishonest – if you ask a question and get an answer, you shouldn’t really then pretend that you’d asked a different question. Well, not without being a bit dishonest, at least. But you know, it’s you, so I expect it. That’s you all over.

    Anyway, in retrospect, I’m pretty favourable about military intervention in Rwanda. I’m just savvy enough to realise that states aren’t persons, and that their impulses are not our impulses, however much we might wish them to be.

    Thus: Operation Turquoise – flawed, compromised, ineffective, rubbish, shite. Like many “interventions”.

    States – politicians, generals, armies – don’t care about your morality or mine. To be honest, they’re really amoral things, rather than immoral things, whether UK or US or Iran or the Soviet Union. They don’t care what we think about them.

    Which is why lots of UK Iraq war fans have had to issue multiple mea culpas, but we antis haven’t been forced to give out any, see?

    Because “military intervention” has exactly nothing to do with whatever you think it should do, eh? It proceeds according to its own logic and gives not a single shit about what sparrows like you, Jim, or me, Rodent, choose to to do while reclining on its back.

    • Jim Denham said,

      None of which changes the fact that you, Rodent, replied ““I’m not sure – I was about sixteen at the time and didn’t really watch a lot of news. So probably not”, when asked if you’d have opposed a “robust” UN intervention in Rwanda at the time of the genocide..

      Of course, our general, ‘default’ position is to be against interventions. But my point is that we’re not against interventions *in principle*, and the interventions into Cambodia (by Vietnam), Bosnia (belated), and Libya (whatever the problems since) were all thoroughly correct and justified. And, most certainly, a robust UN into Rwanda at the time of the genocide, would have been welcome.

      So, no, I was not being in any way “dishonest” when I described your response to my question about Rwanda as “not sure … probably not (opposed to intervention)”.

      My point is that the ‘Stop The War’ position of opposition to intervention as a ‘matter of principle’ is simply wrong … something that even ‘Stop the War’ in practice accepts, given their ‘de facto’ support for Russian imperialism in Ukraine.

      So what point are you, in fact, trying to make, Mr Rodent?

      • flyingrodent said,

        my point is that we’re not against interventions *in principle*

        You’re a moron.

      • Jim Denham said,

        “You’re a moron”:

        Is that the best you can do? Really? You sad and/or very stupid, person.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Mr Rodent writes:

      “States – politicians, generals, armies – don’t care about your morality or mine. To be honest, they’re really amoral things, rather than immoral things, whether UK or US or Iran or the Soviet Union. They don’t care what we think about them.

      “Which is why lots of UK Iraq war fans have had to issue multiple mea culpas, but we antis haven’t been forced to give out any, see?

      “Because “military intervention” has exactly nothing to do with whatever you think it should do, eh? It proceeds according to its own logic and gives not a single shit about what sparrows like you, Jim, or me, Rodent, choose to to do while reclining on its back.”

      Response:

      So much for political activity.

  7. flyingrodent said,

    Might as well beat a stick on a bucket.

  8. flyingrodent said,

    Really? You sad and/or very stupid, person.

    I can live with that. It’s not like you have to be Lt. Columbo or Sherlock Holmes to grasp the point that’s being made.

    OTOH, it takes special inventiveness and idiocy to miss it.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Actually, I don’t believe that you, Mr Rodent, are stupid: but you are politically slippery, evasive and thoroughly dishonest.

      • flyingrodent said,

        Yes, Jim. It’s easier for you to believe that, so that’s what you will believe.

      • Jim Denham said,

        I’ve repeatedly asked you, Mr Rodent, to give me a brief précis of your political position (in the interest of a sensible political discussion) , and you have never done so. I believe you are a very dodgy, evasive and dishonest person.

  9. Pinkie said,

    I always thought that stating an opinion gave a brief précis of your politics. Brief, of course, but political nonetheless.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Well, that just goes to show how wrong you can be, doesn’t it Pinkie? After all, the BNP and UKIP are both proudly “anti-war”.

  10. Pinkie said,

    The BNP and UKIP may well be ‘anti-war’ but they say why. They do not give the same reasons as you or me, nor Flyingrodent. You can tell this by what they say.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Pinkie: what is noticeable about both BNP and UKIP anti-war arguments, is how like Stop The War’s arguments they are. The only bit they (BNP and UKIP) tend to miss out is the stuff about was boosting anti-Muslim feeling at home. Other than that, the arguments are the same. Isolationism of “left” and right is essentially the same.

      Rodent: apology (below) accepted.

  11. flyingrodent said,

    Hmm, everything else aside, it was very rude and shitty of me to call you a moron, Jim. I apologise.

  12. Pinkie said,

    ‘Isolationism’, there’s a funny word. I’m not sure that the left should abandon a position just because some kind of rightist nutter agrees with it. ‘Isolationism’ of the left and right are not the same thing as you well know. (I’m not sure that the left has ever described themselves as ‘isolationist’, ‘neutral’ maybe between competing imperialisms.)

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