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
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.
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 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.
Vatican ‘must immediately remove’ child abusers – UN
The UN has demanded that the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers.
The UN watchdog for children’s rights denounced the Holy See for adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children.
In a report, it criticised Vatican attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
The Vatican responded by saying it would examine the report – but also accused its authors of interference.
“The Holy See takes note of the concluding observations on its reports… [but] does, however, regret to see… an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person… [and] reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child,” it said in a statement.
And a Vatican official, speaking to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said the statements on homosexuality, contraception and abortion were outside the committee’s remit and “heavily agenda-driven and smacking of acute political correctness”.
The Vatican has set up a commission to fight child abuse in the Church.
The UN committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism.
In its report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said the Holy See should open its files on members of the clergy who had “concealed their crimes” so that they could be held accountable.
The committee said it was gravely concerned that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed.
In the report, the committee expressed its “deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide”.
It also lambasted the “practice of offenders’ mobility”, referring to the transfer of child abusers from parish to parish within countries, and sometimes abroad.
The committee said this practice placed “children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children”.
The UN report called on a commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse “as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them”.
Ireland’s Magdalene laundries scandal was singled out by the report as an example of how the Vatican had failed to provide justice despite “slavery-like” conditions, including degrading treatment, violence and sexual abuse.
The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses where some 10,000 women and girls were required to do unpaid manual labour between 1922 and 1996.
The report’s findings come after Vatican officials were questioned in public last month over why they would not release data and what they were doing to prevent future abuse.
The Vatican has denied any official cover-up. However, in December, it refused a UN request for data on abuse on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
In January, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year periode by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse.
The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the Vatican has set up new guidelines to protect children from predatory priests.
But, he adds, bishops in many parts of the world have tended to concentrate on protecting and defending the reputation of priests rather than listening to the complaints of victims of paedophile priests.
Many campaigners feel the Vatican should open its files on priests known to be child abusers
I’ve received this, and would urge you all to respond:
Since you’re the type of person who believes no child should be left without an education, we’re writing to you with an important update on the crisis of Syrian refugee children. Back in September, A World at School delivered a petition at the United Nations calling on world leaders to provide education for nearly 400,000 Syrian children exiled in Lebanon.
Since then, leaders have developed a plan to deliver education in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. The plan is now ready to go and on Wednesday, major international donors will be asked to pledge their support for humanitarian relief to help victims of the Syrian conflict.
Now we need you to send a message to the international donor community to make the plan reality and get these children back to school.
Join our Thunderclap this Tuesday to call for swift action.
It can be done. Public support has put the issue on the table and pressure is growing for immediate action. We need you to remind the world’s leaders why they have to do something NOW.
We cannot let up. More than 5,000 young people are fleeing the conflict each week into Lebanon alone. Without education they face becoming a lost generation.
Click here and help make A World at School a reality for Syrian children.
PS: Join the Youth Education Crisis Committee Google Hangout this January 15 to learn more about how to create @aworldatschool for #childrenofsyria: http://bit.ly/KFCYeN
From France 24:
Above: some of the bodies at the dockside
Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.
Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.
By Friday afternoon, 111 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.
But with only 155 survivors plucked from the water almost 24 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.
“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred [more] bodies from the ship,” coast guard official Floriana Segreto told Reuters.
Meanwhile, a ferry arrived early on Friday with a truck carrying about 100 coffins and four hearses for the dead, who are now lined up along the floor of a hangar at the airport.
“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.
‘A European tragedy’
Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.
Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.
There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.
Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.
“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.
“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”
The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.
A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.
‘These deaths did not need to happen’
Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.
François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.
“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”
In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.
Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.
At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”
The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.
Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”
On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Cartoon from the Guardian
The international ruling classes are clearly in a quandary over Syria. But so is the serious left (the word “serious” meaning discounting Assad-supporters and hypocritical fake-Westphalians who’ve been looking forward to western intervention for the past two years and more, just so’s they can have something to protest about).
Shiraz Socialist does not oppose foreign intervention in principle, especially when a country is descending into sectarian mass-murder. Also, the use of chemical weapons should be recognised as a “red line” and, if possible, the perpetrators punished.
The problem with regard to Syria is not any “principled” objection to “outside” intervention, but the fact that the opposition seems to be a bunch of sectarian Islamists who are already attacking Kurds, Allowites, Christians, Shias and others.
The best result now would be a cease-fire arrived at by a conference brokered and enforced on the ground by the UN, Arab League or, indeed, NATO. Frankly, that’s not very likely.
It looks like Labour are going to opposes unilateral military action http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/douglas-alexander-warns-cameron-vote-must-be-held-syria-and-labour-could-oppose-gov
The left in general, perhapd due to the bank holiday, has yet to react. There are a few voices though – Owen jones opposes military action but, against all the evidence, appears to doubt that the Assad regieme launched the chemical attack. He calls on the international court to bring charges and for UN peace talks: “There’s no question that those who use chemical weapons must be arraigned in an international court. But a UN-brokered peace process involving all the local and regional players remains the only solution.” http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/for-the-syrians-sakes-and-for-our-own-we-must-not-intervene-8784220.html
The wretched Lindsey German and ‘Stop the War’ are entirely predictable. They call it a proxy war but conveniently only mention the Western and Saudi arming of the rebels, not Russia or Iran who have been sending arms and troops to aid Assad. They call for peace talks, but really they’re in support of Assad: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/news/attack-in-syria-no-pretext-for-intervention
From A World At School
16 years old today…
…and here’s her inspirational speech to the UN today:
Shame, shame, shame on those people on the so-called “left” who’ve ever expressed any degree of sympathy, support for, or ‘contextualisation’ of the actions of, the child-killers and gynophobic barbarians of the Taliban: yes, I mean you fucking shower, the SWP, Workers Power, the ISG and degenerate ‘Labour’ MP Jeremy Corbyn.
Here’s something I’d hope we can all agree on:
Last October, people across the globe united to send thoughts of hope and love to a brave young girl fighting for her life in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate Malala Yousafzai because of her strong voice in the fight for women’s rights and youth education. Their gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in front of her peers – but Malala survived and she hasn’t stopped fighting.
Last weekend we were reminded of the need to continue to stand behind Malala and her cause once again. 14 young female students were massacred as a bus taking them home from university in Quetta, in western Pakistan, was blown up by extremist militants.
On July 12 – less than a year after she was attacked – Malala will mark her 16th birthday by speaking at the UN. She’ll be delivering to the highest leadership of the UN a set of education demands written for youth, by youth.
Join in uniting for Malala – and for girls’ education – once again.
As the US begins talks with the Taliban, Amnesty’s 2011 message on women’s rights must be remembered:
Above: this must never be forgotten
“We all want stability and peace, but not at the price of women’s rights. We’re told that women’s rights are a development issue, not a security issue. But women’s rights are part of what the fighting is all about.”
-Afifa Azim, coordinator of the Afghan Women’s Network, an umbrella organization of over 84 NGOs and 5,000 individual members.
“We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always…[it is] essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled in the reconciliation process.” -US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton speaking to female Afghan officials in 2010
Hard-won gains for women could be seriously compromised as the Afghan government and its international partners pursue reconciliation and peace negotiations with leaders of the Taleban and other insurgent groups, without ensuring mechanisms to guarantee human rights.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights may be sacrificed in the search for a settlement with Taleban leaders. In areas they currently control, the Taleban continue to curtail women’s human rights severely. They have carried out a concerted attack on girls’ education and have murdered women prominent in public life. Afghan women’s human rights defenders fear that their newly won rights will be severely eroded if the Taleban are brought back into government.
Read more in Afghanistan: Don’t trade away women’s human rights
Amnesty International urges the U.S. government to adopt an action plan for Afghan women to ensure that their rights are not traded away in the reconciliation process. The U.S. should make clear that human rights are non-negotiable and ensure local women are included in the transition process and that mechanisms are in place to uphold those rights after any agreement is reached.
The global union federation IndustriALL (of which Unite and the USW are major affiliates) has been running a campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh textile and garment industry.
Below, Tony Burke (writing yesterday at Left Foot Forward) gives some more backround:
The tragedy in the Bangladesh garment industry at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, which has claimed the lives of over 1,000 workers when a building that housed eight factories collapsed, has lead to outrage across the world.
Condemnation has come from all quarters. Governments, NGOs and customers who have been wringing their hands saying “we must put a stop to this – but how do we do it?”.
Those persons condemned include the building’s owner, (who went on the run and now faces with calls from workers for his execution); the owners of the factories; the builders themselves (now all under arrest); but also the Western customers, such as Primark, Mango and others who allegedly ignore abuses of millions workers in the garment industry in order to produce cheap clothing for sale in the West.
The Rana Plaza tragedy follows on from the deadly fire which killed over a hundred workers at Tazreen Fashions in late 2012. And this week eight more workers were killed in a fire at a clothing factory.
Mass industrial manslaughter
The global manufacturing union federation IndustriALL has correctly described the Rana Plaza tragedy as “mass industrial manslaughter”.
Seeing large cracks appear in the building, workers at Rana Plaza evacuated the building – only to be forced back to work by the factory owners.
At Tazreen escape and entry doors and windows were locked shut and workers could not escape the blaze.
IndustriALL has been running a long-term campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. There are around 100,000 Bangladesh companies associated with the garment industry, employing up to four million workers who feed the West’s insatiable appetite for cheap clothes. The industry itself is worth 20 billion US dollars .
According to BRAC, one of the leading NGOs in Bangladesh, the country has a safety inspection force of just 18 people.
IndustriALL reports that there are 39 unions in the national garment industry, and too many times they have failed to co-operate with each other. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Egyptian women wave a flag showing pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut and anti-Muslim Brotherhood banners during a demonstration in Cairo, marking this year’s International Women’s Day.
The Muslim Brotherhood has issued a statement denouncing a proposed statement by the UN Commission on the Status of Women because it “contradicts principles of Islam and destroys family life and entire society.”
The 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), taking place from March 4 to 15 at UN headquarters, seeks to ratify a declaration euphemistically entitled ‘End Violence against Women’.
That title, however, is misleading and deceptive. The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution.
This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.
Ah yes good old “moral specificity” that makes it ok to pretend women are inferior and subordinate, along with good old pseudo-anti-imperialism used to shore up theocratic imperialism. It’s a cute trick, pretending that rights for women amount to “intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries.”
A closer look at these articles reveals what decadence awaits our world, if we sign this document:
3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.
5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).
That’s decadence, is it? Not treating women who have non-marital sex as having no rights – that’s decadence? Not treating marital rape as perfectly fine is decadence?
7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
Jesus god – it’s decadent to treat women and men as equals as opposed to making men the guardians of their wives, as if women were children?
8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.
10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.
These are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution; they would subvert the entire society, and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance.
The Muslim Brotherhood urges the leaders of Muslim countries and their UN representatives to reject and condemn this document, and to call upon this organization to rise to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam.
And these are the people who are in power in Egypt, along with the Salafists, who are even worse.