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Never Forget! The 13th Anniversary of The Rwandan Genocides

Memorials regarding the 13th anniversary of the massacres in Rwanda have commenced this week. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement earlier this week reflecting on "one of humankind's darkest chapters." The Secretary General made comments that it is important to "never forget" and "never stop working to prevent another genocide." He highlighted measures taken by the United Nations, such as the appointment of a Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide and the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention. He also highlighted actions taken by African nations, including the Pact on Security, Stability and Development for the Great Lakes Region, which contains a protocol on the prevention of genocide. Additionally, the Acting Deputy Registrar Chief of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Everand Donnel, indicated that 72 people have been arrested for war crimes in Rwanda as of February 2007. And the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Clint Williamson, made statements calling for all fugitives to face trial before the mandate for the ICTR expires at the end of 2008, with appeals extending to 2010.

On April 6th, 1994, the President of Rwanda was assinated when missile fire downed his plane. The following day, Hutu gunmen begin executing moderate Hutu politicians and Tutsis. US officials in the area made statements highlighting the "genocide" that is occurring. The estimated death toll from the first day is 8,000. The US subsequently decides to evacuate all American's, and Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, head of the peacekeeping mission there, is told not to intervene. Over the next few days, American, French, Italians and Belgian forces are evacuated from the region. By April 22nd, the UN Security Council voted to withdraw 90% of its peacekeeping force, leaving General Dallaire with a force of less than 2,000 troops, largely cut-off from communications. By April 25th, UN forces are down to 450, with death tolls nearing 150,000. On May 1st, a US State Department briefing cautions against the use of the word "genocide" as it may force US hands to "actually do something." On May 25th, US President Bill Clinton made the following statement;

"”The end of the superpower standoff lifted the lid from a cauldron of long-simmering hatreds. Now the entire global terrain is bloody with such conflicts, from Rwanda to Georgia. Whether we get involved in any of the world's ethnic conflicts in the end must depend on the cumulative weight of the American interests at stake.”"

By the end of June, French troops under a UN mandate have established a safe zone in the region, though the massacres continued. Finally, by July 17th, many in the Hutu government have fled to neighboring Zaire, the French are replaced by an Ethiopian force, and the genocide is largely over as the Tutsi dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Paul Kagame, overthrew the Hutu regime.

In 100 days, it is estimated that 800,000 people had been slaughtered by the Hutu government in Rwanda.

As testaments from the Belgian forces testify, the slaughter was significantly animalistic. Ten Belgian troops of the UN mission were "castrated and died choking on their genitalia." Many Tutsi civilians were hacked to death with machetes, butchered by their fellow Hutu villagers. As President Clinton's comments testify, the issue is not a matter of forgetting the atrocities; it's a matter of summoning the political will. With American memories still lingering over the events in Somalia , where 19 US servicemen were killed , the eagerness to expend defensive measures on non-defensive actions is low. UN efforts have been mounting for a quick reaction force which may circumvent the reluctance to intervene. In his seminal Report of the Panel on United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, Lakhdar Brahimi highlights many of the handicaps of UN missions and calls for a UN force with combat mandates to intervene in ongoing atrocities, like Rwanda. However, the UN is only as willing as its member states. In his statement on the Rwanda genocides, the Secretary General noted that we must never forget. He also noted that we should "never stop working to prevent another genocide", but we may still be waiting for that work to begin.

Ghosts of Rwanda, a PBS web series, was used to derive the historical narrative.

The quote regarding Belgian troops comes form Scott Peterson. Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda: A Journalist Reports from the Battlefields of Africa. New York and London: Routledge, 2000. 292 (here)

Ban Ki-moon's statement is here.

Everand Donnel's comments are here.

 

Author

Daniel Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer for United Press International covering Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Levant. He has published works on international and constitutional law pertaining to US terrorism cases and on child soldiers. His first major work, entitled The United States and Israel: The Implications of Alignment, is featured in the text, Strategic Interests in the Middle East: Opposition or Support for US Foreign Policy. He holds a MA in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University, where his focus was international relations theory, international law, and the role of non-state actors.

Areas of Focus:International law; Middle East; Government and Politics; non-state actors

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