Saving the world, one daughter at a time.

My daughter asked me if I am angry that the United States did nothing to prevent or end the genocide in Rwanda.

The killings that came to be known as the Rwandan Genocide started in early April of 1994 and went on for about 100 days.  At that time, I was 34 years old and had two boys, aged 4 years and 2 years, and one daughter, aged 2 weeks.

I really don’t recall ever having heard of the Rwandan Genocide until she asked about it a few days ago.  From what little I’ve read, it sounds like the Hutu people, after centuries of real and/or perceived mistreatment by the minority, ruling Tutsi people, had overthrown the Tutsi monarchy in a 1959-1962 rebellion and that a group of Tutsi refugees from Uganda (led by U.S.-trained Paul Kagame) invaded Rwanda in 1990, beginning a civil war in Rwanda.  By 1994, the Hutu government had imported over 500,000 machetes and distributed them to Hutu civilians.  Using the shooting down of the Rwandan President’s airplane (although it is not known which side did the shooting) as an excuse to begin a long-planned Tutsi extermination, the Hutu civilians were directed via mass media to find and cut the heads of all of their Tutsi neighbors.

A United Nations peacekeeping mission, already on the ground in Rwanda, was not given authority to use force to stop the violence until May 17, by which time over 500,000 Rwandans (mostly Tutsi, but also many pro-peace Hutu) had already been killed.  It is estimated that, of the 1,000,000 pre-conflict Tutsi people, by mid-July there were only 300,000 Tutsi survivors.  Almost all of the surviving Tutsi women had been raped multiple times (up to five times per day) and had become HIV-positive.  In spite of this loss, the Tutsi force that had invaded Rwanda in 1990 regrouped and, on July 17, 1994, defeated the last government stronghold and declared victory.  Following the Tutsi victory, over 2,000,000 Hutu refugees fled Rwanda, primarily to Zaire (now Republic of the Congo), but also to Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda.  During the last few months of 1996, following the beginning of the First Congo War, more than 1,100,00 Hutu returned to Rwanda.

On August 25, 2003, Paul Kagame, the leader of the 1990 invasion, was elected President of Rwanda.  Under his leadership, Rwanda has been called Africa’s biggest success story.  Today, the killers and the victims live side-by-side in every village.  In each village, the killers stood before their neighbors and confessed and, in turn, were offered forgiveness.  Kagame has said:

“There are many killers; there are hundreds of thousands because the genocide that took place in our country involved a huge percentage of our population, both in terms of those who were killed and those who killed.  And if you went technically to try each one of them as the law may suggest, then you would lose out on rebuilding a nation.”

Paul Kagame, in brown suit with blue tieKagame (in brown suit with blue tie)

So, now I think I know enough about the event to understand my daughter’s question, “Are you angry that the United States did nothing to prevent or end the genocide in Rwanda?”  No, I’m not.  The only thing the U.S. could have done was to have sent soldiers to Rwanda to stand around with guns to make sure a bunch of peasants didn’t chop each other’s heads off, which would have happened anyway as soon as those soldiers had left.

Prior to the start of the Rwandan civil war, the U.S. government had aligned itself with Tutsi interests.

In January of 1994, White House National Security Council member Richard Clarke developed a formal U.S. peacekeeping doctrine called Presidential Decision Directive 25.  Although a classified document to this day, the effect of PDD-25 is to limit United States involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations to those operations that have United States military officers in control of United States troops, that are in the best interests of the United States government, and that have popular domestic support for the operation.

There were no U.S. troops officially in Rwanda at the onset of the genocide.

President Bill Clinton claimed later to have not fully understood the severity of the situation in Rwanda, although this does not seem likely.  The United Nations had received at least ten clear warnings of the ‘Hutu Power’ action, including an anxious telegram to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali three months before the event from the commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), General Romeo Dallaire, of Canada.  The UN Security Council met in secret after the start of the violence. At this meeting Britain urged that UNAMIR should pull out of Rwanda.  Britain later blocked a U.S. proposal to send in a fact-finding mission when the death toll had reached six figures. (source)

UN Security Council members resisted admitting that the mass murder taking place in Rwanda was in fact genocide:  genocide required taking corrective actions that nobody wanted to take. The United States had actually banned its officials from using the “G” word. The events in Rwanda were presented as ‘tribal violence,’ ‘ancient ethnic hatreds,’ ‘a breakdown of existing ceasefire,’ or ‘a failed State.’  Nobody seemed able to accept that deliberate extermination was being carried out for political reasons.  Once it was inescapably clear that genocide was indeed occurring, it was too late.

When the United States was asked to use its hi-tech skills to block pro-genocide radio broadcasts, the response was, ‘the traditional U.S. commitment to free speech cannot be reconciled with such a measure.’  When the UN requested 50 armored personnel carriers from the United States, the Army charged $6.5 million for transport alone. Deployment was delayed due to arguments over cost and other factors.  When the APCs were shipped, they were sent to Uganda rather than to Rwanda.

In March 1998, on a visit to Rwanda, U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke to the crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport:  “We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.  He acknowledged his failure to deal effectively with the situation in Rwanda.  Clinton has stated that the “biggest regret” of his presidency was not acting decisively to stop the Rwandan Genocide, that he believed that if he had sent 5,000 U.S. peacekeepers, more than 500,000 lives could have been saved. (source)

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