The Rwandan Genocide – The World Watched and Did Nothing

I have visited Rwanda five times. I have been to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali five times. I have exited the last section of the memorial dedicated to the child victims with tears streaming down my cheeks five times. I could visit it a hundred times and not have a different result. More than the crushing sadness of seeing a detailed description of children, their personalities, their likes and the manner in which their young lives were ended, is the knowledge that the genocide didn’t have to happen. Tolstoy wrote in “War and Peace” that “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. The Rwandan Genocide may have been the worst realization of that notion.

It is impossible to fully describe the Rwandan Genocide in a few paragraphs but for most people, the event is not fresh in their memory and the causes probably were never known to them. The root cause stems primarily from resentments of Hutus against Tutsis who were favored by the Belgians during their colonial rule and put into positions of power despite being a minority of the population. These resentments reached a boiling point in 1959 in the first large scale Hutu on Tutsi violence. 100,000 Tutsis were forced to flee to neighboring countries. Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962 and the Hutus took controlof Rwanda. Sporadic violence against Tutsis continued over the next 25 years which led to more and more Tutsis fleeing to neighboring countries. In October 1990, these displaced Tutsis, who had formed a well organized Army and political party, invaded Rwanda and the Rwandan Civil War began. The war went on for over three years before the Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana, agreed to a peace settlement with the Tutsi rebel army. On April 6, 1994, Juvenal Habyarimana and the President of neighboring Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were returning from a regional summit in Tanzania when their plane was shot down while attempting to land in Kigali. Who fired the missile that shot down their plane, killing everyone on board, has never been fully answered. One thing that is not in dispute, is that the shooting down of their plane was the beginning of the genocide.

Within minutes of the downing of the presidential jet, road blocks went up all around the country. Hutu death squads, called the Interahawme, went from house to house with lists of Tutsis to round up and kill. The killing was indiscriminate and savage. Machetes and sticks were the most common instrument of death. Parents were forced to watch their children be killed before they themselves were killed. Wives and daughters who were spared would be raped by men known to be HIV infected. People tried to take shelter in churches but this only aided the Interahamwe in their task of rounding up victims. In more than one case, priests would turn over their churches filled with cowering people to the death squads. Some of the worst incidents of the entire genocide occurred in churches. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people died EVERY SINGLE DAY of the genocide. For 100 days the killing raged on and not one country lifted a finger to stop it.

When the first peace talks between the Tutsi Army and government of Rwanda began in the fall of 1993, the United Nations deployed a force of peace keepers to Rwanda. The force numbered 2,500 poorly equipped troops, primarily from Bangladesh and Ghana, commanded by Canadian General Romeo Dallaire. Through the early months of 1994, it was becoming progressively clearer that radical elements of the Hutu government were planning a genocide. General Dallaire repeatedly warned the United Nations Security Council that the situation was deteriorating and he needed more troops, equipment and authorization to use force to protect civilians. Rather than provide General Dallaire with these requests, the Security Council cut his force and restricted his mission. When the genocide began, he could do little but watch as the killing went on. Dozens of his own soldiers were killed or wounded during the genocide. In early July 1994, the Tutsi army captured Kigali and most of the Rwanda ending the genocide. The Hutu perpetrators fled to neighboring Zaire (Congo) were their presence was a major cause in the deadliest conflict since the end of World War II – the first and second Congo Wars.

General Dallaire has stated that he could have stopped the genocide with as few as 5,000 properly equipped soldiers with authorization to use force. Former United States President Bill Clinton said in 2013 that as few as 10,000 United States soldiers in the first weeks of the genocide could have saved 300,000 Rwandans. The reasons there were no United States troops for Rwanda is because of Somalia. Just a few months before the genocide, the United States had fought the Battle of Mogadishu taking severe casualties. The United States was in the process of withdrawing from African peace keeping missions when the Rwandan genocide began. Additionally, the Tutsi rebels were backed by the United States and the Hutu Rwandan government was backed by France. This unusual situation of allies supporting different sides in the conflict stymied any international intervention. Countries with wealth and power will always be faced with a quandary of when to intervene in less developed countries to stop internal strife. Many interventions don’t achieve their stated goals and the intervening country frequently regrets getting involved. The Rwandan Genocide shows all to painfully that when outside countries don’t intervene when they should have, you can’t undo the carnage.

The little boy whose picture is on the banner of this ride’s website is one of the child victims shown in the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. I will always be haunted by his last words “The UN soldiers will come for us”. The thought that he and 1,000,000 other victims died thinking the same thing should be a tragic lesson that is not soon forgotten by the international community.

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