The obligation of states towards genocide prevention is outlined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – the world’s first truly universal, comprehensive and codified protection of human rights.
The convention stood for a fundamental and important principle; that whatever evil may befall any group, nation or people, it was a matter of concern not just for that group but for the entire human family.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, the man who coined the word genocide, believed that the crime implied the existence of a coordinated plan of action; a conspiracy to be put into effect against people chosen as victims, purely, simply and exclusively because they were members of the target group. Genocide is not some abominable aberration – it is a deliberate attempt to reconstruct the world.
The instigators and initiators of genocide are often cool-minded theorists first, and barbarians only second. A key element in genocide is propaganda that is used to spread a racist ideology to define the victim outside human existence – vermin and subhuman. A further requirement is a dependence on military security and a certainty that outside interference will be at a minimum. And so exactly it was in Rwanda in 1994.
We may never know the full details of the conspiracy in Rwanda that led to the organised, country-wide slaughter of up to one million people. Yet enough is known to describe the killing as planned and political -- with the most effective use of racist propaganda against the minority Tutsi. The popular participation in the genocide and the brutality of the killing have no parallels... For three months, between April and July 1994 a society was created in Rwanda that was based on genocide. Far from trying to conceal what was happening, the killing took place in broad daylight. It was organised and co-ordinated with cabinet meetings held by Rwanda’s “interim government” to discuss the progress of the slaughter.
Conspiracy to Murder shows how the planning took three years -- from the date of a first meeting of extremist political and military leaders in October 1990 at which “the elimination” of the Tutsi was discussed. This group then began to spread the idea of how the elimination of the Tutsi could be achieved. This core group gradually increased in number and the circles of its influence widened until it was powerful enough to siphon money from international funding to finance the creation of a militia and the purchase of huge quantities of agricultural tools. Mass mobilisation under the guise of “civil defence” to defend the country against the RPF rebels ensured trained killers in every locality.
The conspirators tried and tested their killing system and in the two years preceding the 1994 genocide an estimated 2,000 people – the vast majority of them Tutsi -- were killed in organised massacres – all of them involving the use of hate propaganda, road blocks, and the participation of local administrative leaders and soldiers. These methods were remarkably similar to those used to kill Tutsi in 1963 when there had also been roadblocks erected, militia, propaganda and “civilian self defence”.
At that time an estimated 14,000 Tutsi people had been killed and those responsible quickly granted an amnesty. Rwanda had a history of genocide. Some of those who organised the killing in 1963 would resurface and play leading roles in planning the genocide in 1994 – among this generation of Hutu extremists was Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who by all accounts took control in the first hours of the genocide. Bagosora who is on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, (ICTR) shows no remorse. In Rwanda the racism was part of life. An apartheid society existed in which the minority Tutsi were allocated only a certain percentage in education and employment. The genocide of 1994 was not a failure of early warning. It was a failure to adequately and seriously take into account Rwanda’s racism and to take heed and understand dozens of warnings that surfaced in the months beforehand. In Kigali the planning of genocide was an open secret – with rumours about lists of victims already prepared. Even a local newspaper in Kigali revealed plans for a “final solution” that was to “solve the “Tutsi problem”. What the Hutu Power extremists hoped to achieve was a pure Hutu state.
The father of the genocide convention, Raphael Lemkin believed that genocide could be predicted. The more extreme the racism, Lemkin had warned, the more likely genocide to occur. And if genocide was predictable then it was preventable.
The Security Council of the UN is central to the application of the Genocide Convention and in the circumstances of Rwanda in 1994 this raises a fundamental question -- why was the council seemingly incapable of implementing the convention? I have looked at the central role of the Security Council and the decision making process in the Council between October 1993 and July 1994. The crucial decisions taken by the Council in regard to Rwanda -- including in October 1993 the creation of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) -- were arrived at in secret and informal session with the Council guided by and briefed by senior UN Secretariat officials. I have obtained an account of these meetings. Further, in order to write as full an account as possible, I was given unprecedented access to UN records pertaining to the genocide.
The decision in 1993 by the UN SC to send a small mission of peacekeepers to Rwanda and keep them there in an increasingly hostile environment is a tragic error that should be as comprehensively documented as possible. The mission had a weak mandate and minimal capacity and was suitable for only the most benign environment. It is likely that this feeble effort actually encouraged the Hutu conspirators, signalling they could continue with their plans unheeded. To understand how the people came to believe the Hutu extremist propaganda that their survival depended on the physical elimination of the Tutsi it is necessary to understand how the colonial power Belgium had, in switching its favours from Tutsi to Hutu, ensured that the “ethnic” divide in Rwanda become politicised. In 1959 a repressive Tutsi monarchy, previously supported by Belgium, had been violently overthrown by the downtrodden majority Hutu...
From then on all struggles for power and resources had become framed in ethnic terms. Thousands of Tutsi had fled reprisals and massacres and a vast refugee problem was created in neighbouring states. A failed invasion attempt in 1963 by Tutsi refugees to retake power had led to widespread massacres of Tutsi, described that year by Bertrand Russell as “the most horrible and systematic human massacres since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis”. There was another invasion almost thirty years later in October 1990 by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, (RPF), Tutsi exiles who wanted recognition of the social and political rights of Tutsi refugees -- an estimated one million people living in camps in neighbouring states and who had been prevented from returning home by the regime of President Juvenal Habyarimana, who ruled Rwanda since 1973 with a clique of northern Hutu. The 1990 RPF invasion caused panic and fear in Rwanda. The people were told that the Tutsi were coming home to exact revenge, re-establish their cruel monarchy and enslave the Hutu once more. The invasion provoked terrible reprisals against the Tutsi population. Rwanda’s ensuing civil war was ended only thanks to international pressure when in August 1993 a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in Arusha, Tanzania, providing for the creation of a power-sharing democracy in Rwanda, a transition to a multi-party system. The agreement allowed for refugee return and a merger of the Rwandan government army with that of the RPF – and end to the system of identity cards showing group identity – Hutu, Tutsi or Twa.
No account seems to have been taken of those members of a northern clique that had used the country as their personal fiefdom and who stood to lose everything. These Hutu extremists -- these rabidly racist elements who had created a popular movement called Hutu Power -- were neitherincluded in the peace agreement nor were they defeated. At the United Nations the most important consideration when it came to Rwanda was to devise a mission that was as small and as cheap as possible and in order to do so -- and on the insistence from the US -- the Security Council simply altered the terms of Rwanda’s peace agreement. Under the terms of the Accords a neutral force was to ensure security throughout Rwanda -- but the parsimonious Council decided that the peacekeepers should assist in ensuring the security of the city of Kigali only.
Under the Accords the peacekeepers were to confiscate arms and neutralize the armed gangs throughout the country. The US refused this provision and insisted that there be no more than traditional peacekeeping, providing a neutral buffer between two former enemies. There was to be no “peace enforcement”, and no “mission creep”, whereby increasingly difficult mandates were given to UN missions.
In the Security Council the ambassador for Nigeria, Ibrahim Gambari argued how much Rwanda UN needed help. Gambari had said that the US had encouraged Rwanda, one of the poorest countries in the world, to democratise, and there was a moral obligation to see the country through its transition... Most peace processes were long and complex.
No attention at all seems to have been focused on Rwanda’s serious human rights abuses, the publication of two landmark human rights reports, and one of them published within days of the signing of the Arusha Accords, revealing that genocide was already present in Rwanda -- the intent to destroy Tutsi was obvious, there was a pervasive racial ideology -- essential ingredients for
The author of this report, Bacre Waly Ndiaye reported that in Rwanda powerful elite was desperate to cling to power and was fuelling ethnic hatred with a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign and that massacres of Tutsi were planned and prepared. Those who killed were under organised leadership. Ndiaye recommended that the militia should be disbanded, the distribution of arms should cease and propaganda had to stop. The impunity for killers had to end. What was needed in Rwanda, he said, was communal policing and immediate and effective measures to protect civilians at risk. Yet the ten non-permanent members of the Security Council came to see Rwanda not as the smouldering volcano that it really was, but rather as a small civil war. The situation was much more complex and dangerous than was ever revealed to the non-permanent Council members.
In a later key section in the Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations, published in August 2000 and chaired by Lakdhar Brahimi, one telling paragraph recommended: ‘The Secretariat must tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear, when recommending force and other resource levels for a new mission, and it must set those levels according to realistic
Of the failure over Rwanda one of the non-permanent ambassadors, the New Zealand Ambassador, Colin Keating, would recall: ‘We were a bunch of diplomatic amateurs. The UN has had forty-five years of stunted growth and it is not yet ready to deal with all this.’
From the very beginning, when the mission for Rwanda was created, both the UK and the US had argued for a more limited role for UNAMIR than that envisaged in the Arusha Accords. But equally from the beginning, it was clear that the mission was confronting enormous problems. In the weeks immediately preceding the genocide there was detailed information available about militia training, arms dumps, political murders, hate propaganda, and death lists, all of it provided to US and UK
diplomats by Claude Dusaidi who was the RPF representative at the UN in New York.
The rising level of extremism in Rwanda was also of great concern to the Belgian government whose ambassador at the UN, Paul Noterdaeme, in February 1994 was instructed to warn everyone that the peacekeepers of UNAMIR were in deep trouble. Belgium was providing peacekeepers for the mission and wanted immediate reinforcement and a stronger mandate warning of disaster. The US and the UK ambassadors rebuffed the very idea of strengthening the mission -- on grounds of economy. For some the signs of disaster were obvious. “Genocide’, a UN peacekeeper from Poland said, ‘hung in the air’.
In the first three months of 1994 so terrified were some Tutsi that they left the country and others prepared for emergency evacuation. In Kigali the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médécins sans Frontières began contingency planning for a huge number of casualties and erected enormous tents outside Kigali’s central hospital. “The people of Rwanda”, Philippe Gaillard would later say, “were the damned of the earth for accepting the racist insanities that poured out over the airways” By the time the UN troops arrived in Rwanda in December, 1993 it was probably already too late for peacekeeping.
I want to mention the role of France. France was a staunch ally of the twenty-year dictatorship of President Juvenal Habyarimana. When Rwanda was invaded by the RPF France had hurried to help, sending soldiers and then training a new and rapidly expanded Rwandan army. France provided quantities of weaponry and placed military advisers at the highest levels of the Rwandan army. French soldiers had fought the rebel RPF during the civil war. There is evidence of French soldiers training the Interahamwe youth militia. Under the Arusha Accords, once the UN peacekeepers had arrived, the French troops were to withdraw. But some 47 French military operatives remained behind in Rwanda embedded in the army – in the Para-commandos, in the reconnaissance battalion and the Presidential Guard.
On April 7, 1994, as the genocide had begun, it was the Presidential Guard responsible for the elimination of Rwanda’s entire political class – anyone who had stood against the northern extremists -- lawyers, journalists, and politicians -- were all killed that first morning. It was units from the Para-commandos and the reconnaissance battalions who were the first to be issued with orders to kill everyone with a Tutsi identity card. It was a French officer who was one of the first on the crash site on April 6 – the day when President Habyarimana was blown out of the sky in his jet, the event that triggered the genocide. In the Security Council of the UN, France was the most knowledgeable country of all the membership but did not once explain the realities of Rwanda, arguing that the high number of dead was due to the renewed civil war. France did not use its contacts to suppress genocide.
The role of the UK and the US once the genocide began is also of critical importance for while both permanent members of the Council had insisted on a ceasefire in the renewed civil war, there was little attention either had paid to the fact of massacres of civilians, the killing taking place nowhere near the fighting. Every effort was made by some of the non-permanent members of the Council - New Zealand, Spain, Nigeria and the Czech Republic - to get the US and the UK to focus not on the civil war but on the daily murder of thousands upon thousands of civilians. There was resistance. In the early weeks of genocide neither the US nor the UK paid attention to either stabilizing, reinforcing or even re-supplying the peacekeepers continuing to carry out rescue mission in Kigali.
Then there is the vexed question of when the US and the UK knew that what was happening was genocide. Sources close to the Clinton administration have shown how quickly senior officials understood the magnitude of the killing.
In the UK it has been confirmed that within two weeks genocide was apparent, the information provided to government sources by the ICRC and Oxfam.
To continue then to depict the genocide as the latest round in a chaotic and bloody civil war served only to obscure the reality and fuel the impression that anything other than massive external intervention would be unable to prevent the slaughter.
When in May African troops were available to go to Rwanda neither the US nor the UK, both with the capacity to do so, was willing to provide either airlift or equipment for them. In this way they prevented others who were willing to take effective action. The US did offer to lease to the UN armoured personnel carriers that were in storage in Germany, and the UK was willing to provide fifty trucks, but none of this equipment arrived in time to save any lives.
The Force Commander of UNAMIR, Major-General Dallaire was, in his own words, “left to hang out and dry” by those countries who were in positions of power in the Council, with the means to help, and yet who refused to do so. Both Britain and the US possessed the military and logistical capabilities that could have made a significant difference to the spread of the genocide and the protection of thousands of people trapped inside schools, churches and clinics. Instead policies were adopted that did not impede the genocide and then helped to prolong it. It would appear that a serious assessment of the situation was missing.
Why in the UK, for instance, was parliament misled about the reality of Rwanda?
On 9 May 1994, in a written answer in parliament, the parliamentary under- secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, Mark Lennox-Boyd, told the House: “There are estimates that more than 200,000 may have perished in recent fighting in Rwanda … It is a horrific and tragic civil war.” This misinformation from Whitehall did not prevent several British ministers and officials making confident assertions that intervention would make no difference to the situation. One retired senior civil servant, someone who reportedly was worried enough to warn the cabinet office about Rwanda, refused to be interviewed about this crucial part of the tragedy.
That the focus had been to get the Arusha Accords back on track was confirmed by David Hannay, who was Britain’s UN ambassador. The UK had been “extremely unsighted” over Rwanda he said. There was no British embassy there. Telegrams about Rwanda were not treated as “high grade”. There had been inadequate briefings given to the Council by UN Secretariat officials. Even if the genocide had been acknowledged there was nothing the UN could have done, given a Hutu government intent on it, he claimed.
This view is at odds with the view of the Force Commander, Lt. General Dallaire, who recently said he thought that British policy over Rwanda merited a review. Britain’s stringent laws on secrecy within government ensure that we may never know who was responsible in Britain for the UK policy. Even when the official records are available the full story may not emerge. It has recently been claimed that the relevant documents in Whitehall show evidence of weeding – a paper trail already depleted.
In May 1994 the US actively blocked action for Rwanda by insisting that there should be “protected sites” created for people at risk on Rwanda’s borders. This idea, actively promoted by US officials, effectively prevented any help at all for as Lt. General Dallaire explained the people at risk would be killed if they left their places of shelter inside Rwanda and tried to walk to the border to “protected
sites”... The US ambassador Madeleine Albright would later claim that it would be weeks before she understood the nature and scale of the violence and she blamed the UN for a lack of information.
President Bill Clinton also seemed to be convinced that the fault was a lack of information. “All over the world there were people like me”, he would say on a visit to Rwanda in 1998, “sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were
being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”
Yet in Washington from as early as 7 April 1994 there were intercepted communications from Rwandan officials in Kigali ordering massacres in outlying districts, and within a day or two the US Defence Intelligence Agency had photographs of massacre sites showing thousands of bodies. This intelligence targeting was part of the operation to evacuate US citizens.
The deputy chief of the US embassy in Kigali, Joyce Leader, when she was back in Washington, reported that genocide was taking place. If neither the White House nor the State Department was made aware in those first weeks that genocide was underway then this indicates a critical lack of coordination -- it has been speculated that there was so much intelligence to analyse that this part of it became buried. Neither has there been an official explanation as to why even before the genocide began an American operative had arrived in Kigali with a “non- combatant evacuation order” (NEO), to rescue all 257 US nationals present in the country. The timing of the sudden decision by the US to evacuate Rwanda of all ex-pats has never been properly explained. Whilst at the UN there is a willingness to uncover what happened, in both Washington and London there is a seeming indifference to the matter. There is little interest in the decision-making of these governments.
Requests for a congressional investigation into the decision-making in the administration of President Bill Clinton are ignored, and although a few government documents regarding the issue have been released in the US they are a fraction of the total available. In the UK, Rwanda has been virtually airbrushed from history in the writings and memoirs of key figures in the government which presided at the time, a government which prided itself on the promotion of human rights. John Major, the then prime minister, has a chapter in his autobiography called “The Wider World” which has no reference at all to the genocide. In the case of Malcolm Rifkind, the former defence secretary, events in Rwanda were not considered significant enough even to warrant a mention in a keynote speech on British foreign policy made less than one year after the genocide ended. As the genocide had progressed the foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, wrote a newspaper article in Alan J. Kuperman. “The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention. Genocide in Rwanda”. Brookings Institution Press. Washington DC. 2001 which he had made the point that the UN should pay more attention to preventive diplomacy. The UN could only act, he pointed out, if member states were prepared to support it with money, resources and troops, and with their political muscle.
Of pivotal importance for Britain’s African policy was Baroness Lynda Chalker, head of the Overseas Development Agency at the time of the genocide, who has yet to share her knowledge of the events.
More recently, Tony Blair, the current prime minister, has said that if nearly a million people were being murdered in Rwanda today, as they had been in 1994, then the British government would have both a political and a moral duty to prevent or suppress the killing.
In January 2000 Blair had declared the establishment of an annual Holocaust Memorial Day; as he pointed out, the lessons that the Holocaust taught us for our own time must never be forgotten.
And yet there exists no apparent attempt to understand his predecessor’s failure over Rwanda, or how it might help to formulate government policy for the future in trying to predict genocide, or even to support an initiative to build up a genocide prevention capability within the UN.
The circumstances of Britain’s role in 1994, and the lessons to be learned from it, seem so far to be of little interest to either parliament or the press.
I want now briefly to turn to the press. One of the conclusions of the first international enquiry into the genocide, financed by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was that the role of the western press had contributed to the crime. >From the outset the western press had erroneously portrayed the genocide as “tribal chaos” -- anarchy and chaos. This bolstered the arguments that only a massive and dramatic intervention could succeed.
Lt. Gen Dallaire believed that perhaps with greater public awareness there may have been some attempt to help. There were graphic reports about corpses on the streets but little explanation of who was killing and why... On April 28, 1994 when genocide was determined by Oxfam, this story in The Guardian merited a few paragraphs on an inside page. Some days later the same newspaper reported “Glum pragmatism dictates there is precious little the international community can do to stem the fighting in Rwanda” In the recent coverage for the tenth commemoration of the genocide, the role of the UK government merited only two passing references. There was a brief item by Channel Four news, broadcast on a Sunday night, and a radio broadcast of a few minutes duration on BBC Radio 4-- the PM programme -- in which a journalist blamed the UK for failing Rwanda but it was a confused and inaccurate account providing little explanation of exactly how culpable the UK was. There was no follow up to this item, no interviews of politicians involved, and no explanation of the UK’s exact role.
The failure to prevent and then stop the genocide in Rwanda is one of the great scandals of the twentieth century. The media, instead of holding politicians to account for what happened, have preferred to tell the story of the Rwandan genocide at local level -- through the victims and the perpetrators -- the wider conspiracy is quite simply ignored.
As Anthony Sampson wrote in The Independent on May 15: “How much more serious does the world crisis have to become before our media accept responsibility to present viewers and readers with a balanced picture of the real issues that lie behind it”..
The obligation of states towards genocide prevention is outlined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a legally binding treaty. The post-Holocaust promise of never again is enshrined inthe Convention. It establishes a collective commitment to prevent the ongoing and systematic murder of any group of people.
As permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UK and the US could have taken action in accordance with the Convention, “to call upon the competent organs of the UN to take action under the Charter”... They chose not to do so.
Instead, they undermined international law over Rwanda and made a mockery of the Convention. Both states resisted even using the word genocide, which would appear to indicate that they were aware that it carried some form of obligation to act. They showed deeply troubling indifference to genocide and a wilful neglect of the obligations enshrined in law. In both London and Washington, and at the UN in New York, there were politicians and civil servants who took decisions that cost the lives of an incalculable number of people. These officials should bear full responsibility for their decisions, though it is unlikely they ever will. And so it is likely that the same decisions will be taken in future – time and time again – by politicians who will remain unaccountable.
When the genocide began in April 1994 it should have been condemned internationally in the strongest possible terms. The names of those responsible were known even then. From the moment the extent of the killing was evident, certainly two weeks into the slaughter, at the very least all countries should have severed diplomatic ties with Rwanda and expelled Rwandan ambassadors. Anyone who was trying to represent a government presiding over genocide - and in fact perpetrating it - should have had no place in the civilized world. Instead there was silence.
Only states can provide soldiers to protect people at risk – and the challenge would seem to be to mobilise public opinion to a commitment to protect human rights. And state leaders should know that they will be held accountable if -- to tragic and terrible consequences -- they decide not to act.