The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide
Events in Rwanda in 1994 mark a landmark in the history of modern genocide. Up to one million people were killed in a planned public and political campaign. In the face of indisputable evidence, the Security Council of the United Nations failed to respond.
In this classic of investigative journalism, Linda Melvern tells the compelling story of what happened. She holds governments to account, showing how individuals could have prevented what was happening and didn’t do so. The book also reveals the unrecognised heroism of those who stayed on during the genocide, volunteer peacekeepers and those who ran emergency medical care.
Fifteen years on, this new edition examines the ongoing impact of the 1948 Genocide Convention and the shock waves Rwanda caused around the world. Based on fresh interviews with key players and newly-released documents, A People Betrayed is a shocking indictment of the way Rwanda is and was forgotten and how today it is remembered in the West.
Linda Melvern’s book, A People Betrayed: the Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide, published in 2000, was a clear and scrupulously researched account of events surrounding Rwanda’s genocide and the West’s reaction – or non-reaction – to it.
Human Rights Watch Books
When it came time to summon the mettle to confront and prevent the undeniable ethnic slaughter of innocents in Rwanda, the international community, in particular the Western governments faltered and mocked the mandate, “Never Again.” The failure is even more shameful in that, by most accounts, a relatively small increase in the peacekeeping force in Rwanda, combined with a minimal show of resolve by the Security Council would have prevented the killing from reaching genocidal proportions.
Michael A. Innes
The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance.
Melvern pulls no punches in her writing, detailing a substantial list of external actors: France’s support of the Habyarimana regime; Uganda’s role as a source of combat training and experience for the Tutsi army-in-exile, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF); Egypt’s channelling of armaments to Rwandan government forces through one of its diplomats, Boutros Boutros-Ghali – the man who would later serve as the UN Secretary General during the genocide; American stonewalling on the issue of armed intervention; even Britain’s inattention to the crisis comes under scrutiny.
Perhaps the most remarkable (documents) in her possession are abandoned Rwanda military intelligence documents and a 155 page transcripts of secret UN Security Council meetings…Melvern pulls no punches in her writing…. Even Britain’s inattention to the crisis comes under scrutiny…But for the leaked document in Melvern’s possession, the world would never have known that in the in first four weeks of genocide the fact that a systematic and continuing slaughter was taking place in Rwanda was not once discussed at length in Council meetings…..It is a testament to her integrity as a journalist, perhaps, that A People Betrayed refrains from polemics.. Melvern has managed to craft a detailed and non-nonsense account of the actions of the international community prior to and during Rwandans One Hundred Days.
The Washington Monthly.
A Nightmare in Kigali …But Boutros-Ghali was far from the only scoundrel. Melvern’s account of the U.N. Security Council deliberations that spring confirms what was obvious from the general U.N. paralysis. The Western powers, including the U.S., spent most of April 1994 pretending the genocide was a civil war. Repeatedly, they instructed the peacekeepers to negotiate a cease-fire–“rather like wanting Hitler to reach a cease-fire with the Jews,” as one diplomat tells the author.
Linda is one of our finest investigative journalists. She was first to obtain and publish the secret minutes of Security Council meetings, revealing how the UK – perhaps at US instigation but probably not – took the lead in pretending that this was not genocide and in blocking any Security Council response other than to withdraw blue berets and to betray the people they were protecting. I can think of no more irresponsible act of a British government in modern times and it is a shameful thing that there has been no kind of enquiry into how or why the UK thus became complicit in genocide.
The International Journal of Human Rights.
It is the question of Western responses to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that occupies Linda Melvern’s excellent book…. The book’s forte lies in depicting the human tragedy that was allowed to unfold in Rwanda and the role of several governments, most notably France, in fuelling this process. Melvern provides substantial new evidence…..her second main contribution to the literature lies in her detailed account of how events concerning the genocide transpired within the UN Security Council. Although the primary focus of A People Betrayed is Rwanda’s genocide, the book has relevance beyond both Rwanda and the question of genocide. Rather depressingly, it also sheds a great deal of light on the dynamics of international society.
In July 1994, just as the slaughter in Rwanda was dying down, Linda Melvern, a former Sunday Times investigative reporter and author of several book, began mounting (an) inquiry…over the next six years she built up contacts in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, within the UN Security Council, amongst those who had served in the failed peacekeeping force, and those who had suffered in the slaughter. Helped by secret documents from Rwanda and the UN, she managed to identify those who had helped supply arms, those who had suppressed information about what was happening, those who turned a blind eye to murder. The book that resulted was not just an expose of those terrible events, it was an indictment of the world order that had failed to prevent them.
What happened in Rwanda is one of the most appalling and heartbreaking tragedies that the world has known. Why did it occur? And what more could have been done to prevent it? Melvern’s book attempts to answer those questions. It is a brave and compelling account of the lies, deceit, and neglect that led to the Rwanda genocide. A powerful and important book that vital provides lessons for the future.
Linda Melvern’s work on Rwanda is in the finest traditions of investigative journalism. A brilliant investigation into the tragedy for which the “international community” was itself responsible. With testimony from witnesses and access to documents previously unseen, she tells an epic and shaming story of culpability and missed opportunities.”
Dame Margaret Anstee
A riveting and well-researched account of the horrendous crimes committed in Rwanda while an indifferent world, to its shame, looked the other way. There are grim lessons here for everyone, from international statesmen and politicians to responsible citizens and decent human beings everywhere.
Secretary for Justice, NZ and former New Zealand Ambassador to the UN.
This is a very important book. It is a book that a large number of people should read… what is good about the book is that it shows the big picture. It shows the failure that actually took place. It tells the story of what really happened. An outstandingly good book… compelling… its content is exceptional.
New World United Nations Association of the UK
For six years the author grappled with indifference, if not hostility, and had to pursue enquiries entirely on her own resources. “Another book on Rwanda? Don’t we know it all already?” But Melvern shows clearly that the protracted civil war blinded almost everyone to the emerging genocide, though some did see the evidence which was available. I challenge anyone to read this book and not be startled by new revelations, not to feel a renewed sense of outrage and determination that it should not happen again.
Professor Falk of the Centre of International Studies at Princeton says the book is “quite extraordinary; precise and yet overwhelming”. Dame Margaret Anstee calls it “a riveting and well-researched account … with lessons for everyone”. Glenys Kinnock calls it “a devastating account… it provides all of us who lobby and campaign… with valuable evidence.” Colin Keating, who as New Zealand’s UN representative was president of the Security Council during the critical month of April 1994, read extracts from the book at its launch in Wellington and from Melvern’s earlier history of the UN (The Ultimate Crime), saying “to understand why things didn’t happen which should have happened in 1994 you really need the wider perspective of the earlier book”.
Melvern tells the story behind the stories: it is a meticulously researched account, fully indexed and with extensive references, which despite copious details is compellingly readable. Understanding is helped by excellent maps and a ten page chronology. Two appendices deal with the Genocide Convention and the book is dedicated to the memory of Raphael Lemkin who coined the term. Documents obtained during the investigation, including arms contracts, Security Council minutes and other unpublished materials, are to be placed in an archive at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where the author is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of International Politics.
New Zealand News.
… lifts the lid on the international community’s failure to prevent the genocide. Outlines how the slaughter was aided and abetted by international indifference, loans and weapons deals.
Top 10 reading on Rwanda Reuters Foundation AlertNet
A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide” by Linda Melvern, a former reporter for the London Sunday Times, condemns the international community, specifically the U.N. Security Council, for failing to intervene in the face of indisputable evidence of genocide. She argues that stubbornness and negligence, in addition to the suppression of information and deliberate distortion of fact, paved the way for three months of unrestrained violence that could have been prevented. Melvern’s second book on the subject, “Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwanda Genocide and the International Community,” published this month, is a detailed account of the planning of the genocide that reiterates themes found in “A People Betrayed.
The Right Reverend Richard Harries
Bishop of Oxford
What happened in Rwanda is one of the most appalling, heartbreaking tragedies that the world has known. Why did it occur? And what more could have been done to prevent it? This serious, very thorough attempt to answer those questions will be essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand what happened. This is a powerful and important book.
Mauro De Lorenzo
Linacre College, Oxford.
I’ve read your book now. What an achievement! I felt you got beyond the stereotyped accounts of what happened and why. On every page I learned something new; the book is as valuable for specialists as it is for newcomers. It neither patronises nor oversimplifies. You’ve successfully wedded clear informative journalistic prose with in-depth analysis and appropriate contextualisation. This is the book I will now recommend to people seeking a concise introduction to the events of 1994, alongside Prunier’s book. It also helped remind me why I am devoting several years of my life to researching the region.
MEP Chair Forum on Early Warning And Early Response (FEWER).
This is a devastating account of lies, deceit, complacency and tragic neglect…. All we can hope is that this fine book will provide lessons for the future, because it provides all of us who lobby and campaign for early warning systems and conflict prevention with invaluable evidence. Looking around the world, you wonder what has been learnt since 1994. Linda Melvern deserves our thanks for investing so much in breaking the silence and revealing the truth.
Professor Richard Falk
Center of International Studies, Princeton University.
Quite extraordinary: precise, and yet overwhelming; a fine balance in the face of depravity… Linda Melvern has written an extraordinary account of the Rwanda genocide, and the shocking failure of the West to lift a finger… What Melvern demonstrates so powerfully is that where Western geopolitical interests are absent, Western morality and ‘civilised’ concerns are nowhere to be found … A brave and compelling book.
I have just finished your excellent and depressing book on Rwanda. Although no excuse, working in the UN usually means that more and more mandates are given with no prioritisation or extra resources. It is given the authority to go out and do certain things but not the means to do it, and then gets blamed for failure. I told everyone I met at the UN that they should read your books.
Lt. General Romeo Dallaire
Force Commander UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, (UNAMIR) 1994.
The best overall account of the background to the genocide, and the failure to prevent it…the investigation is hers, and hers alone. She discovered so much that we did not know.
Director, Shake Hands with the Devil.
I would like to thank you in person for the great help your work gave me in making the film of Shake Hands with the Devil. The writer and I were constantly going back to your work to get clarification and confirmation of the events…
Director, Hotel Rwanda.
I think your book is easily the best reporting on the Rwandan Genocide and one of the best non fiction works I have read in many years. I have said that at lectures throughout my travels associated with Hotel Rwanda.
London School of Economics and Political Science.
Let me begin by telling you how both touched and overwhelmed I was reading your extraordinary book ‘A People Betrayed’.
A Genocide Survivor
Your book is really a huge consolation. I agree with you we’ve been betrayed! Thanks indeed writing a book on us, we are not alone.
New York Times Book Review
…Melvern offers a vivid picture of the role of Western nations in abetting, ignoring and allowing Rwanda’s genocide.
Linda Melvern has written a compelling description of the most dramatic aspects of the genocide.
New Left Review.
As Linda Melvern’s devastating account of the Rwandan genocide shows, the nature of the killing was plain to see.. it is a chilling revelation of the political realities behind the “human rights” rhetoric of the Western powers … Melvern gives a clear headed account of Rwanda’s history. The lasting value of Melvern’s work lies in her unrelenting focus on the networks of complicity behind the genocide and her refusal to treat the horrifying statistics as an incomprehensible anomaly or aberration. It is little surprise that Melvern’s fine book, carefully researched, lucidly written, moderately expressed, should nevertheless have been completely ignored by the press of the country in which it has been published….For if her book is a singularly courageous interrogation of the past, it also has a tragic contemporary resonance; the scars and the consequences of the genocide are still there, metastases of a cancer of hatred and violence that is still spreading through Central Africa.
The chilling record of American and European connivance in the slaughter of the Tutsis.
New York and Kigali
Between 7 April and early July 1994 somewhere between 500,000 and a million people were killed in Rwanda, not—as many announced at the time—as the bloody climax of a ‘chaotic tribal war’ between Tutsi and Hutu, but as a deliberate and systematic slaughter of the former by the latter. Later, the ‘international community’ acknowledged that a genocide had indeed occurred, and proferred its ignorance of events as an excuse for its inactivity. However, as Linda Melvern’s devastating account of the Rwandan genocide shows, the nature of the killings was plain to see: ‘There were no sealed trains or secluded camps in Rwanda. The genocide was broadcast on the radio.’ Moreover, and most tellingly, ‘conclusive proof that a genocide was taking place was provided to the Security Council in May and June, while it was happening.’ Over the last seven years Melvern has pieced together a wide range of sources: the reports of Belgian and French parliamentary enquiries, a leaked account of secret UN Security Council meetings, interviews with key political actors as well as documents held in Kigali. Her book is a masterly synthesis of this evidence.
What emerges from it is a chilling revelation of the political realities behind the ‘human rights’ rhetoric of the Western powers of the past decade. Long before 7 April—as early as 1992 in the case of Belgium—these were regimes that had been told of a coherent plan for the elimination not only of Tutsi but also of moderate Hutu opposed to Juvénal Habyarimana’s rule. The origins of this plan are to be found not so much in deep-seated ‘ethnic’ hatreds as in the manipulation of social tensions by fanatical chauvinists bent on retaining power at any cost. It was this regime that poured loans and grants provided by the World Bank and the IMF into the purchase of weapons and the training and organization of the Interahamwe militia, fuelling the killing machine instead of development projects. Thus ‘the international community, which passed laws fifty years ago with the specific mandate of ensuring that genocide was never again perpetrated, not only failed to prevent it happening in Rwanda but, by pumping in funds intended to help the Rwandan economy, actually helped to create the conditions that made it possible.’
Europeans first became involved in Rwanda in 1894, with the arrival of a German count at the court of King Rwabugiri. He found that Rwandan society was divided into three groups: the Tutsi, who were by and large cattle-herders and formed the upper strata of society (and provided the country’s rulers); the Hutu, mostly peasant farmers and by far the biggest group; and the Twa, hunter–gatherer pygmies who formed less than one per cent of the population. Tutsi and Hutu shared a common language, common religion and diet, but were—somewhat like the castes of India—divided by an intricate and draconian feudal order, which gave the Tutsi aristocracy seigneurial powers over Hutu cultivators reduced to virtual serfdom. German conquest did not alter this structure, and when Rwanda was transferred to Belgium by the victorious Entente in 1918, the new rulers reinforced it with a system of official ethnic classification, reliance on extant Tutsi hierarchies, and sweeping use of forced Hutu labour. Association of traditional oppressors with a foreign colonial power intensified the natural resentments of the Hutu underclass against their Tutsi superiors.
With the coming of modern politics in the late fifties, these tensions exploded. In November 1959 Hutu violence against Tutsi erupted, and Rwanda was placed under martial law. Reversing their historic policy, the Belgians now keeled over to favour the Hutu—encouraged by the local Catholic Church, whose priests were active in fostering Hutu aspirations. Around 150,000 Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries, and the elections held in 1960 resulted in a large Hutu majority government, which declared independence in 1962. In November 1963 a group of Tutsi monarchists invaded from Burundi, and the new president Grégoire Kayibanda reacted by ordering the execution of opposition leaders and then, with government radio warning that the ‘Tutsi were coming back to enslave the Hutu’, killings of Tutsi began. Melvern gives a clear-headed account of Rwanda’s history, on the understanding that, as her chapter title indicates, ‘The Past is Prologue’, and indeed, the killings of 1963 can be seen as a smaller-scale rehearsal of those of 1994. The key difference was that in 1963, Western public opinion was alarmed—comparisons to the Holocaust were made by, among others, Bertrand Russell.
Kayibanda ruled until 1973, in a one-party state with clerical blessing—Rwanda becoming a favourite African state of European Christian Democracy. Parmehutu, Kayibanda’s party, enjoyed the support of the Hutu majority, invigilating the Tutsi by the use of identity cards and quota systems. In southern Rwanda there had been a good deal of intermarriage between the groups, but Kayibanda’s brand of Hutu nationalism—valuing ‘purity’ above all else—was a product of the north of the country, which had not been part of the traditional Tutsi kingdom; it was conquered by the Germans only in 1912 and had a tradition of resistance to Tutsi dominance. The general who overthrew Kayibanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, was also from the north—as was the power clique that came to surround Habyarimana, the akazu, centred on his wife Agathe and her relatives.
After 1963, many Tutsi and Hutu opposed to Kayibanda and Habyarimana lived in exile in Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire. The Ugandan exiles, persecuted by Milton Obote, sided with Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army, which overthrew Obote in 1986. It was these Rwandans, trained and equipped in Uganda, who formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded the country in October 1990 in a bid to oust Habyarimana and install a government of national unity. Denouncing the RPF as a Tutsi army bent on slaughtering Hutu—echoes of 1963—the government in Kigali immediately orchestrated local massacres of Tutsi. Earlier that year Habyarimana had conceded to international pressure and allowed the formation of opposition parties so that, when the RPF invaded, Habyarimana appealed as the head of a ‘democratic state’ to France, Belgium and Zaire for troops and to Egypt and South Africa for weapons. A Structural Adjustment Programme for Rwanda was approved late in 1990, providing more funds which Habyarimana used to buy arms. Indeed, between 1990 and 1994 the Habyarimana regime obtained $83m worth of arms, purchases greatly facilitated by Egypt’s foreign minister at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
It is to the period immediately after the RPF invasion that Melvern traces the origins of plans for the 1994 genocide. Following the invasion, government officials were requested to draw up lists of opposition leaders and prominent Tutsi, lists which were regularly updated. In the three years of intermittent fighting which ensued, there are repeated instances of plans being made to target the Tutsi as a group, including a report prepared for Habyarimana in December 1991 which identified as ‘the enemy’ Tutsi ‘from inside or outside the country, who are extremists and nostalgic for power’. Behind these lay acute fear of military defeat: the superior field experience of the RPF was proving more than a match for much larger numbers of hastily recruited, ill-trained forces.
By 1992 neighbouring African states were sufficiently alarmed by the situation to pressure Habyarimana into peace talks with the RPF in Arusha, Tanzania, designed to bring the Rwandan government and the RPF to a negotiated solution. A peace agreement, stipulating power-sharing arrangements in the country, was eventually signed in January 1993, though—significantly—it was viewed with reserve by functionaries of the State Department. Inside Rwanda, the economy had not recovered from the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, engineered by Washington on behalf of the big US importers to lower the price of what was Rwanda’s main export earner. Under the Arusha Accords, 16,000 soldiers from the government army had to be demobilized, without provision for pensions or retraining, with few job opportunities. Those so threaten ed became a rich source of recruits for the Interahamwe—‘those who work together’—the militia that was to spearhead the planned massacres. During the negotiations at Arusha, Habyarimana was meanwhile purchasing vast quantities of arms—$12m worth between August 1992 and January 1993 alone. Melvern provides a detailed description of the process of stockpiling and distribution of weapons during 1993; the scale of involvement in the plan and the premeditated brutality is revealed by the number of machetes imported from China in 1993: in that year $4.6m was spent on agricultural equipment ‘by Rwandan companies not usually concerned with agricultural tools’. The flow of firearms, grenades and more primitive weapons into the country was, meanwhile, significantly eased by the IMF’s insistence on the loosening of restrictions on import licences, and even when the World Bank sent missions—five in all between 1991 and 1993—to monitor the progress of the SAP, the regime’s creative accounting was somehow missed.
One month before the Arusha Accords were signed a new radio station, Radio-Télévision Libre Mille Collines, began broadcasting. The President was the largest shareholder in the station, and its studios were connected to the generators in the Presidential Palace; broadcasts in Kinyarwanda ‘carried no factual reporting’ but instead filled the airwaves with crude slurs and anti-Tutsi propaganda, giving the names of people who ‘deserved to die’. Seeing the regime systematically and openly stockpiling the resources for mass murder, human rights activists, NGOs and aid agencies working in Rwanda issued warnings late in 1993 and in early 1994. In September 1993 Boutros-Ghali—now Secretary-General of the United Nations—urged the Security Council to dispatch a UN force to Rwanda, as required by the Arusha Accords; these had called for such a mission to provide security throughout the country, confiscate weapons caches, neutralize armed gangs and oversee repatriation of refugees. The US, represented by Madeleine Albright, blocked any notion of respecting the Accords, or Boutros-Ghali’s proposals, indeed even trying to reduce any UN presence to a mere symbolic 100 soldiers.
Eventually, after continuous American obstruction, aided and abetted by Britain and Russia, a UN Assistance Mission of 2,500 troops and a tiny budget, confined to Kigali and with a mandate to do no more than ‘monitor’ and ‘assist’ the implementation of the Arusha Accords, was set up, and in place by December 1993. UNAMIR was vastly under-equipped, half the size originally envisaged, short of basic supplies and crippled by a lack of information. When tensions began to escalate in the first three months of 1994, the Québecois commander of the mission, General Roméo Dallaire, repeatedly sent warnings to New York of the imminence of massacres and requested a stronger mandate. On January 11 he telegraphed detailed evidence of an impending slaughter. In the UN Headquarters, the official responsible for handling all peacekeeping missions was Under-Secretary Kofi Annan, long preferred by Washington to his Egyptian superior. Annan cabled back forbidding any ‘response to requests for protection’ without authorization from New York, and suppressed transmission of Dallaire’s warning to Boutros-Ghali. The US knew better than the Secretary-General: a CIA report from January 1994 forecast the collapse of the Arusha Accords and 500,000 deaths as a consequence.
On the night of 6 April 1994 a plane carrying President Habyarimana and President Ntaryamira of Burundi into Kigali was shot down by two ground-to-air missiles. Mystery still surrounds the circumstances of this strike. One possibility is that Hutu military conspirators discontented with the concessions Habyarimana had made—with little intention of keeping—at Arusha, decided to kill two birds with one stone, by removing him in a spectacular action that could be used as the pretext for a pogrom against the Tutsi. At all events, within half an hour of the dispatch of the missiles, Radio Mille Collines was broadcasting the news and roadblocks manned by armed gangs were in place across the city. The massacres began the following day, unfolding steadily, as if by some tidal mechanism, from Ntarama to the south of Kigali to Cyangugu near the Congolese border and in the northeastern town of Gisenyi, as weapons prev iously distributed by the government were picked up and put to murderous use across Rwanda.
The United States immediately closed its embassy and evacuated all its civilians. Two days later, France sent a military force to secure Kigali airport, closed down its embassy—destroying large amounts of confidential papers—and evacuated its clients and nationals. On April 12, Belgium decided to withdraw its contingent from UNAMIR, depriving the mission of its best-trained and equipped troops. On April 18 Annan started to argue that UNAMIR should be withdrawn altogether. His deputy spoke of ‘chaotic, ethnic random killing’. For those on the ground, however, it was clear that this was no spontaneous upsurge of popular rage, but a carefully planned series of operations. There was no lack of order and authority in Kigali. What was absent was any attempt to stop the genocide by the interested Western powers. The Rwandan ambassador to the UN—who in January had taken up a non-permanent seat on the Security Council—was able to report back to the exterminist junta now in charge that there was no support for UNAMIR in the Security Council: it could press on with its ‘pacification’ measures.
On seeing the slaughter spread, the RPF had taken the offensive from its base in Mulindi on April 9. Marching south and westwards across Rwanda, it had reached Kigali by July 1. Seeing their advance, France dispatched 2,500 heavily armed troops to the south of the front, ostensibly to create a ‘safe zone’ in order to prevent further killings. Critics of Operation Turquoise pointed out that this coincidentally provided a secure retreat for the perpetrators of the genocide—forces funded, trained and equipped by France. The relief felt by Hutu Power extremists can only have been matched by the RPF’s disbelief at French claims to neutrality—and at the rapid deployment of such well-equipped troops only a few weeks after none had been available to reinforce UNAMIR. The RPF’s entry into Kigali intensified further a refugee crisis of staggering proportions, as Hutus implicated in the massacres or intimidated by the propaganda of the perpetrators fled the country. Between 14 and 16 July a million people crossed into Zaire at Goma alone; by this time there were another 500,000 refugees in Tanzania and 200,000 in Burundi. Now the humanitarian response was massive and almost instantaneous—4,000 US troops and hundreds of aid workers arrived in Goma within 3 days. But the $1m per day spent on assisting Hutu who had fled with the Interahamwe were of no use to the 1.7 million people displaced within Rwanda itself. The survivors of the genocide went almost unnoticed, the West ignoring the needs of a country where 60 per cent of the population were now ‘either dead or displaced.’
Melvern describes with terrible vividness and detail how the Western powers abandoned Rwanda to its demons. But one of the great merits of her book is to highlight the courageous exceptions: Roméo Dallaire, who stayed to the end with a handful of volunteers; Philippe Gaillard, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Rwanda and Jean-Hervé Bradol of Médécins Sans Frontières, who tried to save as many lives as they could. The bravery of these few does nothing to mitigate the force of her conclusion: ‘anger and bitterness against the UN will last for decades . . . There is nothing the West can say now to the people of Rwanda to compensate for the failure to intervene in their hour of need.’
The lasting value of Melvern’s work lies in her unrelenting focus on the networks of complicity behind the genocide and her refusal to treat the horrifying statistics as an incomprehensible anomaly or aberration. In her analysis, the killings were the product both of an exterminist dynamic within Rwanda and of the deliberate, criminal apathy of the great powers. Melvern’s account makes it crystal clear where the primary responsibility here lies. If Belgium was the colonial power that systematically nurtured ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi, and France the neo-colonial patron that supported and armed the brutal regimes of Kayibanda and Habyarimana, it was the United States that gave the green light for genocide, by blocking at every turn any attempt in the UN to avert or to halt it. Melvern rightly concludes that the Rwandan genocide was ‘the defining scandal of the Clinton Presidency’. The American regime that claimed to be setting new historical standards in championing human rights round the world coldly presided over the worst atrocity of the past twenty years, going out of its way to suppress all efforts to call the crime by its name while it was in train.
Why was it so determined to draw a veil over the massacres in Rwanda? The answer is not hard to seek. At the time they occurred, the Clinton administration—having torpedoed the Lisbon Agreement to wind down ethnic conflict in Bosnia—was bent on forcing open the path in the Balkans that would eventually lead to the Fontainebleau ultimatum and the bombing of Yugoslavia. With the Western media in full cry behind it, the US was determined to focus international attention on Serb attacks in Bosnia, freely described by its spokesmen and sympathizers as ‘genocide’. In this setting, nothing could be allowed to distract world opinion from the drama around Sarajevo. The disproportion in scale between the two processes was so enormous that the truth of the one was inevitably a threat to the myth of the other. The real genocide in Africa had to be concealed to keep up the pretence of a fictive genocide in Europe, where the killings never approached the destruction of a people. Endlessly invoking the duty never to permit another Holocaust to justify its intervention in the Balkans, the Clinton regime colluded with the first post-war extermination to be genuinely comparable with the Holocaust. When Senators Jeffords and Simon wrote to Clinton in May 1994, pleading with him to authorize UN action to help stop the slaughter in Rwanda, he did not even bother to reply to them. Albright, his filibusterer in the Security Council, went on to head the State Department and lead the ideological front in the Balkan War of 1999. Annan, an appropriate successor to Waldheim, was rewarded with the fitting promotion. Unable to recommend a UN rescue mission in Rwanda, where there was a legal basis for it, he had no difficulty covering the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, plainly illegal by the UN Charter.
It is little surprise that Melvern’s fine book, carefully researched, lucidly written, moderately expressed, should nevertheless have been completely ignored by the press of the country in which it has been published. She herself writes of the Rwandan genocide that ‘only by revealing the failures, both individual and organizational, that permitted it, can any good emerge from something so bleak and so terrible. Only by exposing how and why it happened can there ever be any hope that the new century will break with the dismal record of the last.’ So far there is little sign of that. For if her book is a singularly courageous interrogation of the past, it also has a tragic contemporary resonance: the scars and the consequences of the genocide are still there, metastases of a cancer of hatred and violence that is still spreading through Central Africa.
Linda Melvern believes that the Rwandan tragedy represents the unravelling of the new international order built on the defeat of Nazism. The Convention on Genocide was, she points out, the world’s first human rights treaty and if the UN was founded with one aim, it was to prevent things like this.
Melvern is clearly critical of America’s unwillingness to enter into any overseas commitments and disapprovingly quotes Colin Powell’s attitude towards a UN standing army: “As long as I am chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, I will not agree to commit American men and women to an unknown war, in an unknown land, for an unknown cause, under an unknown commander, for an unknown duration.” America, of course, will not even commit ground troops under its own command if it can avoid it. That’s the lesson of Kosovo.
Laying the blame: the scandal of Rwanda and the west
RW Johnson unravels the web of culpability behind the failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda in this exclusive online essay from the London Review of Books.
A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide by Linda Melvern.
Jean de Dieu, 11, was curled up, a ball of flesh and blood, the look in his eyes was a glance from nowhere . . . without vision; Marie-Ange, aged nine, was propped up against a tree trunk . . . her legs apart, and she was covered in excrement, sperm and blood . . . in her mouth was a penis, cut with a machete, that of her father . . . nearby in a ditch with stinking water were four bodies, cut up, piled up, their parents and older brothers.
Sights like this – recorded by an observer with Medecins sans Frontieres – were common in Rwanda in April and May 1994, when Hutu extremists butchered up to a million people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates who were seen as ‘sell-outs’. The small United Nations force under Major-General Romeo Dallaire and the gallant contingent of the International Committee of the Red Cross under Philippe Gaillard had to confront them over and over again. This was one of the few real genocides of modern times. Apart from the Armenian massacres and the Holocaust, Pol Pot killed around two million people in Cambodia and the German administration of South West Africa killed 90% of the Herero people in the early years of the last century. Part of the horror of Rwanda is that we think of genocide as belonging to an age we had left behind.
Gaillard, a medieval scholar, said that the apocalypse in Rwanda was prefigured in the works of Breughel and in the cast of characters consigned to the Inferno in The Divine Comedy. Each night at supper he would read to his Red Cross workers from Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer, hoping that the poem would have the calming effect of prayer. Rimbaud was a friend sitting with them, he insisted. Though she resists the temptation to mount a soapbox in this excellent and tersely written book – which was turned down by 20 British publishers and, until now, has not received a review in the UK – Linda Melvern believes that the Rwandan tragedy represents the unravelling of the new international order built on the defeat of Nazism. The Convention on Genocide was, she points out, the world’s first human rights treaty and if the UN was founded with one aim, it was to prevent things like this.
Melvern is indignant that the conflict between Tutsi and Hutu is so often seen as tribal. The two groups share the same language and cosmology and have no distinct areas of residence. The Tutsi minority – Hutus make up at least 80 per cent of the population of Rwanda and Burundi – were simply the traditional ruling caste, historically controlling the monarchy, the army and the administration. But rather as in Northern Ireland, these differences of caste have gradually assumed tribal importance to the extent that the protagonists believe they can recognise one another on sight – Tutsis are taller and thinner – and because there is a historical accumulation of resentments against the entire group. Tutsi simply means ‘rich in cattle’, while Hutu means ‘servant’, and Hutu resentments are typically those of any underclass: an anger against past social injustices, a partly justified belief that all Tutsis condescend to them and prevailed on their Belgian colonial masters to do the same, and a neurotic anxiety that perhaps they are, indeed, inferior.
Once Rwanda and Burundi became independent democratic states in 1962, the fact that the Hutus had a natural majority meant that Tutsi dominance could hardly continue. The Tutsis remained in control in Burundi and the result was an attempted Hutu coup in 1972 in the course of which 200,000 Hutus were massacred – the Tutsis carefully targeted educated people, who might threaten their position in the future. Neither the UN nor the Organisation of African Unity had anything to say. In Rwanda, Hutu dominance produced repeated Tutsi attempts to reverse the status quo, often with outside help; in each case – in 1962, 1963, 1967, 1990 and 1993 – this resulted in reprisals against Tutsis. The 1994 genocide was simply a repetition of that pattern on a far greater scale, Hutu extremists having decided to do away with the ‘Inyenzi’ (the Tutsi ‘cockroaches’) once and for all. As Melvern shows, the 1994 genocide was planned in detail. Elaborate lists were drawn up of those to be massacred; half a million machetes and huge numbers of axes, hammers and razors as well as guns were purchased in advance and stockpiled – the costs were met by cunningly diverted aid funds. Belgium and France, both countries with expert knowledge of Rwanda, were aware of what was coming; the Belgians issued horrified warnings. As early as the spring of 1992 the Belgian Ambassador, Johan Swinnen, told Brussels that the extremist Hutu clan, the Akazu, was “planning the extermination of the Tutsi of Rwanda to resolve once and for all . . . the ethnic problem and to crush the internal Hutu opposition”. One of the organisers of the genocide, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, boasted that he was preparing “apocalypse deux”.
The behaviour of the French was worse than that of the Belgians. Eager to become the pivotal power in the Great Lakes region, they aided and abetted the massacres at every turn. The Akazu death squads had received military training from the French; Hutu extremists were always assured of a warm welcome in Paris and the flow of French arms to the Hutus continued throughout the genocide. Whenever the Tutsis regrouped sufficiently to threaten Hutu power, France mounted a discreet military intervention to save its friends. The French troops who arrived towards the end of the 1994 massacres were thoroughly confused by the reality of the million Tutsi dead: they had been told they were coming in to prevent a massacre of Hutus by the Tutsi minority.
Burundi’s first Hutu president was assassinated in October 1993, on the day before General Dallaire, the Canadian head of the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMIR), arrived in Rwanda. His death triggered up to 50,000 deaths in Burundi in reprisal and convinced Hutu extremists in Rwanda of the need to act. From this time on “genocide hung in the air,” as one observer put it. Finally, on 5 April 1994, both the new president of Burundi and the president of Rwanda were assassinated when the latter’s plane was destroyed by two ground-to-air missiles as it approached Kigali airport. In the ensuing political vacuum no one was quite sure of who was giving the orders – precisely the cover the murderous Interahamwe movement needed.
The scenes Melvern goes on to describe – the mass slaughter by machete, the lopping off of limbs before the final death-thrust, the prodigious killings in churches of those who had fled there for refuge, the mothers forced to bury their children alive – are terrible. Ironically, there were never more than 15 reporters in Rwanda to witness these atrocities – though no fewer than 2500 were celebrating the birth of South Africa’s new democracy a little further south. Melvern believes that the west is deeply culpable. When the Czech Ambassador to the UN Security Council likened what was happening to the Holocaust, he was taken aside by British and American diplomats and told that on no account was he to use such inflammatory language again: it was “not helpful”. As the reports of carnage began to trickle through, the Republican leader Bob Dole was interviewed on CBS. “I don’t think we have any national interest here,” he said. “I hope we don’t get involved . . . The Americans are out. As far as I’m concerned in Rwanda, that ought to be the end of it.”
Melvern sees Rwanda as “the defining scandal of the Clinton presidency”. She describes with contempt Clinton’s playing to the humanitarian gallery as the Hutu death-squads piled into refugee camps in Zaire. Suddenly there was endless American sympathy for the refugees and, once the million dead had been disposed of, Clinton even had some empty rhetoric to offer. “The international community . . . must bear its share of responsibility . . . We did not act quickly enough after the killing began . . . We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name, genocide. Never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence.”
We have got used to the spectacle of Clintonite politicians around the world making rhetorical flourishes as they apologise for slavery or what was done to the Maoris, American Indians or Aborigines. It is the politics of remote catharsis: you appropriate the moral high ground by showing an apparent humility and contrition about sins which were not yours, about events safely concluded before you were born. The extraordinary thing about Clinton’s apology for Rwanda was that the genocide really had happened on his watch. But the apology cost him nothing. Rwanda was far away, obscure, it was only Africa: nobody really blamed him and he knew it. Melvern is determined that he should not get off the hook: she shows convincingly that he and his advisers knew precisely what was happening, and decided to affect ignorance and shut down the channels of communication until it was over. Clinton had been traumatised by the fate of the US mission sent to Somalia in 1992. The American force was then placed under UN command – a fact celebrated by Madeleine Albright as “an unprecedented enterprise aimed at nothing less than the restoration of an entire country”. The result was that 18 US Rangers were killed, their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu; more were trapped and wounded, saved only by Malaysian and Turkish troops driving Pakistani tanks. It was an unspeakable humiliation. Clinton withdrew his troops on the spot. After that, the last thing in the world he wanted to hear about was an African crisis requiring American ground troops.
More reprehensible by far than anything Clinton did or didn’t do in Rwanda was what Mitterrand did. It is no surprise that his son, Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, who ran the Elysee’s Africa policy, has now been accused of taking his cut as he kept arms flowing into Rwanda. But the ways of Mitterrand pere et fils were nothing new. France’s African policy has always been run by a cabal operating out of a back door of the Elysee – this was how Jacques Foccart ran it under de Gaulle and Pompidou, orchestrating coups and mercenary interventions at will. Giscard dispensed with Foccart, but was equally underhand. He continued the pattern of military intervention; Africa was his true domaine reserve, where he went shooting lions and elephants, even ending up with diamonds from Bokassa.
France has realised – and instrumentalised – the key fact about modern Africa, which is that the nationalist elites have failed to build modern states, and mainly aspire to get money offshore and bring up their children in Paris, Geneva or New York. In the world of the dissolving African state, an arms shipment here or there, two hundred well-trained mercenaries or a million dollars for this or that politician can tip the balance in territories rich in gold, diamonds, oil or uranium. It’s absurdly cheap.
Everyone knows that Gaullist Presidential campaigns over the last thirty years have benefited greatly from donations from Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire and the two Congo states (Kinshasa and Brazzaville). It will doubtless be the same in 2002 – which is why Chirac receives Robert Mugabe in such splendour at the Elysee, conscious that Zimbabwe’s 14,000 troops in the Congo make him a key player in such marchandise. Not that France has a monopoly on playing Machiavelli in Africa: Herman Cohen, Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for Africa, who was so busy in Rwanda in 1994, today has a multi-million contract to tart up the image of Mugabe. Cohen has also had contracts to promote Zaire’s Mobutu, Gabon’s Omar Bongo (whose government the state department reports is guilty of a routine use of torture), and Liberia’s Charles Taylor – an adept in the use of child soldiers and the lopping off of hands, legs, ears and lips.
But – and this is where I part company from Melvern – the reason toxic outsiders can so easily play ducks and drakes with African lives is to do with Africa’s elite. And despite Melvern’s attempt to lay the blame on the west, Rwanda was a made-in-Africa tragedy, not just in the obvious sense that the genocide was planned and carried out by Africans, but because neither the Organisation of African Unity nor individual African heads of state lifted a finger to stop it. Worse, they didn’t even publicly condemn it, just as the OAU said not a word in criticism of the atrocities of Bokassa and Idi Amin – and remains silent now about the actions of Mugabe. Significantly, this same African elite has become increasingly prominent in international institutions of every kind, starting with the UN. If you think about it, this is inevitable: it’s a question of numbers. The UN today has 189 members. The OAU has 50. If you want to get elected as the head of any international organisation you need 95 votes minimum. You look around – get Africa and you’re over halfway there. It’s a nonsense, a travesty: India and China each have higher populations than Africa, but they have only one vote each and Africa has 50.
If, for example, you’re Sepp Blatter bidding to be head of Fifa, you say: the World Cup finals must be played in Africa. Forget the fact that soccer stadium disasters occur with sickening regularity in Africa, that most African teams won’t qualify for the finals, that the crowds can’t afford the tickets, that they don’t have the infrastructure, and so on. Because of extreme balkanisation, the one thing Africa does have is the votes. The same anomaly applies if you want to be head of anything from the International Olympic Committee to the World Health Organisation. You have to court the African elite and then, when you can’t deliver the World Cup or the Olympics or whatever it is to the continent, you register your profound disappointment. The rest of the world is to blame, especially the west.
This is precisely what happened with the UN and Rwanda. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egypt’s foreign minister, was elected UN secretary-general in November 1991 largely because he had campaigned throughout Africa for the post and been able to make shrewd use of the ‘special fund for co-operation with Africa’ he had introduced during his time at the foreign ministry in Cairo. In addition he had studied in Paris and was a close friend of Mitterrand, who saw him as ‘his’ Secretary-General. Boutros-Ghali made much of being the first African to head the UN (“Africa is the mother of us all, and Egypt is the eldest daughter of Africa. This is why I have loved Africa and tried so hard throughout my life to help her”). It’s true that he lobbied hard for a UN force to be sent to Rwanda. Even so, he was the worst possible person to be in charge of the crisis. He was 71 in 1994, concerned largely with his own ego, had a confrontational manner and unhealthy links to the Hutu extremists. He had single-handedly reversed Egypt’s traditional ban on selling weapons to Rwanda and was responsible for providing the Hutus with a good deal of the weaponry later used in the genocide. Moreover, he knew what he was doing: he had been visiting Rwanda since 1983 and was perfectly aware that he was supplying matches for the powder keg. Boutros-Ghali then chose for the key post of the secretary general’s special representative Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, another francophone African and a personal crony. No doubt this was cleared with Mitterrand. Booh-Booh was a former Camerounian foreign minister, openly pro-Hutu, and tried energetically to get the most extreme Hutu party into the Government. Long after the danger of genocide had become clear, Booh-Booh continued to put an optimistic gloss on developments. The effect was to provide cover as the preparations for extermination went ahead.
Yet a third African occupied a key position: Kofi Annan, under-secretary-general and head of the UN department of peacekeeping operations. When Dallaire cabled Annan to tell him that secret weapons dumps were being set up, Annan quickly forbade any reconnaissance or arms inspection by UNAMIR. If the Hutu killers had wanted allies at the top of the UN to help them organise their genocide in optimal conditions, they could hardly have done better than Boutros-Ghali, Booh-Booh and Annan. To top it all, from January 1994 the killers had their own representative sitting as a non-permanent member on the security council, giving them advance warning of UN intentions.
With the massacre just hours away – and despite clear warnings of what was coming – Boutros-Ghali presented an optimistic report to the council, stating that all parties ‘remain committed to the peace process’. Afterwards, when a million deaths had proved him wrong, Boutros-Ghali excused himself by saying that he’d been travelling a lot and had not actually been in touch with the Rwandan situation for quite a time. Given that he was the organisation’s chief executive, this amounted to an admission that he had not been doing his job. When the tidal wave of killing began, he had refused to break off from his European tour to deal with the situation and didn’t allow any change in UNAMIR’s role on the grounds that he wasn’t sure what was going on.
What Boutros-Ghali really liked was being the guest of honour at diplomatic receptions, whence his incessant travels. When criticised for these lengthy absences, he would insist he could deal with crises by phone and fax, but when asked for decisions he would either claim he needed more information or make clearly inappropriate suggestions, such as that UNAMIR might respond to the killing by quitting Rwanda altogether. His officials had already found his prolonged absences a fatal handicap in dealing with the Bosnian crisis, but his steady refusal to alter his three-week progress from one reception to another while the murder of the Tutsis proceeded – and while UNAMIR, for which he was responsible, took serious casualties – was an act of criminal self-indulgence. As the casualties mounted and the Nigerian ambassador to the UN asked in desperation if “Africa had fallen off the map of moral concern”, Boutros-Ghali did not even get back to attend key security council meetings. Moreover, UNAMIR was under-equipped, under-trained and under-manned, with no intelligence function. Boutros-Ghali also continued to produce late and misleading reports to the Council which were so far from depicting the reality of the situation as to be a disgrace of staggering proportions.
Kofi Annan was not much better. On receiving Dallaire’s cable of 11 January, which – three months in advance – gave clear warning of the horror to come, Annan simply failed to pass it on either to the security council or to Boutros-Ghali. There was no reason or excuse: he simply didn’t do his job and was rightly censured in a later UN report. The result was that for the first month of the slaughter, the Security Council never once discussed Rwanda at length.
Eventually, realising the enormity of what had happened, Boutros-Ghali scurried back from his tour of Europe and tried to lay the blame on the US and the security council, producing some bitter exchanges with Madeleine Albright, who made no secret of her contempt for him. The Bush administration’s delegation had abstained on his election as secretary-general and Clinton now determined to veto his attempt to win a further term. Naturally, this was presented as evidence of further bad American behaviour towards Africa and Paris quickly made him the head of its association of French-speaking states – la Francophonie. Inevitably, he now heads Unesco’s special panel on democracy-building.
Melvern is clearly critical of America’s unwillingness to enter into any overseas commitments and disapprovingly quotes Colin Powell’s attitude towards a UN standing army: “As long as I am chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, I will not agree to commit American men and women to an unknown war, in an unknown land, for an unknown cause, under an unknown commander, for an unknown duration.” America, of course, will not even commit ground troops under its own command if it can avoid it. That’s the lesson of Kosovo. On the issue of a UN command, however, its position is more understandable. Would any mother aware of what she was doing willingly entrust her son’s life to the sort of mismanagement which seems endemic in the UN? Although Britain and America have been tight-lipped about their reasons for ignoring the UN and relying increasingly on Nato in their dealings with Iraq or Kosovo, or for Britain’s refusal to put its troops in Sierra Leone under UN control, it is clear that Anglo-America, at least, has lost all confidence in the UN – and with reason. What does one make of an organisation which has rewarded Kofi Annan for his inglorious role in Rwanda by appointing him secretary-general? Or – whatever you think of George Bush Jr – which votes the US off its human rights commission and puts Sudan on it, despite the fact that the government in Khartoum has killed two million of its own citizens, is suspected of sponsoring terrorists and tolerates slavery? The UN is only a failure to the degree that the US is unwilling to make it a success. Meanwhile, it has begun to resemble a ramshackle third world state itself: corrupt, ineffectual, eternally in debt.
California Committee South Former Prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
There is enough shame to cover the world map, and Melvern documents it all, including behind-closed-doors meetings of the Security Council whose permanent members characterized the conflict as a civil war so they could rationalize not taking action to stop the genocide. It should be absolutely required reading for anyone who has anything to do with foreign policy or international institutions.
The Rwandan genocide, coming in the last decade of the twentieth century, will remain forever as a permanent, bloody stain on the record of the so-called New World Order. With all the glorious rhetoric of the post- World War II conventions, treaties, and humanitarian resolutions; with the end of the Cold War and the promise of an international community built on the rule of law and collective security; with the United Nations’ ambitious new goals of nation building and peacemaking; the close of the twentieth century was supposed to be marked by the civilized evolution of the world community and the gradual eradication of the endless, regional bloodletting throughout the globe. But instead, when it came time to summon the mettle to confront and prevent the undeniable ethnic slaughter of innocents in Rwanda, the international community, in particular the Western governments faltered and mocked the mandate, “Never Again.”
The failure is even more shameful in that, by most accounts, a relatively small increase in the peacekeeping force in Rwanda, combined with a minimal show of resolve by the Security Council would have prevented the killing from reaching genocidal proportions.
Linda Melvern’s book, A People Betrayed, The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide, lays bare the political intrigue, complacency, ineptitude, negligence, and downright malevolence which led to this preventable tragedy. Her work presents a riveting, comprehensive overview of the historical prelude to the genocide, the pre-genocidal political machinations, the contemporaneous bureaucratic bungling which allowed the genocidal killing to take root and move to the southern part of Rwanda, and the general international malaise which allowed a racist regime to carry out a well-planned genocidal campaign under the very noses of the most powerful nations on earth.
There is enough shame to cover the world map, and Melvern documents it all, including behind-closed-doors meetings of the Security Council whose permanent members characterized the conflict as a civil war so they could rationalize not taking action to stop the genocide. Melvern describes a United States so paralyzed with its recent experience in Somalia that its representatives steadfastly refused to expand the mandate of the peacekeeping force, urged its withdrawal, and when confronted with indisputable evidence of the genocide, resisted even using the term to describe what was happening.
Melvern goes so far as to suggest that the Rwandan genocide should be “the defining scandal of the presidency of Bill Clinton.” She quotes a deputy secretary of defense, James Woods, as saying, “I think it was sort of a formal spectacle of the U.S. in disarray and retreat, leading the international community away from doing the right thing and I think that everybody was perfectly happy to follow our lead – in retreat.”
While the United States’ complicity is based on its inaction, Melvern makes a good case for holding the French responsible for their actual assistance to the racist Hutu extremists. The French helped arm the Hutu regime, trained the militia, which actually carried out much of the bloodiest cleansing, and assisted with the training of the Presidential Guard, which was instrumental in the organized implementation of the genocide. Obsessed with the ever-present fear that French culture was under attack by English-speaking elements in Africa, the French government turned a blind eye to the precursors to the genocide and possibly to the ongoing genocide, itself. France even helped evacuate some of the Hutu extremists once the genocide began. Melvern notes that some believe that the original intent of the eventual French intervention, “Operation Turquoise,” was an effort to divide Rwanda into two regions, like Cyprus, thus preserving an alliance with the Hutu extremists, whose French was so fluent.
Even then-U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali does not escape the revealing glare of Melvern’s moral searchlight. First, Melvern describes Boutros-Ghali’s early role in securing the sale of arms from Egypt to the Rwandan Hutu regime. This occurred before Boutros-Ghali became Secretary-General of the United Nations, but provides an ironic backdrop for Boutros-Ghali’s failure to get the Security Council to act once the massacres began.
Melvern details all of the wrangling within the U.N. hallways. One cannot help but come away with the impression of a Secretary- General, who at first was too disinterested as he toured Europe while the Rwandan genocide began, and then later, too inept to swing the mammoth bureaucracy of the Security Council and U.N. into desperately needed action.
There are other aspects to this extraordinary book that must be noted. It is concise and easily read, but Melvern does such an excellent job of explaining all of the interlocking intrigues that the reader comes away with a depth of knowledge and a greatly enhanced understanding of what actually happened. She documents her work in the careful tradition of a credible scholar, yet interlaces her narrative with compelling anecdotes so that the reader never loses sight of the terrible human dimension of the horrific killing spree.
Critics have described this book as brave, compelling, powerful, overwhelming, exceptional, and important. It has all of these attributes. It should be absolutely required reading for anyone who has anything to do with foreign policy or international institutions. If taken seriously, this book should generate a ripple effect for reform. It could also provide an instant jolt of fortitude for decision makers worldwide. Perhaps the next time the killing starts, and there will undoubtedly be a next time, we will be able to live up to the humanitarian ideals we so easily espouse, but so rarely employ.
California Committee South Former Prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Institute for Security Studies.
…her book is the most detail to have appeared… on events leading up to and including the genocide. This is an extremely uncomfortable book, particularly for those who believe in the UN system… Melvern writes with dispassion and restraint, but her anger is clear.
Much has been written about what happened in Rwanda in 1994 African Security Review
Up to one million people were killed in an orchestrated campaign that exceeds the Jewish holocaust in its speed, brutality and extent. Linda Melvern, an investigative journalist and writer, has written extensively about the genocide in Rwanda since 1996. Her research spans some six years and her book is perhaps the most detailed to have appeared in the public domain on events leading up and including the genocide in Rwanda.
Melvern starts her narrative by recounting events in Kigali during April 1994 at a time when the Belgian forces, the backbone of the small peace mission in Rwanda, were about to be withdrawn. Despite overwhelming evidence that a genocide was in progress, the international community was about to turn its back finally on the people of Rwanda. Ten Belgian peacekeepers had been killed and against logic, humanity and in contravention of international law, the UN Security Council, led in this decision by France, the United States and Britain, pulled the plug on the mission. Melvern is scathing about the international community. “What happened in Rwanda showed that, despite the creation of an organisation set up to prevent a repetition of genocide – for the UN is central to this task – it failed to do so, even when the evidence was indisputable. The combination of revelations about the scale and intensity of the genocide, the complicity of western nations, the failure to intervene, and the suppression of information about what was actually happening, is a shocking indictment, not only of the UN Security Council, but even more so of governments and individuals who could have prevented what was happening, but chose not to do so. It is a terrible story, made worse because its true nature has been deliberately distorted and confused” (pp 5-6).
There is little doubt that the Rwandan genocide could have been prevented or, at least, that the extent of mass murder could have been contained had the Security Council reinforced rather than depleted the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNAMIR). Unfortunately for the Tutsi people of Rwanda, the genocide commenced in the aftermath of the US peacekeeping disaster in Somalia that saw 18 Rangers killed in an abortive mission to apprehend a Somali warlord. The newly appointed Clinton administration recoiled in confusion, their well-meaning intent to resolve international crises through the UN system in defence of international norms suffering a near fatal setback. Elsewhere, the impending elections in South Africa drew attention away from the heart of the continent, while the UN system was overwhelmed by large missions elsewhere, those in Cambodia and Bosnia, in particular. Melvern recounts how UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, absent from New York throughout the Rwandan crisis and ever docile in providing leadership that would upset his main sponsor, France, did so little to the extent that the Security Council could subsequently defend its own inaction on the basis of a lack of options and information.
Several chapters in Melvern’s book retraces the policies of the colonial power, first Germany, but more importantly, Belgium, and the practise of the Rwandan people, that made the 1994 genocide the worst, but not the only, in a series of campaigns of mass murder that started in 1959. For Melvern the root of competition between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority is to be found in the colonial policies of Belgium that classified every Rwandan as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa since 1933. The northern Hutu in Rwanda had remained independent until 1910-12 when they were militarily defeated by Germany and Tutsi-led southern Rwandan troops. No wonder that “[i]t was in the north that Hutu Power, the racist anti-Tutsi ideology underpinning the genocide, was conceived” (p 13). Belgium systematically favoured the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority, a practice reversed in December 1959 following extensive mass violence and leading to an exodus of some 135 000, mostly Tutsi, refugees.
Rwanda became independent on 1 July 1962 with the UN already convinced that the prospects for peace were bleak without national reconciliation. Within 18 months, the Tutsis who fled the first campaigns of mayhem and murder invaded Rwanda from Uganda, were defeated, and the second organised slaughter of Tutsi followed. Events in neighbouring Burundi also impacted on Rwanda, not least because the two neighbours shared a similar population composition. When an attempted coup against the Tutsi minority government in Burundi failed in 1972, the slaughter of some 200 000 Hutus followed – an event that Melvern tends to underplay. A similar number, mostly Hutus, fled into Rwanda.
In the years leading up to the 1994 genocide, France replaced Belgium as the foremost ally of Rwanda, supplying military training, equipment and diplomatic and political support despite the Hutu military government and one-party system in control of the country since 1973. Tutsis played a crucial role in the military victory of Yoweri Museveni in Uganda during 1986 and it was from here that Paul Kagame would eventually launch his guerrilla campaign against General Juvénal Habyarimana, president of Rwanda. In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded that country from the north, but were defeated, serving only to fuel Hutu hatred of the Tutsi scourge.
Events would now gather pace, the author recounts, with Rwanda becoming the third largest arms importer in Africa by 1994, with significant military support, training and equipment from France. International pressure, in the meanwhile, had forced the start of negotiations in Arusha between the government of Habyarimana and the RPF in mid-1992. A peace deal, contained in the Arusha accords, was signed after 13 months, with the active engagement and support of the Organisation of African Unity. It did not manage to stop the ongoing killings. Nor did it prevent a second RPF invasion in February 1993 in clear breach of the accords. Habyarimana’s forces halted the invasion, but the die was cast. “From now on all Tutsis inside the country were labelled RPF accomplices and Hutu members of the opposition were branded traitors” (p 58). Habyarimana’s Hutu government started to create a civilian self-defence network, the Interahamwe.
What followed has been reported widely. Lists of all Tutsis were compiled, and in one purchase alone, one machete was bought for every third adult Hutu male. A local radio station was set up, Radio-télévision libre des mille collines (RTLMC), broadcasting mainly in Kinyarwanda. The purpose of the station was to serve as command and control network for the Interahamwe and the military. The UN dispatched a token peacekeeping mission, the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), under command of a Canadian officer, Major-General Roméo Dallaire – a man who was subsequently discharged from the military as a result of the trauma he was about to experience. The mission of UNAMIR was to monitor the security of Kigali, and the cease-fire, and to help with the formation of a new, integrated army.
The day before Dallaire arrived in Kigali, the first ever elected Hutu president in neighbouring Burundi was put to death by officers in the Tutsi-dominated army. Some 40 000 people were killed in the subsequent violence. The knock-on effect in Rwanda was instantaneous with 300 000 refugees fleeing Burundi in its aftermath. On 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was either shot down or bombed above Kigali airport. The wreckage had hardly fallen onto the presidential palace when the killings began. Dallaire sent his first detailed report of the organised slaughter to New York two days later. The reaction of the Security Council was first to do nothing, presenting the events as an uncontrolled civil war instead of a systematic campaign, and then to reduce UNAMIR as the RPF raced towards Kigali.
Melvern devotes a large portion of the book to details of the massacres that occurred during the period, the heroism of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the attempts to awaken the world to the catastrophe. By 21 April it was too late. The genocide had spread across the entire country and the Security Council voted to start evacuating UNAMIR. Perhaps only Ghana would emerge from Rwanda with honour, retaining more troops in Rwanda than the 270-strong residual force that the Security Council had authorised. It was to be slightly more than three weeks before the Council would confront events in Rwanda, finally authorising 5 500 troops for UNAMIR in a resolution intended to signify action while at the same time doing nothing. The US, and therefore Britain, insisted that troops would be deployed once the killing stopped – a self-defeating condition. Various African states offered troops, but had no airlift. All wanted the UN to underwrite the costs. Nothing happened. Eventually, France would launch Operation Turquoise on 23 June, crossing from the then Zaïre into Rwanda, largely to establish a safe haven in the remaining areas still controlled by the retreating Hutus. According to Melvern, “[t]he immediate effect of the French humanitarian zone was to provide a secure retreat for the Rwandan government army and the perpetrators of genocide” (p 214).
On 14 July, the Rwandan exodus began. In two days, about a million people crossed into Zaïre, fleeing the advancing RFP. “Sixty per cent of the [sic] Rwanda’s population was now either dead or displaced” (p 218). The flight of the Hutus into Zaïre, into camps at Goma and Bukava, remains the fastest and largest exodus of people ever recorded. To Melvern, the supreme irony was now to follow: “[t]he American administration decided on a major response costing US $300-400 million, with up to 4 000 military to reinforce hundreds of US civilians. It took just three days, once the orders had been issued by the White House to the Pentagon, for the first American troops to be on the ground” (p 219).
The final chapter in Melvern’s book carries the title ‘The Genocide Convention’. She starts by stating: “The failure of the international community to act while one million people in Rwanda were slaughtered was one of the greatest scandals of the twentieth century. But there was nothing secret about it” (p 227).
This is an extremely uncomfortable book, particularly for those who believe in the UN system, despite the unfortunate set of international circumstances that conspired to make Rwanda the tragedy that it became. Melvern writes with dispassion and restraint, but her anger is clear.
Institute for Security Studies
Melvern describes how, months in advance, funds from the World Bank and IMF were diverted to buy weapons from countries like China, Egypt and France. These weapons were stockpiled around the country, so that when the signal was given bands of unemployed youth could be armed in order to begin the slaughter. The radio station that coordinated the genocide was powered from generators in the presidential palace. This was not ethnic conflict but a desperate attempt by a ruthless clique to stay in power.
The Truth Behind the Slaughter
In 1994 in Rwanda, between 6 April and 18 July, 1 million Tutsis and pro-democracy Hutus were killed. They were hacked to death with machetes or shot by gangs of Hutu militia. The killings were egged on by the RTMLC radio station, which broadcast lists of those to be hunted down.
At the time in the west the genocide was dismissed as ‘civil war’ or ‘ethnic clashes’ between the Hutu government and the largely Tutsi resistance movement. But, as this book demonstrates, western governments were aware, or at least should have been, that the Hutu ‘interim government’ was attempting to annihilate all Tutsis in the areas it controlled.
Melvern describes how, months in advance, funds from the World Bank and IMF were diverted to buy weapons from countries like China, Egypt and France. These weapons were stockpiled around the country, so that when the signal was given bands of unemployed youth could be armed in order to begin the slaughter. The radio station that coordinated the genocide was powered from generators in the presidential palace. This was not ethnic conflict but a desperate attempt by a ruthless clique to stay in power.
Melvern exposes how the bureaucrats in the United Nations, and the leading politicians in the United States, Britain and France, sat on their hands and did nothing despite increasingly desperate appeals from the commander of the UN troops on the ground.
When France eventually did send troops, it was to prop up its allies in theHutu ‘interim government’, to delay the invasion of the opposition forces, and to allow the escape of those responsible for the genocide.
The author is very critical of the United Nations, but nevertheless sees this organisation as our only hope to prevent events like those in Rwanda happening again. But for me this book exposes the UN, and the leaders of the western democracies, as unreformable. It is not just the representatives of the great powers who turned away from the genocide in Rwanda. The day to day running of the UN is in the hands of the general secretary, at the time Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He had inside knowledge of Rwandan politics. As the Egyptian deputy prime minister for international affairs he had earlier played a major role in securing Egyptian weapons for the regime. During the entire Rwandan crisis he was unavailable at the UN headquarters because he was touring in Europe. He made no attempt to make the Security Council take action.
Despite differences of analysis about the UN this is an extremely important book.
Author of ‘Rwanda, the Preventable Genocide’ and ‘The Betrayal of Africa’.
For all who want to know both about how the genocide in Rwanda really happened, and how much the so-called international community can really be trusted to care about humanitarian disasters, ‘A People Betrayed’ is simply a must-read.
Gerald Caplan reviews Linda Melvern’s ‘A People Betrayed: the Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide’, praising its success in dispelling Western governments’ claims of ignorance of developments in Rwanda leading up to the genocide.
The front cover of Linda Melvern’s updated edition of ‘A People Betrayed’ carries this superlative blurb from General Roméo Dallaire, commander of the UN mission to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide: ‘The best overall account of the background to the genocide.’
Of course any book these days can find someone or other to sing its praises, and almost all do. Mostly they are to be ignored. This is not one of those books. Melvern’s two previous Rwanda books (the other is ‘Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwanda Genocide’) and her many articles, accompanied by a slew of addresses around the world, had already established her as one of the world’s indispensable authorities on the events leading up to and during the hundred days. This updated version of ‘A People Betrayed’ only reinforces this status.
I should quickly add that one manifestation of continuing neocolonialism in Africa is that the vast majority of books on the 1994 genocide, certainly in English, continue to be written by non-Rwandans. This strange phenomenon surely could not be true of a major event on any other continent, and is certainly not true of the study of other genocides. We can only hope that the belated but welcome inauguration in Rwanda of an MA programme in genocide studies will eventually reverse this trend. In the meantime, if outsiders are still doing most of the writing on the genocide, it’s a good thing that Linda Melvern is one of them.
Melvern has several purposes in this book. One is to powerfully rebut the growing school of genocide deniers and the specious arguments and false information they use to make their case. Melvern is also properly impatient with well-known scholars who don’t quite deny the genocide but offer ammunition to those who do. Most notably this includes those who have jumped on the bandwagon that claims Paul Kagame and his RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) shot down President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane, for which no serious evidence exists to this day. No one except those responsible have any idea who they were. But if anything, as Melvern documents, the circumstantial evidence that does exist points directly at Hutu extremists. If truth matters to the study of history, deniers would crawl back into their holes. But Melvern very seriously worries that their side is gaining momentum, and if truth does matter, this book will go far to shut them down.
Second, and related, Melvern carefully documents the development of the plot by Habyarimana’s family and close advisers to deal with their array of crises by wiping out the entire Tutsi population of the country. None of this was accidental or spontaneous, even if the planning might have been haphazard and irregular. Clearly the military was split, not all by any means persuaded by the Hutu Power extremists. Yet these moderates were sold out by the world’s indifference. Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN was by chance a member of the UN Security Council at the time, faithfully reporting back to Kigali the deliberations of his peers. Had the council shown the slightest intention to take the genocide seriously, the moderates would have been strengthened and the extremists less brazen. But thanks to the information they were receiving from the inner sanctum of the Security Council, the extremists knew they could literally get away with mass murder.
As the evidence shows, the moment they got the right signal – in this case the shooting-down of the president’s plane – the genocidaires were ready to begin their ‘work’. It’s well-known that moderate Hutu were murdered in their hundreds in the first few days of the genocide. But Melvern reminds us that as early as 7 April, the day after the plane went down, indiscriminate slaughter of Tutsi had begun, and that by 9 April, churches packed to the rafters with terrified Tutsi were the scenes of sadistic mass butchery by the Presidential Guards and the notorious interahamwe militia. They were primed for genocide, and they instantly began to put it into effect.
Melvern’s third purpose is to underline in greater detail than ever before how much was known about the genocide by all the key players – the US, the UK, Belgium and the UN Secretariat especially – making their abandonment of Rwanda and their subsequent excuse of inadequate knowledge even more reprehensible than was already believed. We already had a great deal of information about how much the entire Clinton administration knew from the very beginning. Melvern here offers more damning evidence against UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who insists that behind the scenes she opposed America’s immoveable refusal to intervene. Even more toughly, and with hard evidence, Melvern skewers her own UK government, led by John Major, and especially its UN ambassador David Hannay. If any of them have a conscience – a question to which Melver implies the answer – they should all be cursed with endless sleepless nights.
But perhaps Melvern’s greatest contribution in this new edition is the new material she has extracted from her unique archival sources, which demonstrate France’s extraordinary complicity in the genocide. Of course, French officials have from 1994 to today denied any responsibility whatsoever for the catastrophe, and have accordingly refused to issue any kind of apology. But Melvern puts together a case that is surely irrefutable. The US and UK were guilty of sins of omission, of abandoning Rwanda instead of bolstering Dallaire’s puny mission, as he repeatedly begged. But France was guilty of sins of commission, of actively betraying Rwanda by enabling the genocidaires in so many ways – legitimation, arms, funds, training, political and military advice, and public relations. Towards the end of the genocide, France had the gall to send a so-called humanitarian mission to Rwanda, with the shameful approval of the guilt-ridden majority of the Security Council. The singular contribution of this Operation Turquoise was to allow a large number of genocidaire leaders and their military equipment to escape across the Rwandan border into Zaire (Congo). The appalling conflict that has devastated eastern Congo ever since began at that moment. The French establishment will never concede their deadly responsibility for all these deeds, before, during and since the genocide. But the rest of the world need have no doubt of it. There is much work here for the International Criminal Court.
Why does Linda Melvern persist in her mission to continue building the case against ‘the international community’ for its failure to acknowledge the role of outsider players in the genocide? Because she won’t rest until there is real accountability. She demands what one might have thought would be a given from every party that failed Rwanda – serious, independent public investigations to get to the bottom of why. The UN Secretariat, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Belgium government launched such investigations.
But France, Britain, the US, the Catholic church, Canada – all of whom had some role in enabling the genocide – have not. (I wish Melvern had given more attention to the role of the Catholic church in Rwanda’s history; it’s not a pretty picture). Yet you can be quite sure when it comes to genocide anniversaries and public memorials, leaders of all of them will be front and centre, hands on hearts, solemnly pledging ‘never again!’ Some may well be teary as they listen to their own heartfelt words as prepared by some professional speechwriter. But so long as they refuse to inquire why earlier, equally earnest pledges by weepy predecessors proved to be so much hot air, not a word from them should be believed. Indeed, maybe each should be obligated to announce how they charged to the rescue of Darfur.
For all who want to know both about how the genocide in Rwanda really happened, and how much the so-called international community can really be trusted to care about humanitarian disasters, ‘A People Betrayed’ is simply a must-read.
…the best general overview of the West’s role in the Rwandan catastrophe. It is briskly written, and includes enough information on the causes and course of the genocide to ground readers unfamiliar with the events. Clearly, so long as the world’s most powerful countries and international organizations are ruled by considerations of expediency and image-making, effective intervention in most cases of genocidal killing is unlikely.
The subject of A People Betrayed, by the British investigative journalist Linda Melvern, is the catastrophe that descended on the tiny Central African nation of Rwanda in 1994. Historians and analysts of these events have long linked western policies to the “genocidal frenzy”(1) that gripped Rwanda for twelve unforgettable weeks — a period during which the rate of mass killing exceeded that of the Jewish holocaust by roughly fivefold. Studies(2) have demonstrated the importance of first German, then Belgian colonial policies in reconstructing the caste divide between Hutu and Tutsi into a more rigidly “ethnic” one, in which Tutsi came to hold a privileged place. The Belgians were also responsible for introducing an identity-card system in the 1930s which listed the ethnicity of the bearer; it was such cards that allowed for the winnowing of Tutsi victims at the militia-manned roadblocks in 1994. Lastly, France, in its seemingly perpetual quest to extend its sphere of influence in Africa and undermine competing “Anglophone” tendencies, was critical to the maintenance and arming of the Juvénal Habyarimana regime, from which the genocidal “Hutu Power” movement sprang.
Melvern addresses the French role, together with that of Egypt and Uganda, in chapter 2, noting that an invasion by the Tutsi-dominated RPF rebels in 1990 was seen in France “as an invasion by a neighbouring state, considered to be part of a Ugandan plot, which, in turn, was party of a larger post-Cold War attack by ‘les anglo-saxons,’ whose eyes were on French interests in Africa” (p. 30). She also explores the U.S.-sponsored undermining of the International Coffee Agreement, which sent Rwanda’s fragile economy into free-fall, fuelling the aspirations of the extremists for a genocidal redistribution of land, money, and jobs.
The author focuses, though, on the months immediately preceding the genocide, when the U.N. dispatched 2,500 peacekeepers under Canadian General Roméo Dallaire to oversee implementation of peace accords signed in 1993; and on the genocide itself, when the extremists seized upon the death of President Habyarimana to launch their “final solution” of the Tutsi “problem” in Rwanda. Melvern shows that despite a CIA analysis in January 1994, warning that “if hostilities resumed, upwards of half a million people would die” in Rwanda, Dallaire’s requests for greater intelligence-gathering and raids to seize weapons caches were brusquely denied by U.N. headquarters. In early 1994, as disaster approached, Dallaire’s communications with headquarters left “no doubt that a serious crisis threatened … [and] made it abundantly clear that genocide was looming” (p. 107). Under the circumstances, it is hard not to agree with a U.N. refugee official cited by Melvern, who considers Dallaire “the one shining beacon” in the U.N.’s sorry Rwandan involvement.
Recognizing the political weakness of the West’s commitment to keeping the peace, one of the first moves of the génocidaires was to abduct and murder ten Belgian peacekeepers dispatched to protect the moderate Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana (who was also killed). Following this atrocity, the U.N. — under strong U.S. pressure — voted to slash the peacekeeping force to just 270 people,(3) evacuating the core Belgian contingent completely. The withdrawal produced heartbreaking scenes like the one that opens Melvern’s book: the departure of 90 peacekeepers from the École Technique Officielle in Kigali, carried out in the full knowledge that the two thousand desperate refugees crowded into the school would be slaughtered by the Hutu militiamen waiting nearby — as indeed occurred.
Melvern places special emphasis on the role of the U.N. Security Council, warranted in part by the “invaluable primary source” she has turned up (p. 152): a 155-page leaked account of Council meetings during the critical month of April. “In the first four weeks of genocide, the fact that a systematic and continuing slaughter was taking place in Rwanda was not once discussed at length in Council meetings,” she reports (p. 166). The United States “would not accept any resolution except one which withdrew all the peacekeepers,” though it eventually bowed to British requests that a token presence remain (p. 163). As the scale of the horrors began to seep in to global public opinion, the U.N. reversed itself yet again, ordering an increase in the peacekeeper presence to 5,500. But deployment was held up by the Clinton government’s shameful delaying tactics, which included bickering over the financial terms for the lease of armoured personnel carriers for the operation (p. 196).
When largescale intervention finally did come — in July 1994, after an estimated 800,000 people had been killed — it was a unilateral operation conducted by the French, and seemed aimed more at propping up the tattered remnants of the “Hutu Power” regime than in saving lives or apprehending perpetrators. Only when hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees, including many génocidaires, began to flow into festering camps in neighbouring Zaire were the humanitarian sentiments of the world finally aroused, and a truly international response mobilized. Everyone, it appears, could understand a “refugee crisis,” even if almost no leader or prominent public figure could recognize a genocide while it was underway. The United States, suddenly freed of the cost-consciousness it had displayed in the APC negotiations with the U.N., mounted “a major response costing $300-400 million” — and “it took just three days, once the orders had been issued by the White House to the Pentagon, for the first American troops to be on the ground [in Zaire] and distributing fresh water to the refugees” (p. 219).
In the light of this bleak record, it is hard to disagree with Melvern’s assertion that “the combination of revelations about the scale and intensity of the genocide, the complicity of western nations, the failure to intervene and the suppression of information about what was actually happening, is a shocking indictment, not just of the UN Security Council, but even more so of governments and individuals who could have prevented what was happening but chose not to do so” (p. 6). This is similar to the argument advanced in the most prominent human-rights report on the genocide, Leave None to Tell the Story by Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch 1999).(4) Such interpretations are not uncontroversial, however. Alan J. Kuperman, for one, has argued that the speed and scale of the genocide was such that no outside intervention mounted after the outbreak of mass killing could have saved more than a minority of the victims.(5)
One is also left wondering whether the fresh information Melvern has turned up — notably the leaked Security Council document — warrants the book jacket’s rather breathless claim that A People Betrayed is “a classic piece of investigative journalism” replete with “new and startling information [that] has the makings of an international scandal.”(6) In fact, the broad outlines of western complacency and complicity have been known for several years, and Melvern does little to challenge or fundamentally expand this framework. Her book nonetheless stands as the best general overview of the West’s role in the Rwandan catastrophe.(7) It is briskly written, and includes enough information on the causes and course of the genocide to ground readers unfamiliar with the events. Clearly, so long as the world’s most powerful countries and international organizations are ruled by considerations of expediency and image-making, effective intervention in most cases of genocidal killing is unlikely.
3. Melvern notes, however, that “in a clearly illegal act, Dallaire and his deputy, Brigadier Henry Kwami Anyidoho, commander of the Ghanaian troops, defied the Security Council and 456 men remained” (p. 174).
4. Human Rights Watch, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), pp. 595-691. To say that this is the “most prominent” human-rights report is not to suggest it is the best or most complete; in this writer’s view, that honour goes to the African Rights report cited in note 1.
5. See Alan J. Kuperman, The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001). Kuperman does accept that a more robust U.N. presence and role prior to the genocide could have prevented its outbreak.
6. There are also occasional inconsistencies in Melvern’s book. For example, she offers “proof” on p. 19 that an earlier round of murderous assaults on Tutsi, in 1963, “was not a genocide,” but then contradicts herself with a reference on p. 63 to “the genocide of Tutsi in December that year.” And A People Betrayed could have used a tighter copy-editing: this reviewer found “soldiers” printed as “soliders”on four separate occasions in six pages (pp. 120-25).
The New York Times.
Accessory to Murder? A British journalist examines the U.N.’s flawed mission in Rwanda. The U.N. Force Commander, General Dallaire had pleaded with the Security Council for troop reinforcements, supplies and the authority to protect civilians. None of these were forthcoming. The Rwandan people would become, in the words of Linda Melvern, ”a people betrayed.
Accessory to Murder? A British journalist examines the U.N.’s flawed mission in Rwanda.
In April 9, 1994, three days into the genocide in Rwanda, Gen. Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of 2,500 United Nations peacekeepers, watched as European troops descended upon Kigali Airport to begin evacuating their citizens. The new arrivals were clean shaven, well fed and heavily armed, a marked contrast with the ragged, ill-equipped force that General Dallaire had battled his own headquarters to arm, shelter and feed.
Estimates of the number of dead in the capital were already approaching 10,000, and General Dallaire was overcome by the smell of rotting flesh and the feeling of utter impotence. He knew that without outside help his troops could not deter the machete-wielding, largely Hutu militiamen who appeared bent on exterminating moderate Hutu and ethnic Tutsi citizens. His forces were even running out of ammunition, fuel, water and food. General Dallaire had pleaded with the Security Council for troop reinforcements, supplies and the authority to protect civilians. None of these were forthcoming. The Rwandan people would become, in the words of Linda Melvern, a British journalist, ”a people betrayed.”
General Dallaire spent the next two weeks watching his last best hope for assistance from the West disappear over the horizon. The European evacuation forces swooped in and out, departing by April 13. Then, in the aftermath of the murder of 10 Belgian soldiers, the Belgian backbone of the multinational mission was yanked out. Finally, on April 21, with reports of some 100,000 Rwandans dead, the Security Council, in perhaps its most shameful hour, slashed the flimsy peacekeeping force further, leaving 450 troops to tackle tens of thousands of killers. ”An operation should begin with the objective and then consider how best to achieve it with minimal risk,” General Dallaire later noted. ”Instead, our operation began with an evaluation of risk, and if there was risk, the objective was forgotten.”
As a result of the force reduction, peacekeepers often stranded Tutsi who had sought their protection, leaving them at the mercy of Hutu assailants who prowled nearby. All told, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in fewer than 100 days.
A vast array of international decisions, non-decisions and decisions not to decide ensured that the Rwandan people and the peacekeepers would be abandoned to their fates. Two international investigations of the disaster have already been completed. The current United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, who at the time of the genocide was the head of the United Nations’ peacekeeping department, commissioned an independent inquiry in May 1999 that proved harshly critical. And last July, six years after the massacre, the Organization of African Unity issued a more polemical report, blaming the United States in particular and calling upon Security Council members to pay reparations to survivors of what it called ‘the preventable genocide.”
Drawing on these reports, interviews with peacekeepers and previously unpublished records of private Security Council deliberations, Melvern offers a vivid picture of the role of Western nations in abetting, ignoring and allowing Rwanda’s genocide. She singles out ”accomplices” like France, which, with an eye to preserving its dominance in the region, provided the murderous Hutu regime with arms, money and even protection (allegations France has denied). And she documents the fatal lapses of the more remote bystanders, who, from their offices in New York, Washington, London, Brussels and Paris, failed Rwanda at every juncture. Melvern’s workmanlike account is not as stirring as Philip Gourevitch’s splendid ”We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.” But by capturing the cold, calculating debates at the United Nations, she has contributed a valuable behind-the-scenes version of the events that Gourevitch described so movingly on the ground.
In the months before the mass killings began, official Western ”Rwanda watchers” ignored warnings that Hutu militias were mobilizing for extermination of the Tutsi minority. Annan’s peacekeeping office flatly rejected General Dallaire’s requests to seize weapons. And once the killing had begun, American and European policy makers insisted on withdrawing peacekeepers, refused to jam radio broadcasts inciting murder and issued only tepid and belated condemnations of the massacres. To defuse pressure to act, they also notoriously refrained from labeling the slaughter ”genocide.”
Stung by the loss in 1993 of 18 American soldiers in Somalia, and vocal Congressional pressure to steer clear of United Nations operations, the Clinton administration was the most adamant opponent of sending reinforcements. American policy makers insisted that the United Nations pinpoint its exit strategy precisely before it would vote to allow even other countries to deploy a rescue mission, and also complained about the cost of any expanded peacekeeping presence.
While Melvern offers an important account of the international response to the crisis, ”A People Betrayed” only begins to tell the story of how and why the United Nations and its member states failed Rwanda. France, Belgium and the United Nations have at least been pressured into investigating their roles. But in the United States, while President Bill Clinton acknowledged on a visit to Rwanda in 1998 that the United States and the world community ”did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit” the killing, his administration rejected Congressional calls for an investigation into the American response and refused requests for high-level cooperation with the United Nations investigation. ”Accountability” was a concept that the last administration rightly pursued for the perpetrators of genocide but wrongly evaded itself.
Many count the Rwandan genocide as one of the defining events of the post-cold-war world. It has become commonplace to hear international statesmen trumpet the importance of ”reforming peacekeeping.” But if that effort stands any chance of success, Western leaders will have to do more than open their eyes after a genocide. They will have to commit troops and resources to risky missions, and open their classified files on past disasters.
Samantha Power The New York Times
Samantha Power, executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is the author of ”The Quiet Americans,” a forthcoming book on American responses to genocide.