Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Donatella Lorch, from the International Center for Journalists; and Ariela Blätter, from Amnesty International spoke about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in comparison with the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Lorch was a journalist with the Washington Post in 1994 and reported extensively on Rwanda. The presentations were followed by a discussion with the audience.
BRIDGET CONLEY: I want to welcome everyone today to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I will just preface this program by commenting on the way that the Museum has seen the link between the history of the Holocaust that we focus on, and contemporary genocide. The President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Wiesel, was tasked by President Carter to find the appropriate national response to the Holocaust. In their report they suggested a memorial, which you see at the end of the permanent exhibition; a museum, which is our permanent exhibition; an education department; and a Committee on Conscience.
In talking about the Committee on Conscience they introduced it by saying, “Of all the issues addressed by the Commission, none was as perplexing or as urgent as the need to ensure that such a totally inhuman assault as the Holocaust, or any partial version thereof, never recurs.” It is another way of saying what we have all heard and perhaps said so many times: “Never Again.”
Today’s program shows us the need to understand that cry for “Never Again” as a challenge, rather than a promise, and certainly not as a fact. We are here today in this Museum recalling the Holocaust, with this panel recalling what happened in 1994 in Rwanda, with the distinct purpose of trying to better understand how we can respond to what is happening today in the western region of Sudan, in Darfur.
The Committee on Conscience, where I work at the Museum, which is tasked with contemporary threats of genocide, has issued a genocide emergency for Darfur. We will be hearing more about that later on in our program.
We wanted to start today by giving you a little bit of background on the Rwandan genocide, by showing a short film that we produced two years ago. We invited General Roméo Dallaire, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1994, to come speak with us. He was interviewed on our stage in our larger auditorium by Ted Koppel. He speaks about what it meant to be the alleged eyes and ears, and more importantly, the guns, of the international community while a genocide had unfolded and while his forces were reduced and he was left, not paralyzed, but severely handicapped, in the face of an increasing and incredible amount of violence.
We will show that video and then we will turn to our panelist and guests today to talk a little bit more about Rwanda and how it relates to Darfur.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you. We would like to turn now to our two panelists today. We will be starting with Donatella. Donatella Lorch, since January of 2004 has been director of the Knight International Press Fellowships, a program that sends United States reporters abroad to share best practices of journalism. She brought a wealth of international experience to this position from her 17 years as a reporter. Previously, she was the Washington correspondent for four years at Newsweek magazine reporting from, among other places, Afghanistan, Africa, and Kosovo.
As a correspondent for NBC News based in London from 1996 to 1999, she reported on terrorism and conflicts in the Balkans, South Asia, and Iraq. From 1989 to 1996, Lorch was a reporter for The New York Times where she was also the East Africa bureau chief. While with the Times she reported extensively from Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, taking more than a dozen trips with Mujahideen guerrillas, and covered the Gulf War as well, the United States and United Nations intervention in Somalia, the Rwandan genocide -- what we have asked her to speak about today -- and conflicts throughout Africa and South Asia. I will turn the table now to Donatella Lorch.
DONATELLA LORCH: It is a pleasure to be here today and to see so many people that are interested in wanting to hear about Rwanda and Darfur. Every single time I see Roméo Dallaire on television or in a film I always get the chills. He was my great hero in Rwanda when I drove into Kigali on the 10th of April, 1994. He was the one who came with one armored personnel carrier to rescue me from the Mille Collines hotel, the famous Hotel Rwanda. That started my whole experience over there.
It is good to see so many people here in terms of showing interest in that part of the world, because what I have found everywhere I have talked is that Africa is usually sort of a general mass. Africa is considered by many people to be like one country. You want to try to compare Rwanda and Darfur and those are two very different events, in very different countries. They are united by the horror of genocide. They have many things that keep them apart, and several things that bring them together. I am going to talk a bit about that, as well as the challenges that I faced as a journalist. I will also speak about the challenges that the American media faces right now in terms of covering something like Darfur at a time when there is a war going on in Iraq, a war going on in Afghanistan, and the horrors that come out everyday that we read about regularly over here.
Rwanda is a tiny, tiny country. It is the smallest country in Africa. It is the most populated country in Africa. As a matter of fact it is unique, anthropologically speaking, because there are no villages per se in Rwanda. It is so densely populated that people do not say “You are from village X or from village Y,” they will say, “Which hill are you from?”
Darfur is this sparsely populated semi-nomadic section of Sudan, this massive country in Africa. Both countries are hard to get in and out of, but Darfur is extremely difficult to get in and out of. It is difficult not only because of the repressive government, but because of the location. It is just hard to get in and out of that part of Sudan, or any part of Sudan for that matter.
Rwanda is tiny. It was considered in 1994 to be a microcosm for foreign aid in Africa because everyone who went there had their little project in Rwanda. It was so small and so populated that the feeling was that you could see how well your project worked in a limited amount of time. In Sudan, you are just overcome by the vastness and the difficulties of communicating and moving from one place to another.
Both genocides are extremely, were extremely -- and one is “are” and one is “were” -- difficult to cover. When the genocide happened in Rwanda I was, as the East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, based in Nairobi and I was responsible for about 15 or 16 countries. My big relief of the moment was that I was down in South Africa covering a fun, happy story.
None of us expected Rwanda to happen, in large part because we had not really paid much attention to it. We had spent the past two years in and out of Somalia with the United Nations and United States intervention. I had southern Sudan to cover as well, there were problems in Uganda, there were the killings in Burundi, and Rwanda had just gone over my head, like it had gone over the head of many journalists based in Africa.
Explaining Darfur, versus explaining Rwanda, to an audience is much more difficult. It took me even a long, long time, having traveled extensively in Sudan, to figure out what was going on in Darfur. It is an extremely complex situation. I was surprised in the many talks that I have given on Rwanda where Darfur has come up to sophisticated American audiences whose first reaction was to try and understand Darfur under the same way that they understood the only other part of Sudan that anyone had really heard about, which was the problem in southern Sudan between the Muslim Arab north and the Christian black south. Was it a question of religion? I remember telling people, “The first thing we must know is it may be a question of ethnicity, but that is just one of about ten different problems in Darfur.” It is not a question of religion; everyone is Muslim.
There are two main reasons that Rwanda got more coverage than Darfur. First, Rwanda had pictures. When you are selling a story in the news, particular pictures make a story. Somalia was in our living rooms, day in, day out, and it was way more covered than Rwanda because Somalia was viewed as a famine. The world embraces natural disasters. Look at how we embraced the Tsunami. Everyone can open their hearts to what nature does to us, but when it comes to politics, taking sides, and saying what is good, what is evil, what is black, what is white, everything is gray. Rwanda, to a certain extent, had “good versus evil,” at least at the beginning. Since then it is debatable how the new government is doing, but it is so much easier to commiserate over a natural disaster.
The other thing that Somalia had over Rwanda, therefore, was that it was a natural disaster. Rwanda, though, had pictures. It was very difficult to get in and out of Rwanda during the genocide. It was extremely dangerous; you could not come in on your own because you could not get past roadblocks. I tried once on my own and had to be evacuated by Roméo Dallaire. The only way in was to come in under the auspices of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, like being embedded with the United States military except you got embedded with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and they controlled you just as much as the United States military does. You came in through Uganda, you drove around with them, and they basically took you to see different massacre sites and to Kigali where you tried to gain access to their main general to talk to him and see what was going on.
It was very difficult to carry your own food and fuel. Most journalists, including myself, came down with cerebral malaria during the time we covered it. It was the rainy season; there were bodies everywhere. It was horrible. You could drive through villages, and all you had to do was roll down the window and you could guess where the bodies were; it just followed your nose.
Darfur, as far as media coverage, does not have the pictures. It does not have the fields of bodies of Rwanda. It does not have everyone starving to death like Somalia. It has refugee pictures, but as far as trying to bring across the horror or the impact of genocide or a holocaust, it does not have those pictures. When you look at the coverage, the European networks have done a pretty solid coverage of Darfur, even the BBC, but after a while it is always the same pictures. There is compassion fatigue of always seeing the same refuge camp. Tents and dust do not translate well in trying to arouse the interest of the world and trying to translate into, “This equals genocide, but we cannot show you bodies because we have not really found the bodies or we have only found certain bodies.” There is not the massiveness that we saw in Rwanda.
It comes down to the way journalism has changed in the United States and the world, in the past twenty years. When I started out in 1986, I was still using telegram and Telex machines to send in my story. I had a colleague in 1983 that used a carrier pigeon to send his story in, which I thought was pretty cool. It took him a while to figure out how to use it because he had to use two of them, kiss them on the head, and send them off at the same time. He had to keep rewriting the story because he had not figured that out. Look at where we stand right now. The Internet and 24-hour cable news has completely changed the way we view the world and how we report. We are on constant deadlines, whether it is television or even daily newspapers right now. There is very little time to take a week off and get into a country. You got to be in and out; it costs money. With the Iraq and Afghan war in particular, the television networks have invested so much money that they are bleeding; they are hemorrhaging funds for covering anything else in the world. Then there has to be the interest in it. The television networks are not owned by your local mom and pop store; they are owned by huge companies, and the bottom line is, where does the money come from? The focus groups tell you that is why we have so many reality shows. If we see one more Fear Factor, Twin Fear Factor; money could go elsewhere you would think. Why has NBC not even covered Darfur once yet? They have not sent a crew out. ABC did finally send a crew. It costs a lot of money, but it also shows the level of, “This is not going to sell to your public. We are only going to put this in for three minutes on the nightly news show.” It is 22 minutes of news. I am sure people would much rather see how that 14-year-old girl died from the shark attack than know what is happening in Darfur. Most people do not even know where Darfur is. It is one thing for all of our politicians to say, “Never Again.” Bill Clinton is going to go around saying “not on my watch.” His watch is not going to come around anytime soon again. It is wonderful for him to go to Rwanda. I saw footage recently of his going back to tell the Rwandans he is sorry, and I am sure that he felt he was sorry, but everyone is human. He had the power of the biggest, most powerful country in the world at his fingertips, and he did nothing. The Vatican did nothing. Nuns and priests were involved in saving people, but also in killing people. And you -- the whole world -- I remember the anger. I have never been so angry at the world, because story after story after story that I wrote, still there was not a reaction. People only started reacting to all of this when Goma happened and the cholera epidemic started. It is again natural disaster. It is so much easier to hate a disease than it is to hate a political situation, when you must understand who is good, who is bad, what is good, what is evil.
BRIDGET CONLEY: Thank you, Donatella. Let me introduce Ariela Blätter, who is a lawyer, lobbyist, and human rights advocate. She is the director of Crisis Preparedness and Response at Amnesty International, and in that position she manages Amnesty’s membership, staff, and allies, to respond to human rights crises around the world.
Her background is in human rights law and international affairs. She has a law degree from Trinity College, Dublin, and a Masters in human rights law from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
While in Ireland, she worked as director of human rights for ELSA, a European non-governmental organization, where she worked on the Northern Ireland peace process. While at the United Nations in New York and Rome she lobbied for the establishment of a permanent international criminal court and the protection of the rights of women and children. She has represented minority communities such as the Sikhs in London, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the Greater Boston Jewish Community. We are very pleased to have her with us today.
ARIELA BLÄTTER: Thank you very much for having me today. Thanks, Donatella, for your remarks. I am going say some similar things. I prepared a bit of a longer presentation, so I will try to shorten it so we can really have an engaging conversation.
Watching Roméo Dallaire on the screen and hearing Donatella talk about Clinton and his remarks, I am reminded of when I was recently taking the laborious process of flipping through Clinton’s memoirs to look for as many Monica Lewinsky references as I could possibly find, discovering there were only a couple. All I found about Rwanda was one small quote where he said it was one of his biggest regrets of his presidency.
I do not know how many of you have been to see “Shake Hands with the Devil,” a new film about when Dallaire went back. You should see it; it is very good. They have a picture of Clinton at the airport in Kigali in 1998. Clinton had not been in Rwanda before 1998. At that point, as Dallaire describes, and they show the clip, he is seethingly angry about Clinton talking about how he just was not aware. He did not appreciate the depth and the speed of which the genocide engulfed the people there. No apologies at the time. He also said he just did not have the information, at which point Dallaire said he certainly had the information. He should know, he was the one sending the cables to New York, and he was the one giving all the media interviews he could possibly get. Still, the genocide occurred under pretty much a cover of darkness, at lighting speed. They say it happened faster than the Nazi extermination policy.
In looking at this I have come up with some lessons to look at from Rwanda and apply to Darfur. First, of course, is that genocide occurs when people are looking elsewhere. I do not want to go over Rwanda again too much, but just to add a couple of notes to Donatella’s remarks. Some of the interesting things about Rwanda were pre-1994, how many of the media outlets reduced their Africa editors, and those people who were involved in Africa at the time tended to be focusing on the first non-racial election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Then once the reports started to come out, a lot of the major news outlets -- Time magazine -- were characterizing Rwanda as African tribal carnage. You had a situation where The Economist did not put Rwanda on the front cover until June of 1994, though genocide largely started in April. After, they wrote that the passivity of the world community was not shameful in the case of tiny Rwanda. It was not going to blow up Africa the way the Balkans might blow up Europe.
I also think about something that Samantha Power wrote in her book, “A Problem from Hell.” She talked about how the United States administration looked at the op-ed pages of our major papers at the time. Conspicuously empty were real commentary on the genocide occurring in Rwanda. She talked about how they used that as part of a political calculation to not intervene in the genocide in Rwanda.
I think it is really important to look at Darfur. Unlike Rwanda, plenty of governments, including the United States, were focusing on Sudan. This was a focus on Sudan, not the killings in Darfur, because the United States government was determined to maintain positive attention on the Naivasha accords, their cornerstone efforts to broker a peace deal in the long-standing civil war between the north and the south. When the situation in Darfur looked like it was going to threaten the peace deal, Secretary of State Collin Powell went on the record calling for less pressure to be put on the Sudanese government about Darfur so as to not cause internal problems that might make the situation worse. Of course, this is before he called it genocide.
In April of 2003, Amnesty International, the organization I work for, pleaded for Darfur to be included in the human rights monitoring situation being set up in the north-south peace process, calling for the international community to not watch while another area of Sudan was dragged into disaster. With Western governments focused on Naivasha, and the United States media concentrating on the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was not much attention on Darfur.
By March of 2004 the media really began to concentrate on Darfur, but the reporting was seriously derailed by the Tsunami in December. Some have speculated that under this large cover of darkness the Sudanese government and their proxy militia, the Janjaweed, used this as an opportunity to escalate their attacks against the rebels and civilian population.
Lesson number two, action without resources was not action at all. A lot of this, we saw in Rwanda on the film just now. In October of 1993, before Rwanda, we had a situation where eighteen United States soldiers were killed in a botched operation in Somalia. Many of you will remember that their mutilated bodies were dragged across the streets in front of the world’s eyes. The reaction of the American public was shock. Many did not know that the United States was engaged there, much less what was going on in Somalia. The Clinton administration, in response, passed the Presidential Decision Directive 25, which set out seventeen criteria that had to be met before United States troops could participate in United Nations missions, or even support other countries that were participating in United Nations missions. Through this directive, the United States was able to argue that the United Nations had little business being in Rwanda if the opposing sides were not committed to peace, and they left this small rag-tag team of peacekeepers led by General Dallaire to stop genocide in that country.
Dallaire, leading UNAMIR basically, in 1993, led this group of rag-tag troops to monitor the Arusha peace process. When he asked for 5000 troops, he was told, “You can have 2,500 well-trained troops.” Instead of 2,500 he gets 400 Belgians here, 800 Guineans here, some Bangladeshi troops. Meantime, he is frustrated, he is asking, as the genocide began, for batteries, bullets, equipment, support, et cetera.
The situation worsened after the ten Belgians were killed by the Hutu extremists. The Belgians began withdrawing, and shortly after, the Bangladeshis were withdrawing, and then there was the evacuation of the expatriates.
In the meantime, Dallaire asks for the United Nations Security Council to give him more troops, at which point they said no, and actually reduced the UNAMIR to 270, though some remained as volunteers. Over one hundred days, Dallaire and his skeleton team are reduced to watching the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates.
Darfur is a different situation. Without any real “peace to keep” in the Darfur region, it has been pretty simple for the United Nations to avoid the issue of sending a dedicated United Nations mission to the region. The combination of no-state consent on the issue and the Khartoum government’s adamant refusal of a non-African intervention force have made this a non-starter. The solution in Darfur has been to employ a regional solution, use African Union ceasefire monitors, establishing the pretty tenuous ceasefire between the Khartoum government and the rebels, signed in April of 2004.
Currently, fewer than 3,000 monitors protect an area the size of France, and according to Amnesty International and public information, the monitors are finding their tasks hampered by logistical difficulties, lack of resources, government delays, and problems with their mandate. Kofi Annan, in his latest report to the Security Council stated that AMIS has been unable to provide the protection to civilians it badly needs.
Things on paper are looking up. In September there should be an increase in troops to about 7,700 and possibly up again to 12,000. Recently the African Union approached NATO for logistical and financial support, which the Khartoum government has no objection to. The international community has recently pledged about $300 million for the expansion of the force, which Annan has called a good beginning.
Lesson number three, defining the crime of genocide is key, or is it really? Genocide is widely considered to be the crime of all crimes, but the term is relatively new. It was crafted specifically to describe the Nazi extermination policy in World War II and was first used in 1945. Since then it has gotten harder and harder to fit the situations of genocide -- the square peg -- into the round hole -- the legal definition of genocide. For example, under the United Nations definition of genocide there are lots of elements that have to be present. There has to be the physical act such as killing, and the mental element or what is called the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a member of a recognized group, from a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
Initially in Rwanda, it was felt that the genocide label did not apply. The Hutus and Tutsis were considered to be the same ethnic group. It was only through the colonization by the Belgians that they formalized their identity card system and other sort of societal differences into formal differences between the Hutus and the Tutsis.
The 1999 Appeals Chamber for the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, however, was able to bend the rules a bit, allowing the Hutus and the Tutsis to be considered different, subjectively distinct and stable groups since birth, since they saw each other that way. And so it was considered to be genocide.
This is not the case with Darfur. Here there are killings, and there are definitely two distinct groups, which are colloquially known as the Arab African nomads and the black African sedentary farmers; it is complicated. In this case the United Nations failed to find the requisite mental element, the specific intent, so there was no crime of genocide. According to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry -- the independent body established to figure this out -- for every example of atrocities and racially motivated statements targeting the African tribes, there is evidence that an entire population was not targeted in the violence. For example, they cite cases where young men are killed in a village, while the elderly men, boys, and women of the same ethnic group were actively spared. There may have been a system in place by the government to rid themselves of the rebels in Darfur at all cost, but according to the Commission this constitutes every crime in the international book except genocide. They did, however, state that individuals may have committed genocide but they were not willing to fudge the law a bit, as we saw in Rwanda, to make the crime fit the law.
Probably even more complicated than fitting the square peg into the round hole is the question of whether the use of the term genocide gives rise to a duty to act for member states of the United Nations. In Rwanda, the United States government sideswiped this whole question by insisting that the United Nations Security Council not use the word genocide, and then later they resorted to the term “acts of genocide,” a much watered-down version by Secretary Warren Christopher in May of 1994. At the time the government feared that merely uttering the word gave rise to the need to respond militarily under the genocide convention.
Now, when you fast-forward to Darfur, you have a situation where the Secretary of State announced that “genocide” had and was occurring, but no new action by the Untied States was dictated by this determination. It begs the question, which is it? Can governments avoid intervening to stop genocide by not uttering the G word at all, or by using the label genocide liberally and claiming that their work is done?
Finally, there is another school of thought prescribed by Kofi Annan, General Dallaire, and some Non Governmental Organizations including my own: it is important not to get bogged down in the linguistics of genocide. Annan, when the United Nations Commission report came out on Darfur, stressed that what is vital is that these people are held accountable, no matter what the crime is called, so that they are not committed with impunity.
In conclusion, I think it is important to finish on prevention. The lesson is that prevention is key. By the time the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide came around there were a lot of people talking about the failures of Rwanda and making very common parallels with Darfur. Secretary General Kofi Annan used the opportunity to say that things had gone terribly wrong in Rwanda and that the risk of genocide still remains frighteningly real. What he said at the time was pretty startling to me. He said that we should not be focusing per se on stopping the genocide midstream, or acting after the fact, but preventing it. The kind of subtext was that we really were not going to stop genocide. He made an interesting point when it came to preventing genocide -- the need for early and clear warnings and signals. In doing that, the most important thing he pointed to was civil society, or the non-governmental organization sector, which I work in. He talked about the need for people to pay attention to reports that come out which indicate early warnings on situations such as Amnesty beginning its reporting on the Darfur crisis in late 2002 and early 2003, which in fact was widely ignored. We really need to do something to improve upon this.
Certainly Amnesty has improved since Rwanda. After Rwanda and the Balkans, Amnesty recognized that it needed to treat countries and peoples and crises the same way, with the same attention and success that it had in appealing for individual prisoners of conscience. They set up the program that I currently run at Amnesty, the Crisis Preparedness and Response Program. Now it has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., it has its researchers in London, and it has monitors that go in on the ground. It is uniquely situated to do early warning, monitoring, and get the information out.
At the same time we have almost a million members who -- I encourage you, if you are not already, to join up -- mobilize on these crises. We are also employing new technologies such as satellite imagery so that when a government -- such as the Khartoum government -- has this awful habit of doing, prevents us from access, we are looking through the skies. These are the same systems that governments use, the eyes and ears looking through satellite imagery. We did a project where we saw that 44 percent of all the villages many, many months ago were already burned in the Darfur region, using it as a clear indicator that ethnic cleansing was occurring.
Now from this satellite imagery, which sounds very technical, you can see groups of people being moved, such as internally displaced people, and you can see mass graves. I would say that this is a very important technology that Amnesty is starting to get engaged in. We know now, in hindsight, that satellite photography could have made a real difference in Rwanda. General Dallaire said at the time and then after, “I asked for satellite photos so I could see where the mass movement of people was occurring. They were hurting people before they killed them. But I got nothing. 800,000 people were killed, 300,000 of them were children.” I hope you will join us in our efforts. Thank you.