Theogene Rudasingwa: The conference, “Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity: Early Warning and Prevention,” takes place to commemorate the 50th Anniversaries of the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organizer, the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, has asked me to share with the participants my reflections on how the international community should have confronted the Rwanda genocide and how it might prevent similar crimes.
The last five decades since the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been, on the one hand, a period during which the frontiers of justice and respect for human rights have extended to many parts of the world. At the same time, it is very hard not to appreciate the gross human rights abuses that have exacted a heavy toll on diverse populations in many parts of the world, occasionally culminating in extreme cases of genocide, as was the case in Rwanda. The fact that this conference takes place at the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum and is attended by distinguished diplomats, policy makers, international judges, representatives of human rights organizations, military officers, government officials and academics will hopefully help all of us to do a lot of soul-searching as to where we as a world community have gone wrong. Most importantly, though, this should be a call to action beyond the endless analysis and prescriptions that the conference industry periodically produces.
The most spectacular thing about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is probably the fact that, notwithstanding the vows of the human race never to let it happen again, this time it occurred under the brilliant glare of the information age and against a background of sufficient early warning. To a large extent, therefore, the Rwanda genocide tested the resolve and preparedness of the international community to prevent or stop such terrible crimes as we move into the next millennium.
How did the international community respond to the Rwanda genocide? Political response or lack thereof, is dynamically inter-linked to the understanding of the totality of the situation existing before, during and in the aftermath of the genocide. Since 1994, many in the media, academic circles, government and international community have tended to focus on the statistics of the crimes: over 1 million Rwandese perished in a period of about 90 days. In proportional terms, this was one seventh of the total population of Rwanda, leading many people to wonder what the response could have been if, for example, one seventh of the United States population (some 37 million Americans) were killed and the horror covered by CNN. Yet, even with graphic details, people very often make false assumptions:
- This was a resurgence of ethnic/tribal killings that have characterized a centuries-old relationship of hatred between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda a phenomenon that scholars and policy-makers also consider African.
- This was a spontaneous event of revenge by Hutus against Tutsis, resulting from the death of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda.
- This was a popular Hutu response to the civil war that pitted the forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) against those of the then Government of Rwanda.
- Everything had been going relatively well in Rwanda until the eighties when in a surprising twist of fate, economic hardships due to the fall in coffee prices, social effects of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment program, soil erosion and general environmental degradation, the burden of overpopulation, etc., created a political crisis that slowly dragged the whole nation into the crime of genocide.
It is not the purpose of this paper to enumerate the endless catalogue of false assumptions. For genocide to occur, the following factors have to be taken into consideration:
First of all, there have to be architects who necessarily have to devote their time in planning this kind of activity, irrespective of how dangerous it is.
Second, there has to be an outlook that, in aggregate, constitutes the ideology of genocide.
Third, the architect and planners equipped with the ideology mobilize and organize ‘disciples’ who must both communicate the message and put it into operation.
Fourth, there has to be institutional mechanisms at the political, social, economic and cultural levels to ultimately ensure the implementation of the plan.
Lastly, an insensitive, largely silent external environment, in this case, the international community.
If the history of Rwanda of the last 100 years were to be replayed in slow motion, it would be surprisingly evident that all the above factors were indeed present prior to and during the genocide of 1994.
Two broad trends have generally created the context of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda: external manipulation by the process of colonization; and, politics of exclusion by the local Rwandan elite in the First Republic of Gregoire Kayibanda and the Second Republic of Juvenal Habyarimana.
The colonial state operated through the policy of divide and rule. The pre-colonial monarchist state had, before the advent of colonialism, created a sense of nationhood amongst the Rwandese people who spoke one language, shared one culture, lived on the same hills and engaged in a symbiotic exchange of products of their labor. In this hierarchical order of things, the King treated his chiefs and the rest of the population (Bahutu, Batutsi, and Batwa) as his subjects in a very elaborate and complex relationship that had elements of checks and balances which ensured the survival and continuity of Rwandan society as one, its contradictions notwithstanding. The colonial state, therefore, had to undermine this basis of political, social and economic organization in order to perpetuate colonial rule.
The colonial authorities had to create ethnic distinctions. For example, the first German resident in Rwanda, Dr. Richard Kandt, in describing the Batutsi, noted:
“Their gigantic stature, the sublimity of their speech, the tastefulness and unobtrusive way of their dress, their nobl traits and their quiet, penetrating, often very witty and irritating eyes.”
Of the Bahutu, Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Mecklenburg, described them as:
“a medium-sized type of people whose ungainly figures betoken hard toil, and who patiently bow themselves in abject bondage to the latter arrived yet ruling race, the Tutsi.”
Note the introduction of the anthropological application of the term “race” in describing the relationship between Rwandese people, a stereotype that was soon to be acquired by the local elite as the ideological foundation of the First and Second Republics. The first identification on the basis of ethnicity was begun by Belgian authorities. A census was carried out by the Belgian authorities in the 1930’s categorized any Rwandese with over 10 heads of cattle as “Tutsi” and anyone with less as “Hutu.” Furthermore, while at the same time undermining the kingship structures they found in place, the colonial power relied in the same structures to dispense the harsh measures they introduced, thereby intensifying the alienation of the population.
As independence approached, the shift from manipulating and dividing Rwandan society through the Tutsi King and chiefs to a Belgian-created new elite of Hutu operators only changed the form of the process and not the substance. Local Belgian authorities had not only exerted ideological influence in creating these local cadres, but also engineered the establishment of a formal political party for the Bahutu elite, PARMEHUTU, an ethnically based party, as the most favored ally to whom they would hand the instruments of power in 1962. On January 11, 1960 the Belgian Special Resident in Rwanda, Colonel Logiest, could not conceal his partisan attitude:
“thus we must undertake an action in favor of the Hutu, who live in a state of ignorance and under oppressive influences. By virtue of the situation, we are obliged to take sides. We cannot stay neutral and sit.”
On November 27, 1959 Gregoire Kayibanda, who was to become the first President of the First Republic until he was overthrown in 1973 and eventually killed by the late President Habyarimana, had clearly indicated his ideological and political orientation in a statement where he passionately argued for segregating the Bahutu from the Batutsi, describing them as:
“two nations in a single state, two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers of different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”
From this narrow and partisan outlook came the massacres of 1959 and thereafter, described by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell as:
“the most horrible and systematic human massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazi.”
And by the Holy See in the Vatican radio broadcast of February 10, 1964 as:
“the most terrible and systematic genocide since the genocide of the Jews by Hitler.”
Throughout the 1960’s, the 1970’s, the 1980’s, and the early 1990’s, massacres became a prominent and distinguishing characteristic of the two post-independence regimes in Rwanda.
The other notable features of the First and Second Republics were:
- A very persuasive and all-round discrimination against Batutsi. The December 10, 1990 issue of the journal Kangura, one of the mouthpieces of the architects of the genocide, summarized the extent of discrimination and the extremism that goes with it in the famous “The Hutu Ten Commandments”:
- Every Muhutu should know that a Mututsi woman, wherever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor any Muhutu who marries a Tutsi woman; befriends a Tutsi woman or employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or a concubine;
- Every Muhutu should know that our Hutu daughters are more suitable and conscientious in their role as women, wives and mothers of the family. Are they not beautiful, good secretaries and more honest?
- Bahutu women, be vigilant and try to bring your husbands, brothers and sons back to reason.
- Every Muhutu should know that every Mututsi is dishonest in business. His only aim is the supremacy of his ethnic group. As a result, any Muhutu who does the following is a traitor: makes partnership with Batutsi in business; invests his money or the government’s money in a Tutsi enterprise, lends or borrows money from a Mututsi; gives favors to Batutsi in business (obtaining import licenses, bank loans, construction sites, public markets, etc.).
- All strategic positions, political, administrative, economic, military and security should be entrusted to Bahutu.
- The educational sector (students and teachers) must be majority Hutu.
- The Rwandese Armed Forces should be exclusively Hutu. The experience of the October 1990 war has taught us a lesson. No member of the military shall marry a Tutsi.
- The Bahutu should stop having mercy on the Batutsi.
- The Bahutu, wherever they are, must have unity and solidarity and be concerned with the fate of their Hutu brothers. To this effect, the Bahutu inside and outside Rwanda must constantly look for friends and allies for the Hutu cause, starting with their Bantu brothers. They must also constantly counteract Tutsi propaganda and remain firm and vigilant against their common Tutsi enemy.
- The social revolution of 1959, the referendum of 1961, and the Hutu ideology must be taught to every Muhutu at every level. Every Hutu must spread this ideology widely. Any Muhutu who persecutes his brother Muhutu for having read, spread and taught this ideology, is a traitor.A chronic problem of Rwandese refugees, probably the earliest on the African continent, which both Kayibanda’s and Habyarimana’s regimes were unwilling to resolve citing the small size of Rwanda and “overpopulation” as the reasons for not repatriating over 1 million Rwandese, mainly Tutsis, in the Diaspora.
• A highly centralized state apparatus founded on violence and increasingly relying on coercive means of violence to entrench itself through the single party (MDR-PARMEHUTU in the First Republic and MRND in the Second Republic). The President of the Republic effectively presided over every other important institution in the country. The politics of exclusion, first against Batutsi, and later on, against some Bahutu on a regional or family basis, became the hallmark of the two regimes.
• Social and economic marginalization of the majority of Rwandese people, of which over 90 percent lived in the countryside in a subsistence economy that hardly catered for their most basic needs. Rwanda had become one of the leading recipients of aid money per capita in sub-Saharan Africa. Unable to generate more wealth within Rwanda, the scramble to appropriate national resources for private use led to sharper and intractable contradictions within the governing Bahutu elite.
• Over-dependence on external influences from Belgian, Swiss and German capitals, but increasingly from France, in the domestic decision-making process as well as in the relationship between Rwanda and the rest of the world.
Generally, a culture of impunity with a multi-faceted institutional back-up had created a climate of terror and fear, literally making the possibility of peaceful change impossible. It is under these conditions of deepening crisis that the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) was born and subsequently led to the political military struggle that stopped the genocide in 1994 when the international community was in disarray.
In retrospect, the same international community had generally not shown any concrete response when, for over three decades, Rwandese people were languishing in the Diaspora while others were being massacred or lynched in Rwanda.
With the beginning of the civil war in 1990, the human rights abuses once again intensified leading to the massacres of Batutsi across the country. The infamous massacres of Kibilira, Bigogwe, Bugesera, and Kibuye were clearly documented by international human rights organizations and well known by some in the international community. At this juncture, this was taken to be a result of the civil war and therefore attracted very little attention or response from the international community.
In August 1993, the RPF and the then Government of Rwanda signed the Arusha Peace Agreement. This peace agreement provided for, among other things:
- The establishment of the Rule of Law;
- A power-sharing arrangement;
- The establishment of an integrated national army from the forces of the belligerents;
- The repatriation of refugees who had been living in the Diaspora since 1959; and
- The setting up of a transitional government in the run-up to free and fair elections within twenty-two months.
Yet, the Rule of Law, inclusive government, a truly national army, repatriation of refugees and the transition to good governance were not of any interest to the regime since they were seen to be undermining the power and privilege of the ruling elite. As part of the Arusha Peace Agreement, the United Nations was supposed to provide a peacekeeping force to help in the setting-up of a transitional government and its institutions within thirty-seven days of the signing of the Peace Agreement. This deadline was not met. Only by December 1993 could the United Nations talk of a sizeable presence in Kigali. This delay was interpreted by the planners and organizers of genocide as lack of resolve on the part of the international community, which they utilized to further advance their plans.
President Habyarimana’s regime created obstacle after obstacle to prevent the establishment of the transitional government, in order to adequately prepare for the “final solution.” There was massive importation of small arms, ammunition, grenades and machetes. Lists of the targeted population were drawn up and circulated. Arms and ammunition were distributed throughout the local administrative units. A network was established to liquidate political and other opponents. There was extensive recruitment and training of the notorious militia, the interahamwe. The enhance the delivery of the hate message, the President’s party, MRND, created Radio RTLM, which served as a very powerful mobilizing tool prior to and during the genocide.
This information was available to the international community, yet it was still unwilling to respond.
When President Habyarimana died in a plane crash on April 6, 1994, the planners and organizers of genocide quickly formed the so-called Provisional Government in order to put their plans into operation. Their intention was to achieve the objective of complete extermination of the Batutsi and those they considered to the “allies of the Batutsi” (ibyitso). Since a lot has been said about this period, a quick look at the response of the international community reveals the following:
- The so-called Provisional Government was neither condemned by any African government nor by the rest of the international community and, therefore, interpreted this silence as an approval and acceptability of its agenda.
- As Western governments hurriedly air-lifted their citizens to safety, the Provisional Government unleashed its destructive machinery into motion, accomplishing what no other government in history has ever been able to do - killing 1 million people in just 90 days. Rather than condemn and ostracize this regime, the UN and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) even accepted the members of this genocidal regime as the legitimate representatives of Rwandese people.
- As media around the world carried gruesome pictures of the decapitated and mutilated bodies of women, children and men floating in choked rivers, the international community still called for “restraint on both sides” as if genocide was a product of the military contest between the forces of the RPF seeking to stop the genocide and those of the Provisional Government who were carrying it out. The RPF was under tremendous pressure from international organizations and Western governments to accept a cease-fire and to negotiate with the genocidal regime so as to implement the Arusha Peace Agreement which the provisional government had deliberately derailed. This was a terrible failure on the part of the international community. Civil war and genocide were clearly different things. Failure to recognize this gave sufficient breathing space to the Provisional Government to continue with the process of extermination.
- The UN Peacekeeping Force, which by this time had been built to up to 3,000 Blue Helmets, was shockingly reduced to just over 200, sending yet another signal to the perpetrators of genocide that an obstacle to their plans was being removed.
- The OAU Secretary General, Salim Ahmed Salim, obtained pledges from African nations to contribute up to 5,000 peacekeeping troops to deal with the crisis in Rwanda. However, this potential African force lacked financial and logistical support which the OAU Secretary General sought from the UN and Western governments but never received.
- The French government had maintained an active military presence in Rwanda since 1990 alongside Belgian troops and late President Mobutu’s troops in the initial alliance that supported the genocidal regime against the forces of the RPF. Surprisingly, the UN Security Council gave a go-ahead to France to launch what was inherently a unilateral French intervention under the guise of a humanitarian operation. Operation Turquoise, a Chapter 7 type of operation in the UN nomenclature, was intended to salvage whatever was left of the genocidal regime. It was surprising that France, which had a far-from-neutral presence in Rwanda, was being given a mandate “to save Tutsis.” Worse still, why would the UN and Western governments refuse to give financial and logistical support to African troops only to give this mission to France with its rather unholy record in Rwanda? While Operation Turquoise could not save the provisional government, it still helped to re-establish the perpetrators of genocide and their infrastructure in the refugee camps in the then Zaire. Today, the Great Lakes region of East and Central African is still suffering from the consequences of Operation Turquoise.
- When the genocide was stopped by the RPF, the UN was actively clamoring for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR II) when UNAMIR I had been a disaster. The Government of National Unity, established by the RPF in partnership with other political actors in the country, accepted UNAMIR II on the basis that this would help Rwandese people to forge ahead with the task of justice, reconciliation and reconstruction. As it turned out, UNAMIR II was no different from UNAMIR I, and had to reluctantly wind up only with the insistence of the Government of Rwanda. Many nations all over the world hurriedly dispatched troops to the region after the genocide mainly to give assistance in the refugee camps that were being established in Tanzania and the then Zaire. This, together with the activities of the international relief agencies and NGO’s, complemented the legacy of Operation Turquoise and the genocidal activities of the ex-FAR and interahamwe in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.
- The refugee camps became the breeding ground for the training, re-arming and operational bases from which the perpetrators of genocide established their network, which now extends from Africa, Europe and North America. By the time the refugee camps were disbanded at the end of 1996 during the rebellion that toppled late President Mobutu, the international community was spending close to 2 million dollars per day in an effort that directly or indirectly supported the establishment of the genocidal networks. If full accounting were to take place, one would find out that between 1994 and 1996 the international community spent 3.5 - 5 billion US dollars, and this was neither in preventing or stopping genocide nor supporting post-genocide reconstruction in Rwanda.
What was lacking in Rwanda, as this paper argues, was not lack of early warning as facts have shown, but rather political will sufficient resolve to act in a timely fashion.
How can we prevent such horrendous crimes from recurring in Rwanda and other parts of the world?
As we move into the 21st Century, Rwanda has to deliberately invest in the following processes in order to recover from the effects of genocide and insure Rwanda society against the resurgence or recurrence of genocide:
1. Unity and Reconciliation
Neither the colonial regimes nor the post-independence regimes ever attempted to build on the shared history, challenges and future in order to enhance the process of nation building. The last 100 years amount to a lost century in terms of the lost initiative for the Rwandese people to live together in harmony. It is, therefore, very important to promote reconciliation in both words and deeds. The experience has got to be a shared one, and not limited to just an agreement between a small group of elite. The peasants in Rwanda have never been the source of divisions in our society. They have always been the victims of divisive state authorities. They have everything to gain if the state machinery becomes an instrument of promoting living and working together in search for solutions to the common problem of poverty and marginalization.
2. Justice and Rule of Law
The Rwanda genocide was the final outcome of the absence of the rule of law and the accompanying culture of impunity. Even if genocide had not occurred in Rwanda in 1994, the challenges of ensuring the fundamental rights of the citizens and building governance based on the rule of law would still have been daunting tasks. Genocide has made this task more complex and many times more difficult. With over 130,000 genocide suspects in overcrowded prisons, insufficient human, material and financial resources in the infant justice system, established in the aftermath of the genocide of 1994, the challenge of justice calls for originality and innovation in handling matters relating to justice. However, there are no shortcuts for there can be no genuine and durable reconciliation without eradicating the culture of impunity and institutionalizing the rule of law in our national life.
3. The Problem of Governance
The politics of exclusion that have generally characterized Rwanda in the 20th century have left very deep and structural deformities that can only be resolved through a broad civic and political dialogue as a precondition of attaining good governance. Whatever the form it finally takes in Rwanda, the process has got to be internally driven and must seek to redress Rwanda’s problems. All Rwandese people must have an equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making process while at the same time struggling to be the principal beneficiaries. Therefore, accountability, transparency, participation and inclusiveness are not empty catchwords, but the true essence of good governance. The current Government of National Unity seeks to promote human rights; a Legal and Constitutional Commission that will focus on matters of law and the future constitution of Rwanda; and, a Unity and Reconciliation Commission that will promote reconciliation as the very first step of consolidating good governance. In the coming few months, the government will conduct the first grassroots elections as the first step in this long process.
4. Confronting the Problem of Poverty and Underdevelopment
Rwanda is a landlocked country that has for the last 100 years remained an impoverished enclave in the heart of Africa. Over 95% of the population lives off a subsistence economy that cannot cater for their housing, clothing, health, education and nutritional needs. Irrespective of the usual claims that governments have made in the past, the Rwandese people of all ethnic backgrounds live conditions of extreme poverty. Coffee and tea, introduced by colonial authorities, is still grown and exported without adding much value, but hardly benefiting those who grow it. The population of Rwanda will double in the next 20 years to a figure of about 16 million people by the year 2020.
Poverty, in addition to limiting the choices of the Rwandese people, creates a fertile ground for conflict as the local elite scramble for limited resources by recruiting ordinary people to factional interests.
The strategy for undoing this legacy must necessarily begin with investment in people through their health and education. The struggle to acquire scientific, technological and managerial skills is very crucial, especially in an era where most economies are increasingly becoming knowledge-based. The other aspects of this strategy include agricultural transformation; infrastructure development; and creating an enabling legal and regulatory environment that will promote trade and investment. But this will be very difficult to achieve if the problem of Rwanda’s external debt remains unresolved, constituting an unbearable burden to ordinary Rwandese in a post-genocide era.
5. National and Regional Security
The horrors of genocide have left a very difficult challenge to the current and future generations of Rwandese people who must exercise vigilance in ensuring the right of every citizen to life. The perpetrators of genocide that were defeated in Rwanda in 1994 have, since then, become a regional destabilizing menace. From their bases, mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the perpetrators of genocide have been a source of destabilization mainly in the northern parts of Rwanda where their main objective has been to overthrow the Government of National Unity and to complete genocide.
Surprisingly, while their constituency in Rwanda has been diminishing day by day, some African governments, together with covert support from outside Africa, have further complicated matters by making this group an instrument of vicious destabilization against Rwanda and the rest of the Great Lakes region.
In its latest report, the UN International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda) states:
“the situation in the great Lakes region is rapidly heading towards a catastrophe of incalculable consequences which requires urgent, comprehensive and decisive measures on the part of the international community. The danger of a repetition of tragedy comparable to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but on a sub-regional scale, cannot be ruled out.”
The report goes on:
“The ex-FAR and interahamwe have now become in effect the allies of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its allies, the Governments of Angola, Chad, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. The new relationship has conferred a form of legitimacy on the interahamwe and the ex-FAR. This is a profoundly shocking state of affairs.”
Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC since 1996 is based on this reality. Our national interest is to safeguard our national security, while at the same time making a contribution to collective regional security arrangements.
6. Economic Cooperation and Integration
Recently, a mood of pessimism about Africa’s future has flourished again. The conflict spots on the continent, notably the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the war in the DRC (with the involvement of Rwanda Uganda Sudan, Chad, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Libya), show both the fragility of the post-colonial nation state as well as the historical imperative for greater cooperation and integration to create viable economic opportunities in the 21st century. It may be a difficult item to sell as of now, but it is the only path to making Rwanda and the Great Lakes region relevant to their citizens.
Some of the steps mentioned above are not very Rwanda-specific and therefore can be applied to nations and communities where crimes of this nature, irrespective of magnitude, are a threat. At the international level the actors are still as unprepared as they were in 1994 to act quickly and effectively should the need arise.
In my opinion, there are three important measures that we as a human race must be in the habit of cultivating to prevent terrible crimes from happening again.
First, we must invest in prevention rather than squandering unimaginable resources in providing palliative remedies that leave our societies and communities still vulnerable. If the international community had sensed a crisis-in-the-making in Rwanda and taken the necessary measures to change the course of events, the story would have been a different one.
Second, for all the usefulness of, and excitement about, the International Criminal Tribunals and the International Criminal Court, the international community is now behaving in a way that could be compared to society that invests extravagantly in building prisons, courts and fire engines, without taking the trouble to building mechanisms that minimize crimes and fires. If the international community increasingly talks about a new architecture to prevent and deal with global financial turmoil, where is its counterpart coalition to prevent and deal with global human rights turmoil? More than ever before, there is an urgent call on mankind to build a strong and effective coalition against genocide.
Third, the UN must reform itself to become a source of inspiration rather than ridicule. Being efficient has something to do with doing more and costing less. But the fundamental challenge to the UN is to become the voice of the powerless scattered around the world, sometimes confronting the effects of dictatorships and economic mismanagement in isolation. The criticism that we often make against the UN must also be level against the member states, especially the powerful ones who have the habit of manipulating this international body for selfish interests.
At the end of the day, while being global citizens, we are also Rwandese, Americans, Swedish, Jamaicans, etc. The struggle to build strong and lasting coalitions against horrendous crimes begins at home in our nation states and communities. This is where we must begin the journey of putting our houses in order. Only then can we celebrate the 100th anniversaries of the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with pride and comfort.