Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Presentation commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide with a preview screening of FRONTLINE’s film, “Ghosts of Rwanda.” Weaving together historical analysis with groundbreaking, eyewitness accounts, the film examines the social, political, and diplomatic forces that converged to enable genocide. A panel discussion follows the excerpts from this film. The panel included Jerry Fowler, Greg Barker, Bonaventure Niyibizi, Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, and Gregory “Gromo” Alex.
SARA BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to the Museum. We have a very large crowd tonight, and a few more people to be seated. Thank you for coming. I’m Sara Bloomfield, the Director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Exactly ten years ago next month, we at this Museum were celebrating our first anniversary -- this year’s our tenth anniversary -- but at the same time, we were mourning deeply for the people of Rwanda, because, of course, that was the beginning of the genocide. As you all know by now, 800,000 men, women, and children were murdered in 100 days. One hundred days. And that happened, like the Holocaust, in spite of the fact that there was a warning.
In fact, the man who tried to warn the world, General Roméo Dallaire, has also spoken from this very stage, eloquently and painfully -- so painfully -- about his experience and what he tried to do and how the world responded. The failure of the world to prevent and respond effectively to the Rwandan genocide posed, in the starkest terms possible, exactly what Elie Wiesel and the President’s Commission on the Holocaust described as “the most perplexing and urgent question that that Commission addressed, which was how to prevent the recurrence of genocide.”
As that Commission debated the role of this Museum, they felt, as they said more eloquently than I can, that this Museum had to be a Museum about both the past and the future. They said “a memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past.” So in conceiving this Museum, it was meant to be more than a memorial to the past, but what we call a living memorial, which means it speaks to us in the present with the hope that we can shape a better future.
I’m delighted that we have with us tonight Mark Talisman, the founding chairman of our Museum and very instrumental in creating our Committee on Conscience, which sponsors the program this evening. The mandate of that committee is to add its voice to the immense challenge of preventing genocide. For us, this is essential to our mission, because we believe this is the most fitting way to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. So once again this evening, we turn to Rwanda, with the conviction that we must increase our understanding of what happened there if we are to have any hope of preventing genocide in the future. Even as we seek to learn from the past, we are constantly reminded that the threat of genocide is an ongoing problem.
In particular, our Committee on Conscience has issued a genocide warning for Sudan, and in the past few months, the situation in the western part of that country, the region known as Darfur has deteriorated dramatically. Hundreds of thousands are at risk because of violence instituted by the Khartoum-based government. Just last Friday, the UN Coordinator for Sudan told the BBC, and I quote, “this is ethnic cleansing. This is the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.”
If you want to learn more about the Committee on Conscience and Sudan, please visit our website at www.committeeonconscience.org. Now for tonight’s program. We would like to thank our colleagues who made this event possible: Frontline, a production of WGBH, doesn’t probably need much introduction to any of us here, especially Jessica Smith, who helped coordinate this event; our local PBS station, WETA, particularly Polly Heath and Ferne Barrow. As you probably know, “Ghosts of Rwanda” will be airing on WETA on April 8 at 8:00 p.m., and at other dates and times around the country.
We want to thank all of our panelists tonight who will be speaking about the film excerpt that you will see. I particularly want to single out two individuals who came all the way here from Kigali: Bonaventure Niyibizi and Gromo Alex deserve our special thanks for traveling so far for this program. And we want to thank the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for the generous contribution that made both this event as well as the broadcast possible.
Now to tell you a little bit about the film clip that we’re going to see tonight, it’s my pleasure to introduce Greg Barker. Greg is an award-winning filmmaker and former broadcast journalist who has worked all over the world. He produced, directed and wrote “Ghosts of Rwanda,” which is the culmination of six years of interviews and research into the social, political, and diplomatic failures that converged to enable the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Greg?
GREG BARKER: Thank you all for coming. Thank you very much to the Holocaust Museum for letting us screen some of our film this evening. This is a film about evil and what we do -- any of us would do -- in the face of evil. I’m deeply honored tonight to have some of the people here who were participants in the film and who I interviewed and who opened up their time, their schedules, and most importantly, their souls to talk about what I think was one of the most difficult experiences in their professional lives. And you’ll see some of that revealed in the clip tonight.
The film is a two-hour film -- we’re going to show a 40-minute segment of it so we have time for discussion and some questions afterwards. The section that we’re going to show really comes right in the heart of the film; it’s about 50 minutes in. The genocide has already begun and it, as I’m sure a lot of you know, began after a UN-backed peace process between the predominantly Hutu government and the predominantly Tutsi rebel armies trying to resolve a civil war. And Hutu extremists undermined that process.
On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down. That was the spark that began the genocide, and the killing began the next day. Whoever shot down the plane, it’s clear that that was the spark. The next morning, the extremists began targeting all their political opponents. Very quickly the United Nations, which had a peacekeeping force on the ground, began pulling out a lot of its troops.
Where we come in the film is on about April 15. It’s still unclear whether the UN Security Council was going to leave any troops left in Rwanda. Some had already begun to pull out. Most of the Westerners in Rwanda had all pulled out. And the Hutu extremists, having eliminated a lot of their opponents and Tutsis in Kigali, began spreading the genocide across the country. That’s where we begin this segment from “Ghosts of Rwanda.” Thank you very much.
[Movie segment is shown]
JERRY FOWLER: Before we get started, actually, Bonaventure wanted to do something very quickly.
BONAVENTURE NIYIBIZI: Thank you, Jerry. What you have seen is just a part of what happened in Rwanda 10 years ago. It is always difficult for people to understand what happened. President Clinton was saying five years after the genocide that many people were sitting in their offices day after day after day without being able to understand what was happening there.
But I think we have to try to bring in our mind that these people were like you and me. Let us take a minute and wonder why this Museum has been raised here. Because millions of people have been killed in Germany and in Europe, and 50 years later, actually more than a million of people was killed in Rwanda, and it may happen again. It may happen again, and if it does -- perhaps not today, but probably it may happen when our children’s children will be alive; it may happen for any reason -- what are we going to do today to prevent that from happening again?
Those people were just like you and me. I would like to ask you to take a minute, just a minute and remember all these people who died in Rwanda, and those who died before. It will take just one minute here, and remember them and think what we do in the future. If you could just stand up to remember these people and honor them.
Thank you very much.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you, Bonaventure. We watched this clip earlier today. Greg of course created it, but for the other four of us, it was the first time that we’d seen it, and I think we had a collective sense when it was over that it sucked your oxygen out. It was -- even imagining talking after it was very difficult. I find that’s often the case in dealing with Rwanda, in dealing with the Holocaust, in dealing with situations where you have just unbelievable horror. But at the same time, if we don’t talk about it and we don’t face it, then I think we foreclose any opportunity to learn from it.
I’m always very careful in suggesting that we can learn from situations like this, but in the late 1980s, the writer Cynthia Ozick commented one time that she was very concerned about what she perceived as a tendency to seek redemption in the story of the Holocaust. She suggested that perhaps there is no redemption there, that what we learn from the Holocaust is not “never again,” but that it will happen again, that when it’s happened once, it can happen again and it will happen again. The only thing that the Holocaust reproduces is itself. I think that the experience from Rwanda gives a lot of support to that thought, that the only thing that is reproduced by the Holocaust is genocide. But I think that she goes a little too far. I have to believe that she goes a little bit too far. This forms the foundation of what we try to do at this Museum, because we know that what has happened once can happen again.
We’ve seen that. But I think that there’s a space -- I have to believe that there’s a space between what can happen and what will happen. And that space is where we stand, whether we’re government officials or we work for organizations like this or we’re citizens. The space between what can happen and what will happen is where we stand, and what ultimately will happen depends upon the choices that we make. That is why it’s useful to examine the case of Rwanda, and in spite of all the pain it causes, to talk about it and to try to learn something from it. That is the reason we are having this event tonight. Actually, this is one of a series of events that’s being organized by a coalition of groups, of which the Holocaust Museum is privileged to be one.
Other groups include the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Council on Foreign Relations, the US Institute of Peace. I hope that you received when you came in, a calendar of the events that will be held around the city over the next six weeks to mark the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide and to spark dialogue and discussion about how we can prevent the failures of the past from recurring.
I should just point out that the final event in this series will once again be here at the Museum on the evening of May 4. On Tuesday, May 4, we will present a lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power, looking at the concept of the responsibility to protect: Is there a responsibility to protect groups when they’re in danger. And if there is, how do we fulfill that responsibility? That will be followed the next day by two panels at the Woodrow Wilson Center that will look in somewhat more detail at that issue of how do we develop capacity to prevent genocide and mass murder? How do we develop the capacity to intervene when prevention fails?
For our discussion this evening, I’m going to start out by asking some questions to our panelists, but as you came in, you should have also gotten index cards, small index cards. You can use those to write down questions that you have now about Rwanda after having seen the film. Very shortly, my colleagues will circulate down the aisle and collect the cards and we will use those as the basis for further discussion so that we can get a sense of what the questions are on your minds, and convey them to this group of panelists that we’re really very honored to have here.
As Sara said at the beginning, in particular Bonaventure and Gromo have traveled all the way from Kigali -- both of them -- it’s a long enough trip to begin with, but both of them encountered substantial delays. Bonaventure in particular was stuck in Brussels for hours, so I think his trouble was even greater than he anticipated. Greg Barker has come from London, and Ambassador Prudence Bushnell has come only from across the river, where’s she’s at the Foreign Service Institute. But at the same time, I think as you can tell, this is a difficult thing for her to speak about, and so we really appreciate her and all of the panelists coming this evening.
I actually wanted to start by turning to Bonaventure. I think a question that a lot of us -- even those of us who have spent a lot of time thinking about Rwanda and even having been there -- ask is, how did this difference come about, this perception of difference come about that the Hutu extremists decided they needed to eliminate the Tutsi? Certainly at the time, you see them referred to as different tribes, which I understand is not true. Often you see them referred to as different ethnic groups, which is not even necessarily an accurate description. So I was wondering if just very briefly you could describe how this perception of group difference came about and what the groups really are.
BONAVENTURE NIYIBIZI: Thank you, Jerry, and thank you to those who have contributed to producing this film and give us the lessons from Rwanda. That is what we probably have to learn today, is what are the lessons that we have to learn and how we are going to go about in the future. Coming back to your question, I don’t think there has been -- what did you say, violence? -- between Tutsi and Hutu? Basically, I don’t think that the Hutu population didn’t actually decide to kill the Tutsi, in spite of what you have seen. The political leadership did at the first point. It was started by the political leadership.
It goes back in the colonial period with the Belgian political leadership, and to start with, an identity card -- if I am trying to briefly talk about the situation, was installed in 1933 in which the ethnic group was indicated. Briefly speaking, it was a policy to divide and rule. Then it went on and on in different ways. It created a division and a tension, especially when a group of people is trying to take power. It was exacerbated in 1959 at the independence period. Then the political leadership mobilized the mass of Hutu with the political party which was called Parmehutu, with the assistance and the advice from the Catholic Church. Several bishops in Rwanda were involved in the process.
Then it went on and on and on. So actually, the full situation did not start on April 6, 1994. The genocide did not start on April 6. It started in the 1960s, then it went on in the 1970s. Then early 1993, January, an international commission composed of several human rights organizations in January or February was producing a report, a clear report that the acts of genocide were occurring in Rwanda. Basically when we reached this period, it became clear that it was not Hutu extremists and so on. The point is, the whole population was mobilized to kill. If you had an identity card like the one I had and still have -- fortunately it is not an official identity card today -- was for you a clear decision that you will die. If you were on the list for any reason because you are coming from an opposition political party with that, so that is how many people died.
The lists were prepared before. The houses were identified where Tutsis were living and how many people were living there. So if you have a political system without very clear guidelines, it may end up by having this situation. It doesn’t matter if they’re Hutus or Tutsis.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you. Obviously people can’t see this card, but it’s important to point out that you have your picture on the top of the page, and then right below it, the very first line is “ethnicity,” and it identifies you as a Tutsi. And this was a card that, as you say, originated with the Belgians and was carried through 1994, until 1994, by everyone.
I wanted to pick up on something you said. You referred to a report that was done in early 1993 by a group of international human rights observers who came to Rwanda, and they did talk about acts of genocide or threats of genocide because of escalating massacres that were coming on. These were respectable human rights groups. In fact, one of the members of the Commission is going to be here next week on Tuesday at the Museum, Bill Schabas, who is now a professor at the University of Ireland in Galway, talking about genocide and international law.
But the question that I have is actually for Ambassador Bushnell. These people wrote this report, and I’m willing to bet that you may not have any recollection of it -- maybe you do. I don’t mean to put you on the spot there. But I think it’s probably safe to say that this report might have made it to someone in the US government, but then sat in somebody’s box. I suspect it didn’t influence the way that the United States government was viewing developments in Rwanda. This was a full year before the genocide. So, you know, a period when it wasn’t a matter of putting in troops, but there was a dynamic developing. I’m wondering first, if you would agree with that characterization; and secondly, is this a problem that can be overcome, where, in stages where crises are starting to build, they’re not getting enough attention. It’s only after they become full-blown crises that there’s really attention paid to them.
AMB. BUSHNELL: I think it depends on where the crisis is. There are some parts of the world where the crisis doesn’t have to be very large to get a lot of attention, and there are other parts of the world where it has to be cataclysmic. It is my sense that Africa is a part of the world where it has to be cataclysmic. I would like to see that change.
JERRY FOWLER: The $64,000 question is, how do we change that? You saw Monique say well, the US doesn’t have friends, it just has interests, and there are no interests, basically, in the heart of Africa. Speaking to citizens, how can that be changed?
AMB. BUSHNELL: Damned if I know. Okay? I would talk to members of the media about Africa, and they would say well, you know, we can’t write about Africa because the American public doesn’t care about Africa. When I was in Kenya for three years, I was really struck by the numbers of the members of the Congress who came through Kenya as private citizens. Nobody came through Kenya as a member of Congress, because we didn’t like Moi. That was okay. There was a reason not to like Moi --
JERRY FOWLER: Moi being the President --
AMB. BUSHNELL: Moi having been the President of Kenya at the time. The fact is that I found a great deal of interest on the part of American people through their churches, through non-governmental organizations, various charities. You would have a fair number of rank and file of Americans saying that there is -- yes, we have an interest in Africa, and then you have many of the elites in the media, in the government -- elites, who say, well, terribly sorry, there’s nothing we can do in Africa because there’s no interest in Africa. That is anecdotal information.
Maybe we need to go down and get actual information about the amount of interest there is. And until there is, human rights reports are going to sit in the in-box of people who feel pretty powerless to do anything about them, because everyone will say, well shoot, no-one’s going to let us do anything because it’s not in our interest.
JERRY FOWLER: I want to come back to this in just a minute, but first I wanted to just actually change gears a little bit, because I want to bring Gromo and Greg into this discussion. One thing that I think was really interesting about this clip and is something that is fascinating about the story of Rwanda, and it also occurs in the Holocaust, is when people take risks, individual people take risks to save lives. Particularly this clip focused on Capt. Mbaye Diagne, and it focused on Gromo, who made the choice to go to Kigali after the genocide started. I wanted to start by asking you, Gromo, first, what motivated you to go back? You kind of refer to it in the clip. Then secondly, what was motivating Capt. Mbaye? What was it that drove him to exceed his orders, to save the Prime Minister’s children, to be smuggling people out when it wasn’t, strictly speaking, what he was expected to do?
GREGORY ALEX: Can you ask that again? I’m sorry. I’m still a little bit lost. There were two questions there.
JERRY FOWLER: There were two questions, and I apologize if I wasn’t clear.
GREGORY ALEX: No, it was clear. My mind’s not.
JERRY FOWLER: I understand that. The first question was really what motivated you to go to Rwanda. You were not there when the genocide started, and as I understand it, you volunteered to go into this maelstrom, when so many other people were trying to wash their hands of it. And then secondly, if you could just reflect a little bit on what motivated Capt. Mbaye to do what he did, to exceed his orders to save lives.
GREGORY ALEX: Actually, I was there when the genocide started and I was evacuated a few days after the beginning. I was motivated partly by seeing what others had done. There was one UN Security Officer, a fellow named Jean Francois Fèvre, a Frenchman, of all things. He was the one, actually, that saved me, took me out of my home with my daughter after some rather difficult experiences.
What he had done, when he finally got to Nairobi after being evacuated himself, he had put in so much energy that he just cracked. I mean, he had saved people’s lives. I had been brought up, like many American children, to be the best that I could be. My parents were like that. They taught me to respect everyone as equals. I felt that -- and I had guilt, too. I had guilt that there were things I hadn’t done, people I know that I didn’t save that died. I felt that at least if I could go back, maybe I could be a little bit like Jean and like Mike. Be like Jean. Go back.
That was when I met Mbaye. And Mbaye was just one of those special people that some of us are very fortunate, lucky to meet. It was like the world around him didn’t matter. He had a responsibility to himself and he just loved people, so he went around and was motivated by -- maybe just by the way he was. I always think of him as Cool Hand Luke, because he was always smiling and he always made people smile, and it was -- I think it was not so much that he was saving these people but he was making them smile probably while he was doing it that motivated him, just to make people feel good.
He could make people that wanted to kill these people also feel good when they weren’t doing it. So, you know, it’s hard to understand maybe exactly what was behind it, but the stories I hear about him in the war that he fought in before he came to Rwanda was that he was a hero then, a very brave officer. So I think there are just certain people -- you know, I just saw a movie the other day for the first time the other day, “Unbreakable.” You know, maybe there are people like that that are comic strip or comic book characters that are made to be heroes, and he was one of them.
JERRY FOWLER: I wanted you to comment on that, Greg. You said in your introduction and you told me before that you want this film to be about evil and how we respond to evil, how people respond to evil. I’m wondering what you’ve learned in doing this; what do you want people to take away from this?
GREG BARKER: Well, just examples of people who -- you know, I think all of us wish that, faced with these great moral dilemmas -- what do you do in the face of evil -- that we’d do the right thing, you know? I don’t think anybody has any idea how we would respond when that moment actually comes. I’m fascinated by that. What is it that makes somebody do the right thing?
Capt. Mbaye -- I have never heard another individual described the way people who knew Capt. Mbaye described him. Later on in the film, hopefully you can see the whole two hours, he’s killed. He’s killed -- after saving hundreds of people, he’s killed just by going, driving back from the Hotel Milles Collines back to UN Headquarters. He’s going over a checkpoint and -- of course there’s a civil war going on at the same time -- and a random shell just lands on the bridge and kills him instantly.
The scene at the airport when they -- Gromo wrapped up his body in blue plastic sheeting because the UN was so poorly supported they didn’t even have body bags. They had to find plastic sheeting and wrap him up. This guy came from nowhere. He was one of twelve children in Dakar, in Senegal, a very ordinary, poor family. My field producer’s gone to Dakar. A lot of the footage of him is actually his own video that he was shooting there.
We went and met his family and met others who knew him, and they were very generous in giving us his home video. This guy got into university, excelled in the military and – but in a lot of ways, he was just a normal guy, and suddenly he decided to do the right thing. I mean, why, who knows? Philippe Gaillard, he just was there and he just decided to stay and do the right thing. The guy, you know, his numbers which he talks, he threw them, and I believe he’s right -- he says the Red Cross in Kigali, in Rwanda, saved 65,000 lives. Sixty-five thousand lives just by being there and by challenging the killers.
They didn’t kill everybody -- they didn’t save everybody, obviously. They saved a fraction, but they saved people. Why did he do that? Who knows? I’ve spent a lot of time with him and others who were faced with this dilemma, and I don’t have an answer to that. But I just would hope that by learning, listening to people’s stories, that maybe we can kind of -- I personally and people who watch the film can ask questions of themselves of what would all of us do. Because the failure in Rwanda was a collective failure. And the media didn’t cover the story well.
That’s why a report about planning of genocide a year and a half before wouldn’t have had any resonance. It didn’t even have any resonance when it began. There was very little media coverage. So it forces us to think about what any of us would do in the face of that kind of evil.
JERRY FOWLER: We’ve started having some of the questions come in. What many people are asking, and actually, do this first for Bonaventure, how is the tenth anniversary being marked in Kigali? But the larger question, how are relations between Hutu and Tutsi today? And how is society being put back together after this kind of cataclysm?
BONAVENTURE NIYIBIZI: I think to say what is the situation in Rwanda, we have to remember that hundreds of thousands of people actually participated in the genocide. If we had more than one million of people killed by machetes, not (inaudible), in one hundred days, you can imagine how many people were involved in each of villages, in the church that you have seen, in the schools, in the hospitals; can imagine how many people were participating in bringing men of these people to take another thousand of people to deliver and kill them there and send them back to Ethiopia like some were saying.
You have many, many thousands of people who participated in the genocide. So that is a chance. And what happened, importantly, is that when the government was put in place in July ’94, one of the first priority was reconciliation, was justice, was to bring back the refugees who were in Congo, Zaire at the time, in Tanzania and elsewhere. This was almost a radical change in Rwanda compared to what we had seen several years before. In the ’60s, when the whole thing started, several thousand of people fled Rwanda and went into neighboring countries. They were never allowed to come back to Rwanda.
In 1994, basically 1996, every single Rwandan living abroad was allowed to come back to Rwanda. Actually, the government put a lot of efforts to bring these people back home. Then there were institutions which were created -- the Reconciliation Commission, the Human Rights Commission -- and this was one of the first priorities in the government. So this has helped a lot. I am not saying that it has been completed. We still probably have a long way to go.
Importantly, there are a lot of efforts being done today. There are also problems. The justice system is one of the problems. I’m seeing Ambassador Pierre Prosper here. He has been involved in Rwanda since 1995. He probably will be able to tell you what is happening with the International Tribunal. But some of the things which are happening today may be difficult to understand and probably will make the situation more difficult.
I remember having been at the University of Maryland a few years ago with a good friend called Dick McCorran, [phonetic] and many people at the University were saying that no genocide happened in Rwanda, that the main question was why President Habyarimana died. In Arusha, we, as the survivors, are wondering today how one of the main people -- being Arusha -- is innocent. And we are wondering how this Tribunal is efficient.
They went to the southwest of Cyangugu, where this guy is from, and they went into the stadium. And they had many witnesses showing us where he was standing with the list, this piece of paper I am showing you here indicates ethnic, Hutu,Tutsi, Twa, and nationality. So you had these and then you had the list. And the [indecipherable] went at the stadium and he had a list, he read the list and the names of people who went there were taken away and killed. Today the International Tribunal is saying he is innocent. This is a challenge, because without the justice, without a good political system, it will be difficult, not only in Rwanda, to have reconciliation and to have a stable society. It will be very, very difficult.
There is a need to have contribution from inside but also from outside, especially from special rights institutions. I think we are making a lot of progress but are still challenges ahead. But we have to know that these people are denying that the genocide occurred in Rwanda. Today, I was reading in the newspapers again the story about the plane which killed President Habyarimana, ten years. Why is it happening, especially today? We know from what we are reading that the presidential guards prevented the Belgian troops from going to where the plane was shot. So somebody had the evidence. It was not (inaudible), because knowing what happened, it is difficult to think that somebody from the RPF was able to reach that place.
Why is this happening today? Why is the International Tribunal Court in Arusha, someone like Mbeki is saying these people were innocent? So you have to look at the situation in Rwanda. Keep thinking in mind that several hundred of thousand of people were participated actually in the genocide, but also you have to look at the justice system. And third, you have to think about the people are saying the genocide never happened in Rwanda. And all things which are happening. So we have to face those challenges, I think.
JERRY FOWLER: Gromo, I wanted you actually to comment on that as well from your perspective, as now you’re with the World Bank in Kigali. The challenges of rebuilding the society, especially as Bonaventure’s pointed out -- there’s still a large number of people who are in prison, accused of participation in the genocide. And also the level of international support for reconstructing the country.
GREGORY ALEX: Well, there’s a lot that needs to be done in Rwanda, and it’s not just Rwanda itself. It’s the whole region. When we talk about reconciliation, we talk about people that have not yet come back to Rwanda -- who are living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who are living in the Republic of the Congo, who are living in Zambia, who are living in Burundi -- who have not yet come back, who are wreaking havoc in places like Burundi and northwest Burundi. They’re not convinced, it seems, that the task that they set out to complete is yet done.
This is one of the fears that I think we all should have, is that we talk about a genocide, we talk about it taking place over a period of 30-some years from when it first started in Rwanda, and there are people that do not believe that it is over. It was driven by political leadership, in the 1990s in particular, when the genocide started. It was pushed by people that were doctors and lawyers and highly-educated people who were telling the peasants to go out and kill people, and ignorance was the fuel for the genocide in 1994.
What the government now is trying to do is educate, but one of the difficulties is now we have better education access, more balanced education as well. Let’s not forget that in the ’90s and in the 1980’s, the educational system that was in place was teaching the students that Tutsis were cockroaches, that they were lower class than the others. There’s a whole system that has to be overtaken. It is not so easy that we can replace that whole thought and that the whole pattern that already existed. The problem now is that ten years later, there’s been so much progress, but there’s also still so much poverty. The ignorance may be lessened, but the poverty has not been.
When you look at eastern Congo and, you know, we’re talking about genocide, we’re talking about “why does it have to get to the point of genocide?” The argument in 1994 was, “God, we can’t call it a genocide because if we call it a genocide, then we’re obliged by the rules of law to intervene.” The world would not admit that genocide was taking place. You have women and girls, eight, nine, ten years old, being raped with rifle butts in the eastern Congo; you have children being abducted in northern Uganda, being forced to kill people, even in their own families, to be members of the LRA. You have young girls that are the sex slaves of the LRA. You have all these things that are happening still in the region. It’s the violence, it’s the hatred, it’s the perpetuation, the branching off of the genocide of 1994 that is happening now.
You could go to the Congo in 1989 and you wouldn’t find this. You go there now and you find it. So we -- I think we have to look at, you know, the genocide issue is -- it doesn’t have to get to that point where that’s where we intervene or we have to do something. We have to make sure that people are educated, make sure that people have access to health services, to water, to the education, to everything that they need to be better off, that they are not easily swayed by the evil that permeated Rwanda in 1994.
We talk about evil. You could smell it. You could see it in people’s eyes. These people that were killing, you’d look into their eyes and you’d see beyond, right through them. It was this blackness that was there. It was an evil. You know, Greg has spoken about it. Dallaire spoke about it. This was an existence that was there that is still there, and we can’t limit it also just to, you know, the Great Lakes region.
Let’s look beyond. The Director of the Museum spoke about Sudan. When we leave here, are we going to come back ten years later, ten years from now, and look at the plaque at the entrance to this Museum where it says “never again” and then say, geez, we didn’t really mean never again yet, we mean never again sometime later on. I don’t know if I’m answering your question.
We’re not over this yet. There are still people that believe that the genocide is a process that’s not over, and there are great attempts to stop it, but -- you talk about justice, these people that do need trials. There are people that are also innocent that are in prison. Justice is for all. It’s for the guilty to be found guilty and to be penalized and punished for the crimes they’ve committed, and it’s for the innocent to go free, and for the reconciliation that they place.
Its people -- one, I just don’t know how people can forgive. I can’t. I don’t have that heart in me to forgive as the Rwandans are forgiving. But when Bonaventure speaks of, you know, this process -- I mean, imagine. I’m married to a woman whose daughter and brothers and sisters and mother were all slaughtered. And she’s forgiving. But how -- I couldn’t be, but she is. And how can you do that? And you have to respect and appreciate that Rwandans are willing to say, God, this happened but let’s move on. Let’s do something that will change it.
It also has to mean that on the other side, the people that you’re forgiving are asking for it, or acknowledging that they’ve done something wrong. And still, there are people that killed hundreds or thousands of people who are involved in these killings that don’t recognize that they did anything wrong. So the world still has yet to change.
JERRY FOWLER: I actually wanted to press that point with Greg, about the attitude of the perpetrators. You had the interview with the one perpetrator from Nyarubuye. Did you talk to others in prison?
GREG BARKER: The interviews with the perpetrators were done; they were the ones that I did not do. They were done by our colleagues with the BBC who did all those. Fergal Keene, who many of you I’m sure are familiar with his work -- he’s interviewed in the film and he’s a colleague of ours -- interviewed a lot of all the perpetrators in Nyarubuye. They’re doing a whole project just on that one village.
Speaking for Fergal, that one guy [indecipherable] who was in the film -- you know, they talked to, they had full access to go to all the prisons. And they talked to a lot of people, and the people in the prisons are supposed to tell their story whenever they’re asked -- that’s my understanding -- so a lot of them would all talk and they’d say, well, I killed one person. I didn’t want to but I killed one person. This one guy actually sort of spoke more as a human being who was really trying to come to terms with it, grapple with it himself and how he could do that, how his friends could do this and kill their neighbors. I think Fergal found that that was rare -- most of the interviewees did not have that kind of personal insight. You know, it’s only ten years. You know, it takes a while to heal the wounds.
JERRY FOWLER: I want to turn to Ambassador Bushnell, and this is a question that a lot of people were asking in kind of two different ways. The first is the way it’s written on this card, which I think is very well put, is “what could or should someone in your situation have done, given the constraints of your position? What could someone in your role do in the future?”
I know this is a particularly important question for you because you’re now the Dean of the Leadership School at the Foreign Service Institute, which trains foreign service officers who are about to be promoted to senior executive status and newly appointed ambassadors. So I was wondering, what do you tell them? What lessons do you draw from that experience that you try to pass on to them, and do you think that changes their attitudes?
AMB. BUSHNELL: I’ve been asked if I thought there was something I should have done that I didn’t do, and I have learned that in one conversation, Tony Lake said -- Tony Lake, who at the time was the head of the National Security Council -- “well, gee, Pru Bushnell should have called me and I would have taken her call.” Well, I should have called him. Now, at my rank, did it occur to me to call him? Absolutely not. But there you are.
And this gets to your issue of what we tell people. I am struck at watching the film, listening to people like Tony Lake and talking to my colleagues around town, at how utterly powerless we feel to make changes. Here was Tony Lake saying, well, I was personally appalled by what was happening but my hands were tied because -- whatever, whatever, whatever. The head of the National Security Council of the United States of America feels powerless.
Now, if Tony Lake felt powerless, imagine what people around town in government offices, NGOs, at mid-ranks and lower senior ranks, feel. Powerless. What we talk to and spend a lot of time talking about with our colleagues is, hey folks, you are “they.” You know, “they.” “They” who do this, “they” who can’t do that. “They” who have ruined our lives. “They” who have the power. You’re it. And that’s the lesson to me on this, that -- you know, when I listen to you and I listen to Bonaventure and I think, oh my God, what am I going to do about Sudan? Do I feel powerless? You bet. Okay.
Take a deep breath. Well, maybe I can’t do anything about Sudan but maybe one of you can. Maybe I can write my member of Congress about Sudan. Maybe I can say Africa matters. Maybe I can say it’s not little old me, it is a citizen of the United States of America who has a right to make a point and not to give up my power by saying somebody wouldn’t like it. Thank you.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you. That actually caused me to lose my train of thought for a second. There’s this saying or this kind of passage that you just reminded me of that’s often attributed to Nelson Mandela, which I actually did some research on and that’s a false attribution. But it’s very true and it’s something that he could have said; to the effect that, “who are you to say that you can’t accomplish something. Give yourself permission to accomplish something.”
I think a lot of us do -- you know, in my job -- we just -- oh, if I do anything, it won’t have any effect. One of the examples of -- well, Gromo stands for it and Capt. Mbaye stands for it -- that, you know, you can make a difference. There’s a saying also in the Jewish tradition which I’ve learned that the fact that you can’t finish a job doesn’t absolve you of starting it. That you do not have to worry whether you’re going to get to the end, but you’ve got to take the first step.
A question that a lot of people have -- and I’m going to start with you, Ambassador Bushnell, but I think everyone will have a view on this -- is what’s the importance of race in this? What’s the importance of the fact that this -- I mean, we’ve talked a little bit -- happens in Africa? But let’s put a finer point on it -- the fact that these were Africans, that these were black people. How does that influence the importance that’s attached to it, the sense that well, this is what happens. How did that affect our response to Rwanda and how does it affect our response to some of the problems that Gromo pointed out? I’m throwing this to you first.
AMB. BUSHNELL: I’m going to lose my job. I think it makes all the difference.
JERRY FOWLER: I think one thing that I’ve learned is that when there are elephants in the room, it’s good to say there’s an elephant in the room, and I appreciate your saying that. Do the others of you have a comment?
AMB. BUSHNELL: Africans are much more diplomatic. Go ahead.
BONAVENTURE NIYIBIZI: No, I’m not going to be. I’m not going to be diplomat because I believe that there is little difference between a black and a white. Unfortunately, when it comes to survive or to react, there is a difference. Many people have been asking me what is the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi. I always give an example that if I was going to go to Alaska and someone had an accident and I am called to the hospital, then they test my blood, I may be able to save someone in Alaska.
Try to imagine how far Alaska is from Rwanda. So if I can save someone with my blood in Alaska and can save him from dying, try to think about the difference about with the Hutu who is my neighbor and who has ever been my neighbor. He’s a human being, but we have not been able to internalize the human being side of our lives. Unfortunately, the society we are living in today I think is a society of interest. What we have seen, the Congress was not interested. The Pentagon was not interested. It was not a lack of means, it was a lack of interest.
I was there, because Rwanda, being a small tiny country in central Africa with black people, no interests, it doesn’t matter to put a lot of effort and resources there. But still, they are human being. And when the international community say in 1948 that “never again,” I’m assuming it was “never again” for any human being, for white and Jews and black and yellow and red, if there are any. It was “never again” for a human being.
So we are not there yet. But I think the response was: In the film, the Congress was not interested, the Pentagon was not interested. There was no strategic reason to go to Rwanda. If we look at the situation today, the document I am reading quite often, there are huge, a lot of information about Rwanda which would help the Tribunal. This information exists, I am sure today.
Go next door to Canada. Someone called Leon Mugesera is living in Canada, and in November 1992 he was a professor at a university. So I will come back to what Gromo is saying about not being educated. We have to think about it twice. This is a professor who was educated in Canada, a professor in the university and he made a speech, a public speech, that the mistake made in 1959 was that they allowed children and women to survive and they killed men, and that they were not going to repeat the same mistake in 1994.
What happened less than perhaps two years later was that thousands of people were sent to (inaudible) and you have seen that. You have seen just as more (inaudible). And nobody’s reacting. The justice in Canada is saying that this guy is not guilty. The speech exist, they have been translated many times. The speech went public, broadcasted. I don’t think if this had happened in Europe, this guy would not be considered as innocent in Canada. Never. But since he is in Africa, he’s still being considered as innocent because so many friends where he studied and so on are helping him and making it easy to remain in Canada since 1992.
The question is still there and we have the responses in the film. I’m not being diplomat, but I think this is the reality we have to face today because you never know when you can be black. You may turn by being black. What I’m saying is, when a situation like this comes and leadership comes and someone who has the power says we are going to exterminate these people, you do not know what is going to be the criteria. It may be bald people like me, it can be African-American in the United States, it can be Spanish, it can be women, it can be any reason. So we have to be cautious and not say since it is in Africa, since they are black, when it comes the genocide, we have just to keep in mind that we are facing a human reality and do not look at the color of the interests. That’s what I’m talking. And I hope it will happen one day or another, but at least we have to focus on that.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, from your lips to God’s ears. Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of your time, but I wanted to invite the Greg and the other panelists, if there’s -- and Bonaventure as well -- if there’s anything that you wanted to say as a last word, that you want to leave the audience with.
GREG BARKER: Watch the film.
JERRY FOWLER: And I think with that, I’ll say that the film is showing locally on WETA on April 8 at 8:00 p.m., on other PBS stations nationwide. Check your local listings. I want to ask all of you to join me in thanking our panelists for this wonderful discussion.