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Pleading for Help

In December 1993, four months before the violence began, General Roméo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations peacekeeping forces—known as the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda—warned his superiors that Hutu extremists were planning a campaign to exterminate Tutsis. In January 1994, he repeatedly requested a stronger mandate and more troops, but these requests were denied. 

The international community largely ignored the Rwandan genocide, labeling it an “internal conflict.” The major powers at the United Nations discouraged international intervention. While there was an international media presence in Rwanda, journalists also largely portrayed the conflict as a civil war, and did not highlight the intentional killing of civilians. It was left to the human rights and humanitarian organizations on the ground to document and disseminate the vital information about civilian targeting to the public and policymakers.

After the killing started in April, General Dallaire again pleaded for more support from the United Nations, but his pleas were rejected. In fact, within days of the start of the genocide, the UN Security Council voted to reduce the UN peacekeeping force in the country from 2,500 to 270 soldiers. With limited personnel and equipment, a weak mandate, and no outside support, the peacekeepers were severely handicapped.

When the genocide began, members of the international community in Rwanda were evacuated. Only a few international humanitarian aid organizations stayed on the ground, and these aid groups undertook heroic efforts to provide medical care.