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Turning Points

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in 2014, the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide and the National Security Archive launched the first phase of a multiyear initiative titled Failure to Prevent: International Decision Making in the Age of Genocide. The first phase included this series of “electronic briefing books” that provide in-depth background to pivotal events before and during the Rwandan genocide when international action could have made a difference. 

  • On January 11, 1994, General Roméo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, sent a cable to UN headquarters in New York, warning of the impending violence in Rwanda. This “genocide fax” has become a symbol of the failure of the international community to prevent the mass killing.

  • New English translations of the diplomatic traffic between Brussels and New York on the eve of the Rwandan genocide, along with a series of earlier warnings about the potential for mass violence in Rwanda from US, French, and UN sources, document the passivity of the international community.

  • Unwilling to bear the burden of shoring up a key African ally all by itself, France sought to internationalize the growing crisis in Rwanda by pushing responsibility onto the United Nations. At the same time, French president François Mitterrand remained suspicious of the Tutsi-led rebels. 

  • In the months leading up to the genocide, UN officials and western diplomats grew increasingly concerned about the region’s refugee crisis but attempts to address it became enmeshed in political infighting inside Rwanda.

  • Newly ­declassified reporting by key members of the UN Security Council provides a day­-by-day narrative of the international response to the Rwandan genocide, including the decision to withdraw UN peacekeepers from the country at the height of the killing.