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Museum Releases Information about Lead-Up to Rwandan Genocide

New Initiative in Partnership with National Security Archive to Examine International Responses to the Rwandan Genocide


WASHINGTON, DC—The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today released previously unpublished material about a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, including revealing details behind the so-called “genocide fax.” The fax was sent by Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, then head of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, to his superiors in New York in January 1994—a full three months before the genocide began—to alert them of the impending violence.

The release of information about the genocide fax marks the launch of a new initiative, Failure to Prevent: International Decision Making in the Age of Genocide, which the Museum is conducting in partnership with the National Security Archive (external link). This documentation and oral history initiative centers around conducting groundbreaking research into the massive failure of the international community to stop the campaign of killing that took the lives of between 500,000 and one million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsis, during 100 days between April and July 1994.

“The purpose of our project is to open up more information and detail about what happened—or didn’t happen—in the months before the genocide began,” said Mike Abramowitz, director of the Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide. “As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, we must ask ourselves what we have learned from that tragedy, one of the most horrifying and brutal episodes of mass violence that the world has seen since the Holocaust.”

The Failure to Prevent initiative will examine a succession of turning points before and during the Rwandan genocide when international action could have made a difference, and will include collecting, declassifying, and making accessible—sometimes for the first time—key documents from a wide variety of sources. It will also include new interviews with decision makers and eyewitnesses for their firsthand perspectives. Each of these turning points will be released as an “electronic briefing book” containing a selection of annotated and analyzed documents, photographs, and eyewitness testimony.

The project, which will follow the course of the genocide, is aimed at educating policy makers and the public about the importance of early action to prevent genocide. It is based on a simple premise—that all mass atrocities are preceded by warning signs and that if the international community learns more about those signs, the risk factors and possible triggering events of genocides, then it will be possible in the future to prevent violence from metastasizing into genocide.

The Museum’s Rwanda documentation project is being directed by Michael Dobbs, a historian and former journalist, who has written several books about the Cold War. Dobbs said that the new information about Jean-Pierre Turatsinze, including a previously unpublished interview with his wife, is a reminder that we still have much to learn about the dynamics of the Rwandan genocide. The  project is featured in a  New York Times op-ed (external link).

“Twenty years after the genocide, documents that could shed light on the tragedy are still locked away in archives in Washington, Paris, Arusha, Brussels, and Kigali,” said Dobbs. “In order to draw the proper lessons from the genocide, we first have to assemble all the available facts and declassify any remaining secrets. That is the goal of our project.”

In addition to the Failure to Prevent initiative, which will culminate in a conference at The Hague in June that will bring together many of the individuals who were in leading positions during the Rwandan genocide, the Museum will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in a number of other ways.

A high-level delegation will travel to Rwanda around the time of the anniversary to bear witness to the events of the past and to add the Museum’s voice of conscience to the commemorations.

The Museum will present Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire with its highest honor—the Elie Wiesel Award—at its annual dinner on April 30, during Holocaust Days of Remembrance. General Dallaire will be honored for his bravery and moral courage in standing up to his superiors, for saving countless lives, and for trying to protect thousands more. Ultimately, in spite of sounding the alarm and putting himself and his soldiers at risk, his mission failed and he was recalled, but he never gave up speaking out against those who failed him. Previous winners of the award include Elie Wiesel and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

More information about the Museum’s activities in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and the Failure to Prevent initiative can be found on the Museum’s website at ushmm.org/rwanda20 and on the Museum’s Facebook, as well as on the National Security Archive’s website and FacebookOn Twitter, look for #Rwanda20yrs on @HolocaustMuseum and @Nsarchive.

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum seeks to inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. The Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide works to make the prevention of genocide and related crimes against humanity a national and international priority.

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