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The Rwandan Holocaust And Western Indifference

This was systematic, planned genocide – a deliberate policy of extermination fed by ethnic hatred and lust for power. It was even referred to by the Hutu Power leaders as “the final solution” – Walter Unger

Anthony McIntyre • The Other View, Summer 2004

In our grossly inflated ethnocentric perspective the loyalist and republican ceasefires of ten years ago were the big events of 1994. Listen to the representatives of either persuasion or the governments they deal with and you would never guess that in another part of the world just months before the cessations more people were being killed on a single day than died as a result of the conflict in Ireland from 1969: 8,000 every 24 hours; five and a half people per minute. And while our politicians were getting the ear and time of President Bill Clinton courtesy of our comparatively minor conflict, the leader of Western ‘civilisation’ was displaying a wilful indifference to genocide, pretending in fact that he did not know it was taking place. And we stayed silent too because we were getting his attention, never as much as raising a whimper in protest that those in greater need were being ignored and butchered. But we are white Europeans. Black Africans just don’t seem to matter as much. A Rwandan government official ruefully observed that the country has no standing within the international community: ‘we don’t have oil, so it doesn’t matter that we have blood, or that we are human beings.’

Rwanda, because of its lush, rolling hills has been described as Ireland with sun. Although Hutu and Tutsi are referred to as ethnic groups, tribes or races, Philip Gourevitch, author of a book on the country's genocide, comments that ‘nobody knows exactly how they came into being as social categories in Rwanda.’ For some, Rwanda is not a nation but a bad marriage between these two main groups who share a common language and religion. Under initial colonisation by the Germans then the Belgians, the Tutsis despite their minority status, a mere 15 per cent of the population, functioned as an elite group and traditionally wielded power over the Hutu majority. According to Gourevitch, Tutsis represented the aristocratic upper classes while Hutus were the peasant masses. The power and privilege disparity was continuously reinforced by the Belgians who imposed an apartheid type system on the country. When Rwanda became an independent state in 1962, the Hutus reversed the status quo and came to dominate, treating the Tutsis as badly as they had been treated by them.

This long-standing tension between the two groups has fuelled the myth, which suited both the perpetrators and the West, that the 1994 Hutu onslaught was just one more unforeseen tribal flare-up, the catalyst for which lay in the assassination of the country’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana on April the 6th; an event that provoked widespread popular revulsion. However, as Walter Unger states:

since 1990 Hutu militiamen were being trained in the skilful use of machetes to mutilate and butcher people so that by 1994, at the proper, engineered moment, hundreds of thousands of Hutus could work as killers in regular shifts slaughtering Tutsis.

This training of the interahamwe - meaning 'those who attack together' - an African equivalent of the SS Einsatzgruppen, was a response to a campaign being waged by Tutsis expelled from the country. Their objective - securing repatriation to their homes. In 1993, Tanzania brokered the Arusha Accords, a power sharing arrangement which would see both Tutsi and Hutu installed in office. A ceasefire would be overseen by UN troops led by Canadian General Romeo Dalliare. The previous Hutu rulers were furious at the idea of their absolute power being compromised by having some of it doled out to both the Tutsis and Hutu opposition parties. They resolved to take corrective action. Their means, systematic mass physical extermination of a civilian population.

There was nothing that crept up on the blind side of the US or UN. The warning signs had been flashing for quite some time. A report by the Organization of African Unity later claimed that the slaughter could have been prevented had France, the United States, the United Nations and Christian church leaders only listened to the alarms. A decade after the bloodshed a compelling case can be made from the research that Rwanda was abandoned by the United Nations and that the ultimate dead hand of inertia in all of this was the US. The UN Genocide Convention of 1948 which contracts the UN Security Council to halt genocide and punish those responsible was treated with contempt by the Clinton White House. Throughout those murderous hundred days, Clinton officials were specifically instructed not to use the word "genocide" lest it provoke public pressure to do something. And when France eventually got around to sending in a force it saved not the victims of genocide but those who perpetrated it from the Tutsi led Rwandan Patriotic Front which seized control of the country in the closing days of June. It also allowed many of the leading war criminals to escape into the Congo. By then three-quarters of the registered Tutsi population had been put to the machete.

Documentation now accessible to the public shows that Clinton’s staff knew within days of Habyarimana’s assassination that a "final solution" to eliminate all Tutsis was under way. Three months before the genocide began Dallaire informed his UN superiors of a Hutu government plan to strategically murder Belgian UN troops for the purpose of pre-empting through fear any outside intervention designed to curb the génocidaires once they were activated. His on-the-ground assessment was that if his troop quota was doubled to 5,000 he could halt the genocide. The US blocked him from taking any action and ensured that the ‘blue helmets’ would be withdrawn. The American president insisted that the UN had to learn, ‘when to say no’. The UN took its lead from Clinton, not Dalliare, and reduced its troop presence to a token and ineffectual 270.

Fearful of adverse public reaction as a result of losing 18 soldiers in Somalia months earlier the US preferred to tie its own hands rather than those swinging the murderous machetes. And because of this wanton abandonment Hutu priest Father Senyenzi, who threw in his lot with the Tutsi victims and was to die alongside them, told the congregation who sought shelter in his chapel, ‘these are your last hours. Prepare yourselves to be received by God. Prepare your hearts to be received in heaven.’ Meanwhile the interahamwe gathered outside chanting the fate they had devised for the ‘cockroaches.’ Many of them were directed there by state radio entreating them to do their work as the graves were not yet full. The UN failed even to jam Radio Hate.

Rwanda was the site of the most sustained and systematic genocide waged since the Holocaust. And those that could have halted it did absolutely nothing. In fact by reducing the limited force available to Dalliare, they did worse than nothing. In April 2002, the Dutch cabinet resigned en masse because it felt responsible for failing to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Yet all those who sat and prevaricated on preventable Rwandan massacres stayed in place, from Clinton to Kofi Annan.

French historian Gerard Prunier lashed out at the notion that ‘Africa is a place of darkness, where furious savages clobber each other on the head to assuage their dark ancestral bloodlusts.’ It is a continent bled dry by the West which then imposes its own darkness in order to evade accountability and responsibility for the ensuing maelstrom of murder and massacre.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Historians and economists {subsidized by governments} are very good at creating and perpetuating myths that justify increasing the power placed in the hands of government.
- Reuven Brenner

Index: Current Articles

23 July 2004

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The Rwandan Holocaust and Western Indifference
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