CovertAction Quarterly
Genocide in Rwanda, continued

U.S. Fiddles
While Rwanda Burns

What followed was a carefully planned extermination. The government specially trained and mobilized its militia, the interahamwe, compiled in advance a list of targets, and dismissed all administrators seen as moderates, replacing them with extremists. The extremist Hutu radio RTLM and the state-sponsored Radio Rwanda broad cast calls inciting mass murder. Interim president, Theodore Sindikukwabo, also made incendiary speeches on radio and in person around the country congratulating the killers on a job well done and telling those in places such as Butare, where the killing had not yet started, that they should "set to work."

Within 48 hours of this zero hour, France and Belgium found enough troops to mount an evacuation of foreign nationals from Kigali. But, after ten of their soldiers were killed protecting (Hutu, moderate) Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyamana, Belgium ordered its soldiers home-without even first informing the UN. On April 19, even as the slaughter escalated, the UN Security Council voted to reduce the UNAMIR force from 4,500 to 270 men and to restrict its activities to the bare mini mum. Literally minutes after the UN troops abandoned their base at a former school, which had become refuge for several thousand Rwandese Tutsis and op position Hutu, the interahamwe militia and the Presidential Guard stormed the compound and began to massacre those who had taken shelter there.

Ambassador Rawson stayed in Rwanda for ten days after the genocide was first unleashed, before returning to Washington. It was only on April 28-a full three weeks into the slaughter- that he officially declared a "state of disaster." Then he characterized the genocide as tribal killings-exactly the description the killers wanted as a smokescreen for their program of extermination. Had he or any other official invoked the word "genocide," all nations who were signatories of the 1948 convention on genocide would have been obligated by the terms of that treaty to condemn the slaughter and act to stop it.

Rawson's views need not have carried such weight. But there was a policy vacuum in Washington and officials who knew what was happening and could have sounded the alarm were more concerned with avoiding risks to their careers than with preventing slaughter in little Rwanda. At the State Department, Undersecretary of State for African Affairs George Moose focused on elections in South Africa and delegated responsibility to a deputy assistant secretary, Prudence Bushnell. Her insistence on adhering to the minutiae of bureaucratic procedure has come under widespread criticism, despite her subsequent attempts to portray her role as that of a vigorous exponent of action thwarted by others' obstruction. In any case, Bushnell is a junior official easily outranked by those at the National Security Council and the Pentagon, who were even more hostile to any assertive U.S. policy. Since Clinton delayed in appointing a senior director for Africa at the NSC, responsibility was taken-or not taken-by the acting director, Col. MacArthur DeShazer. Even after Don Steinberg took up the position in February 1994, confusion continued for months as the State Department issued policy statements that contradicted those of the White House.

In any case, Rwanda became a test case for the new presidential policy of caution in all peacekeeping affairs. The director of peacekeeping at the NSC, Richard Clark was one of the lead sup porters of U.S. non-action. The Pentagon reportedly insisted that there was a slippery slope between UN involvement and the dispatch of U.S. troops, so that even though nobody had as much as suggested the idea of sending U.S. soldiers, Pentagon representatives op posed any multilateral involvement at all. These positions fed into strong U.S. advocacy for the April 19 pullout of UNAMIR.

The UN's Scuttle Diplomacy

The UN's "scuttle diplomacy" became an international scandal and by April 29, Rwanda was again on the agenda of the Security Council. The secretary general pleaded for the deployment of enough troops to save some of the Rwandese civilians taking refuge in churches, hospitals, and football stadiums. The Ghanaian contingent of UNAMIR, just evacuated, was ready to return at any moment; it just needed transport and armored cars. The Ethiopians offered a fully equipped contingent, lacking only transport. And the remaining 450 UN soldiers (the complete reduction to 270 was never carried out) under the energetic and courageous leadership of the Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, grossly handicapped by the lack of fuel and spare parts, were reduced to improvising to keep at least some vehicles running. Nonetheless, they managed to save some people.

Over the following weeks and months, U.S. parsimony and insistence on the utmost caution impeded the dispatch of UN troops to Rwanda. In fact, all the troops involved were African, and the U.S. financial commitment amounted merely to a contribution to the UN peacekeeping budget. Finally, despite U. S. recalcitrance and after considerable delay, the secretary general seemed to have cobbled together an agreement to dispatch 4,000 troops. But then suddenly, Ambassador Albright insisted on a more modest plan-only 850 troops and observers to prepare the ground for a full force to follow at some unspecified date. On May 16, the Security Council acceded to this U.S. proposal, adopting Resolution 918. Still three weeks would pass until the UN worked out the precise terms of the deployment -a U.S. precondition for action under Presidential Decision Directive No. 25. Only on June 8 did the Security Council give the final authorization to a deployment that had been accorded the "utmost urgency" on April 29. In the intervening five weeks, at least 100,000 died; probably well over 200,000. Each day's delay in April and May meant at least 10,000 more people dead.

Then, the pressing issue became how to transport the troops and equip them with armored personnel carriers (APC) so that they could evacuate trapped civilians. Gen. Dallaire had publicly appealed to the U.S. for APCs. The U.S. agreed-but introduced tough new preconditions. The Pentagon raised its price for leasing 60 APCs, and then insisted that the UN also pay for returning the vehicles to their base in Germany. The whole exercise was priced at $15 million, with $11 million for transport. The APCs finally arrived in Uganda on June 23 and the Ghanaians began training to use them. On July 2-3, while the vehicles were still being readied for action, the Rwandese government collapsed. On July 9, the Rwandese Patriotic Front took power and halted the genocide. Three months had passed since Habyarimana's plane was shot down. The death toll had reached 800,000.

What Genocide?

Did the U.S. have a policy, or did it sit on its hands out of bureaucratic inertia, racist contempt for "tribal" warfare, or simple confusion? Certainly, there was a minimalist imperative at work: Do as little as possible without provoking serious condemnation, especially at home. Throughout this protracted episode of dithering and caution, the State Department was in tune with U.S. public opinion-at least as it was represented by the mainstream media. An April 13 Newsday editorial asked, "What is to be done?" and recommended "nothing." The New York Times was scarcely more subtle: "No member of the United Nations with an army strong enough to make a difference is willing to risk centuries-old history of tribal warfare and deep distrust of outside intervention." Later, in support of the administration's position, the Times wrote: "...to enter this conflict without a defined mission or a plausible military plan risks a repetition of the debacle in Somalia."

The lesson of Somalia might have led the New York Times and the administration to a different conclusion. In that case, stinginess was combined with fear of setting a monetary precedent for the level of U.S. contributions to future militarized humanitarian operations. The human cost of this penny-pinching became evident later in the year when 200,000 Somalis died in a famine that could have been prevented.

For Rwanda, the point of principle was somewhat different, but here, too, avoiding precedent was key. In 1948, the U.S. had signed the Convention against Genocide. A triumph of international humanitarian law, this Convention obliges contracting parties to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. In previous post-World War II cases-such as Cambodia under Pol Pot-the U.S. could pretend that it did not know about the genocide while it was being perpetrated. It could then fudge the issue of punishing those responsible, ostensibly in the name of seeking a peaceful political settlement. In Rwanda, no one could claim ignorance. But the U.S. did not want to act and its failure to condemn and take action to prevent genocide endorsed a more horrific precedent: flaunting an international law designed to never again allow a holocaust to happen while the world stood by.

Legal Nicety Lost on the Dead

Secretary of State Warren Christopher, an accomplished lawyer, instructed his staff to avoid calling the situation in Rwanda genocide, but merely to say that "acts of genocide may have been committed." Ambassador Rawson went one better: "As a responsible government, you don't just go round hollering 'genocide. 'You say that acts of genocide may have occurred and they need to be investigated." The media rightly mocked this piece of legal obfuscation, and Christopher disingenuously conceded, "If there is any particular magic in calling it genocide, I have no hesitancy in saying that." (Rawson has since compared the killings to a war crime, carefully avoiding the term "genocide.")

Christopher's new-found lack of hesitancy was probably related to a policy statement, issued by the State Department, that the Genocide Convention "enables" contracting states to respond. This required an imaginative interpretation of the term "obligation", but was not beyond Christopher's legal expertise or moral adaptability.

When the White House claimed on July 15 that "As the crisis in Rwanda has unfolded, the United States has taken a leading role in efforts to protect the Rwandan people and ensure humanitarian assistance," it was, as the British say, "economical with the truth." By that point, the genocide was over and the U.S. government could concentrate its moral energies on saving refugee children in Goma, Zaire, from cholera. The war had driven about 2 million refugees to overcrowded camps across the border. They certainly needed help, but, in fact, much of the assistance was gratefully appropriated by the Hutu extremists who had master minded both the genocide and the mass exodus.

Like the killers in exile in neighboring countries, the U.S. government is hoping that the bodies will stay buried and that it can resume business as usual in central Africa. On July 16, the Clinton administration expelled the Rwandese ambassador to Washington. Washington had waited until that regime was militarily defeated and a new RPF-headed government was about to take power. Then, suddenly, the administration was indignant: "The United States," said President Clinton, "cannot allow representatives of a regime that supports genocidal massacres to re main on our soil." Taken in April, the gesture and the words might have had meaning; in July they reeked of opportunism and hollow moralizing. The U.S. had broken a solemn covenant under taken nearly a half century ago that never again would the civilized world al low genocide to occur. President Clinton may utter words in commemoration of Auschwitz, but there is little consolation to the survivors of the Rwandan holocaust of the 1990s. Meanwhile, around the world, dictators have noted the U.S. reaction, taking solace from the policy of non-action. Silence in the face of genocide, with no outcry of "never again" should disturb us all.-


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