Why was nothing done to stop the majority of the killings during the Rwandan genocide and who intervened and for what reasons in the aftermath?
“[O]n 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana of Rwanda and several top government officials were killed when their plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile on its approach to Kigali airport. Within hours, members of the Hutu-dominated government, presidential guard, police, and military started rounding up and executing opposition politicians……Once the Tutsi leadership and intelligentsia were killed, the army, presidential guard, and the Interahamwe militia, the youth wing of the ruling Hutu party, began executing anyone whose identity cards identified them as Tutsi”1. An estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered (UN figure). Why was nothing done to save these people?
This is a very important question to anyone interested in International Politics; answering this question will go a long way in explaining the actions of States, especially when it comes to the debated subject of Humanitarian Intervention.
In 1992, under the then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali the ‘Agenda for Peace’ was introduced. The UN “[w]ould strengthen civil societies in troubled States, foster the integration of ethic groups within countries, support democratic institutions, and protect human rights once a conflict had been resolved”2. The agenda also refined the long-developing UN rational for intervention in intrastate conflict, declaring that gross violations of international humanitarian law compels the international community to take ‘all means necessary’ to protect the civilian victims of conflict and to enforce peace. So why two years later was the UN going back on this agenda? Why was the UN breaking its word and letting hundreds of thousands of people die?
First I am going to concentrate on the question why the UN failed to prevent and stop the killings. In addressing this question I am going to concentrate on what I believe are the three most important factors; the realist argument that States do not intervene in other States affairs when there is no national interest at stake, the media coverage during this crisis, and what I am going to call the ‘Somalia Factor’. I will then conclude why I believe these factors are the most important to discuss in the case of Rwanda. When concluding my points I will link my findings to the three dominant theories in humanitarian intervention, which are, realism, pluralism, and solidarism.
I will explain the reasons behind the genocide, because it obviously happened for a reason. I will then turn my attention to the intervention of the French. I will concern myself with answering the question why the French intervened, and what the implications of Operation Turquoise were. I will then explain the problem caused by the aid agencies, in relation to the collective labelling of refugees. The point of this paper is to discuss and put forward the view that the international community3 did little to save the people of Rwanda and when intervention was agreed and taken there were major implications with their actions.
So to start with, why did the United Nations fail to prevent and stop the genocide, particularly as they already had troops in the country (UNIMAR)?
The realist argument that States do not intervene in other States actions if no national interest is at stake is an interesting one in this case study. It was generally assumed that this argument had been proved wrong when the United States intervened in Somalia in 1992, however because of Rwanda, the realist argument has re-emerged. Realists see the World as it is, not as it ought to be. According to Nicholas J Wheeler one realist argument is that “[u]nless vital interests are at stake, States will not intervene if it risks soldier’s lives or incurs significant economic costs”4. Rwanda was an unimportant land mass in the middle of an inferior continent, with nothing to fight for according to most Western politicians at the time. “[A]s far as the political, military, and economic interests of the World’s powers go, it [Rwanda] might as well be Mars. In fact, Mars is probably of greater strategic concern”5.
So the first problem for the people of Rwanda is that like it or not, their country is not important in a global sense. The international community therefore had no will to get involved. If this humanitarian crisis had happened in a place of greater strategic importance would the international community have reacted with intervention? This is an impossible question to answer. What is important to us when answering this question is that Rwanda was seen as a country on the periphery and not in the core and that the UN did not intervene. Due to this “[m]any African peoples concluded that, for all the rhetoric about the universality of human rights, some human lives end up mattering a great deal less to the international community than others”6.
There has been a history of violence between the Hutu’s and Tutsis in Rwanda, which has evolved from the colonial experience7. However the on going civil war between the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) and the Hutu government was drawing to an end and this was signified by the signing of the Arusha Peace deal between the RPF and the government. This led many Hutu extremists inside the government to fall out with the President; Habyarimana was going back on his word. Apparently Habyarimana had been a supporter of the ‘final solution’, but the signing of the Arusha Peace deal was a contradiction to the aims of the ‘final solution’. Not long after the ink dried on the peace deal the Presidents plane was shot down and he was dead.
The UN’s failure to quickly intervene inside Rwanda led to the ‘final solution’ being adopted quickly and murders taking place hours after the death of the President. According to Prunier the Hutu extremists’ idea of the ‘final solution’ was that they would solve both the ethnic problem inside Rwanda, by killing all Tutsis, and the threat of democratisation, by killing all moderate Hutu8. Prunier, goes on to explain that only in such a small, tight, well organised country, like Rwanda could such a plan have any chance of success, and only in a tight, mostly military leadership could possibly carry the ‘final solution’ off9. Internally the killings were justified by self defence. The organisers of the genocide explained that the Tutsis wanted to destroy the Hutu government; they blamed the assassination of the President on the Tutsis, more specifically the RPF. Therefore killing your Tutsis neighbours and friends was not a murderous act but an act of survival10.
Due to the fact that there was no international will to intervene inside Rwanda, the international community refused to admit it was genocide. The phrase ‘acts of genocide’ was commonly used. The fear was that if they admitted it was genocide then they would be obliged to act under the Genocide Convention. The international community also described the humanitarian crisis as a renewal of the civil war, which justified them taking no action. Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, explains the international community had no right to call the crisis in Rwanda, civil war, because “[c]ival war involves two or more armies fighting one another……But a genocide is a completely different thing. You often ignore the enemy army to go after the people that you have decided to call the enemy”11 Gourevitch goes on to explain that calling the crisis a civil war was a way of ignoring that, in fact, what was happening was a systematic attempt to eliminate the Tutsi bloodline.
What makes the genocide worse was the fact that the important decision makers of the World knew what was happening in Rwanda, in fact they knew months before, but they still did nothing to prevent this inhuman behaviour. No one can hide behind the phrase “we didn’t know”. They knew what was going on inside Rwanda, there were peacekeepers that saw the atrocities first hand.
This realist argument can be summed up by the action of France; France did intervene, but only after the majority of the killings had taken place. However Operation Turquoise although justified on humanitarian grounds was and still is strongly criticised as being an action to serve self-interest. Operation Turquoise was suspected of beings implemented to protect French influence in Frencophone Africa12. The French also may have felt partly responsible for the genocide because they have been accused (most recently by the President of Rwanda) of being ‘criminally responsible’ for arming and training the Interahamwe13.
What is important to note when researching the Rwandan Genocide is that not all of the members of the UN were in agreement. The Czech Republic diplomat, Kovanda, who’s family were survivors of the Holocaust, was “[s]o moved by what he heard [from Rwanda] that he appealed to the Security Council to declare that a genocide was taking place”14. The Czech Republic, along with Spain and Argentina wanted the Security Council to condemn the killings as genocide. However this was rejected by three of the more powerful states within the UN, China, the US and Britain. Britain believed the UN would look like a ‘laughing stock’ if the killings were condemned as genocide but nothing was done. This is how we got the play on words ‘acts of genocide’. After the Belgium troops had been murdered the UN started to talk about UNAMIR’s future. It was generally agreed that UNIMAR was fulfilling a useless role, because its mandate was extremely limiting.
The UN faced a decision, should UNIMAR be strengthened so it could do a worthwhile job, should UNIMAR be reduced or should UNIMAR be completely withdrawn. Nigeria opposed UNIMAR being completely withdrawn, however not one country, including Nigeria argued for strengthening UNIMAR15. The powerful permanent members of the Security Council argued for little or no intervention and a cut down UNIMAR16 so that’s what happened. Even when eight African nations were willing to intervene, with the help and assistance from the US, the discussions were stalled because of the US fear of intervening and losing soldiers. What was happening inside the UN walls was classic power politics, which ended with the more powerful states getting their way.
The ‘Media factor’ also had implications. This is because of the simple fact that, television coverage increases the public awareness of such events like the genocide in Rwanda, and therefore has a lot to do with creating emotion, which leads to public pressure on domestic governments to act. Before the interventions in Northern Iraq (1991) and Somalia (1992/93), there had been great public pressure to act17. This had a lot to do with the media coverage. However there was not this same kind of public pressure on governments in the case of Rwanda “[e]ven after sustained media coverage of the genocide in late April and May”18. Why was this?
According to Gerard Prunier, in his book, The Rwanda Crisis History of a Genocide, Westerner’s knew that the genocide was happening but they could not relate to the news reports, because there were no graphics showing the suffering. It has been stated before that the international community is more affected by famine than to genocide19. If true, why is this? One explanation, supporting Prunier’s view is that it is easier and safer to film people who are starving than people who are getting hacked to death with machetes. Therefore in a famine you see the suffering and in genocide you only hear about it. However this could be an over simplification. Prunier, concludes that the lack of ‘real’ TV coverage later proved to be an important factor “[s]ince in contemporary Western society events not seen on a TV screen do not exist” 20.
I am sure that public pressure to act would have mounted if the people of the World knew what was actually happening in Rwanda, but because they did not then certain members of the UN could turn a blind eye to the suffering.
The major factor was what I call the ‘Somalia Factor’. At the end of 1993, eighteen American Rangers on a peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu had been killed, and their bodies dragged through the streets, televised around the World. This was a major blow for the American ego; they believed they were invincible; they therefore underestimated the enemy and had to face the consequences. Somalia was embarrassing for America, the US were their on a peacekeeping mission justified on humanitarian grounds and their men had lost their lives. The slogan “Never again”, which was most famously used in the context of the Holocaust and the Genocide Convention (1948), which should have been protecting the people of Rwanda, became the US policy towards humanitarian intervention after Somalia. After Somalia the US threshold for humanitarian intervention was raised. This is an important factor as by this time US influence in international politics was immense.
The memory of Somalia had devastating affects for Rwanda. The US would agree to PDD25, “[W]hich amounted to a checklist of reasons to avoid American involvement in UN peacekeeping missions”21. PDD25 also contained “what Washington called ‘language’ urging that the United States should persuade others not to undertake the missions they wished to avoid”22. The US position was summed up by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell “[I] will not agree to commit American men and women to an unknown war, in an unknown land, for an unknown cause, under an unknown commander, for an unknown duration”23. As the memories of Vietnam clouded the judgment of the US in the case of intervening in Iraq (1991), another Somalia was haunting the decision makers in 199424. All this built up to the Clinton administration arguing that the US had no interest at stake in Rwanda25.
The US fear can be linked to another realist argument. This one is that States do not risk their soldiers to save non-nationals. However the US was not the only State to have this fear; “[o]ne week after the murder of the ten Belgium blue helmets, Belgium withdrew from UNAMIR”26. The UN itself had some fears about intervening in Rwanda because of the fact that “[U]NAMIR had a much more limited mandate than the Somalian mission: it was prohibited from using force, except in self defence, and even for that it was poorly equipped”27.
Therefore “[U]N troops offered little resistance to the killers”28 and they became “[l]ittle more than spectators”.29 The international community was turning its back on Rwanda and more importantly Genocide. The International Community seemed to get to a stage where they believed in a ‘doctrine’ of humanitarian intervention, as long as it did not risk their nationals’ lifes. The ‘body bag dilemma’ started to dictate State’s actions when it came to humanitarian intervention.
There are three main theories that explain States actions when it comes to humanitarian intervention, realism, pluralism and solidarism. Realists believe that States should not and do not intervene in other States when there is no self interest at stake, especially when the economic and political costs are high and when there is a chance of losing soldiers. Pluralists believe that international order is more important than international justice, which is linked to the ‘morality of States’ – States should be desensitized to each others’ domestic wrongdoings in the interest of order amongst them, and the egg box analogy – the job of international society (the box) is to separate and cushion the States (the eggs)30.
Therefore both realists and pluralists believe that States should not intervene in other States affairs. On the other hand solidarists believe that in some circumstances humanitarian intervention is justified; the solidarist Michael Walzer is of the belief that humanitarian intervention is justified when it is a response to acts “[t]hat shock the moral conscience of mankind”.31 We must be careful that we do not get blinded by the humanitarian intervention argument when self interest and commercial gain could be the real justification, for example the US and Iraq. However as Wheeler argues providing humanitarian benefits are obtained the justification is not important.
The Cold War Period was dominated with the pluralist mindset that order was more important than justice, however with the falling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the bipolar World, soldiarist thinking came to the fore; the US could now spread their influence because they were not being checked. We then had the interventions in the likes of Northern Iraq and the dreaded Somalia. Somalia seemed to transform the World to a realist way of thinking. The deaths of the US soldiers in Somalia ended the period of equality in international human rights, where everyone’s basic human rights were seen as on an even par. Another Somalia would have had great domestic implications for the Clinton administration. US citizens do not want to hear about US soldiers dying for some people’s human rights in a far off country; they are much more interested in the price of petrol than the human rights of non nationals.
Peacekeeping after Somalia was therefore classified as being an unnecessary risk. When the UN was again tested, with the reports of genocide in Rwanda, this realist mindset dominated the proceedings. No ‘Core’ countries wanted to risk it. There was therefore a lack of a ‘political will’ to intervene. Even when General Daillaire claimed that he could stop the genocide with a force of five thousand well armed troops, nothing was done. According to Wheeler “[S]topping genocide requires a willingness to use force and to risk soldiers’ lives”32 and this willingness was lacking in the UN Security Council in 1994. So in a way one could say that the Rwandan people became victims of Somalia.
In July 1994 France did intervene in Rwanda. As I stated before, Operation Turquoise has been accused of serving French national interest, which reaffirms the realist belief that there is strong links between self interest and intervention. The French had propped up the one-party Hutu State for 20 years and even provided troops when the RPF threatened to overrun the country in 1990 and 199333. This made Mitterrand, the French President anxious to restore waning French credibility in Africa34.
The UN gave the French a two month mandate “[w]ith the permission to use aggressive force that had systematically been denied to UNAMIR”35. Why had the UN changed its mind about the use of force? Was it because the UN felt guilty for not having intervened earlier? If UNAMIR had been given a similar mandate more Rwandan’s would have been saved. This shows the ineffectiveness of the UN to make decisions quickly to save lives.
What were the implications of the French intervention? Gourevitch explains that the Interahamwe, sang and waved French tricolour flags, and carried signs with slogans like ‘Welcome French Hutus’. Gourevitch continues to explain that “[H]utu Power brigades draped their vehicles with French flags to lure Tutsis from hiding to their deaths”36. It has also been noted that the French lacked the right equipment to protect so many Tutsis, they therefore could not evacuate all Tutsis in an area and when they returned the Tutsis left behind would be dead37. So with the question of the French motives for intervening inside Rwanda goes the question of the actual effectiveness of their operation. However despite their motives for intervening the French did manage to save lives, but as Wheeler and Bellamy suggest it did come too late38.
According to Reliefweb and MSF, as a result of government instructions, over two million Hutu refugees fled Rwanda to neighbouring countries to avoid reprisals, during the aftermath of the genocide. This caused massive problems for the aid agencies that had come to help. The ‘Aid World’ came with the intention of helping the people in need, but they did not realise the situation was more complicated than that. Along with the innocent Hutu’s fleeing Rwanda were the organisers and operators of the killings. This had major moral implications. Aid agencies were supplying food and shelter for some of the murders. However “[t]he international aid effort construed the Rwandan Hutu refugees as a collectivity, as a ‘blur of humanity’, which should have no say in its own destiny”39.
As John Pottier explains, in his book, Re-imagining Rwanda, “[T]he labelling may have been business as usual, but the impact went beyond degrading”40. According to Pottier the refugees were not seen as thinking human beings, as professionals, “[a]s people prepared to take an active part in the everyday running of the camps”41, because of this the refugees became heavily dependent on the aid handouts and were hardly given the opportunity for self help policies. This as Pottier states reinforced “[t]he legitimacy of an essentialist stereotyping through which blame for the 1994 genocide was apportioned to ‘the Hutu’ collective”42. Pottier explains that not all the Hutu refugees were guilty of taking part in the killings, only a few had, but they were all treated as if they had done.
However despite this fact, as late as 1996 there was a fear that these camps “[c]ould trigger a repeat of the 1994 massacre in Rwanda unless the international community helps the country and its neighbours deal with the scars of genocide”43. In 1996, Iain Guest, of ReliefWeb, explained that the “[c]amps are poisoning the entire region. They have enabled the Hutu extremists to collect their strength, filter arms to guerrillas in Burundi, and plant land mines in Western Rwanda”44. MSF also explained that the “[s]ame government officials who incited the Hutu population to genocide with extremist propaganda continue to manipulate the refugees by controlling the flow of information and political discourse in the camp. They talk tirelessly about the victimization of the Hutu people”45. MSF go on to give details about the international aid workers being ill-equipped to confront a crisis of such proportion. “[C]holera and dysentery and dehydration due to lack of water quickly swept through the crowded camps and within one month, an estimated 50,000 refugees died”46.
According to Pottier, it was through the normal procedures, and the ways that the aid agencies dealt with refugees “[t]hat the international aid effort reinforced the nation of globalised Hutu guilt”47. This ‘globalised Hutu guilt’ became the justification in November 1996 from the RPF to call all the remaining refugees in Zaire, murders. This therefore legitimised the actions of the RPF, going into Zaire and slaughtering most of the Hutu refuges there. UNAMIR did nothing again. “[T]he same leaders who in 1994 had wanted to save the image of the UN at all costs now seemed just as desperate to have an RPF-led ‘African solution’ whatever the costs”48. This ‘African solution’ can be described as nothing but murder. According to Pottier “[T]he aid world was self-centred and immoral, which gave the RPF its lever and absolute right to hold the moral high ground” – the refugees in Zaire were seen and portrayed as “one mass of people who spoke with one (extremist) voice”49.
In conclusion, it is obvious that none of the ‘core’ countries in the UN had any interest in intervening in Rwanda; Rwanda was a little, unimportant State in the middle of civil war. Also there was little media coverage about the killings, the lack of ‘real’ footage led to limited public pressure for action and the failures of Somalia were hanging over the international community, especially the Americans. The legacy of Somalia had changed the way the international community looked at humanitarian intervention. ‘Rwanda’ was the result of the soldier’s deaths in Somalia. However can we now say that, the reaction to the crisis in Rwanda has changed, like Somalia did before, the international view to humanitarian intervention? Now can the UN afford the international community to ignore genocide? Can domestic governments afford to ignore the signs of genocide again due to increased interest in international relations since September 11th 2001?
The international consensus for justified humanitarian intervention has changed over the years and it will change again in the future. There is no official doctrine for humanitarian intervention, and I am not sure if one will ever exist. States are selfish, they only truly care about their own nationals, so the decision making process is dominated by domestic public pressure and the media. There is always going to be disagreements at an international level, especially when dealing with debatable subjects, such as humanitarian intervention.
The French intervention was taken in self interest, and the success rate of it is questionable due to their lack of equipment and the Hutu’s extremist’s tactics to lure the Tutsis to their deaths behind the French flag. Also the international aid effort was also questionable, due to the labelling of the refugees. I therefore conclude that the international community, be it the UN or aid agencies, let the people of Rwanda down. The international community was asked to act in 1994 but because of the reasons highlighted in this paper, when intervention finally came it was ineffective. The UN is ineffective due to the power of the veto, the ‘image of the State’, and national interest, and aid agencies as de Waal argues seem to be more interested in their logo and their ‘brand image’ than the people they are suppose to be protecting and helping. The UN needs to treat all members’ citizens equally and it needs some formal guidelines to sick too when it comes to intervening inside another State, while aid agencies need to fully understand the situation before they intervene.
Rwanda is a classic case study in the way the World works, and it symbolises the realist views of the World. As different States will always have different national interests and opinions it is likely that another Rwanda could happen while the World stands by and watches. George W Bush said in the campaign debates before his election that “[h]e felt it was the correct thing to ignore the genocide in Rwanda and that if there were another similar situation, he would do the same thing”50 , so with this man ruling the World it is more than likely. However, even with this belief Mr Bush still used the UN Security Council’s failure to intervene in Rwanda as a justification to go to war with Saddam Hussein and Iraq51. The World is entering a testing time; the international community will again be tested.
1 Holzgrefe and Keohane, Humanitarian Intervention, page 15
3 by international community I mean the UN and aid agencies.
4 Nicholas J Wheeler, Saving Strangers
5 Phillip Gourevitch, We wish to Inform You that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Page 149
6Responsibility to protect
7 Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis 1959-1994, History of a Genocide
8 Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis 1959-1994, History of a Genocide
12 Nicholas J Wheeler, Saving Strangers
13 BBC World
14 Nicholas J Wheeler, Saving Strangers, page 226
15 Humanitarian Intervention
17 Nicholas J Wheeler, Saving Strangers
18 Nicholas J Wheeler, Saving Strangers, Page 238
19 Television Documentary, Biafra- ‘fighting a war without guns
20 Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis History of a Genocide, page 274
21 Phillip Gourevitch, We wish to Inform You that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, page 150
23 L R Meluern, A People Betrayed, page 191
24 Holzgefe and Keohane, Humanitarian Intervention
25 Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers
26 Phillip Gourevitch, We wish to Inform You that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, page 150
27 ibid, page 103
28 ibid, page 114
29 Globalization of World Politics, Page 154
30 R. J. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations
31 Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, page 107
32 Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers, page 240
33 Globalization of World Politics
35 Phillip Gourevitch, We wish to Inform You that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, page 155
36 Phillip Gourevitch, We wish to Inform You that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, page 158
38 The Globalization of World Politics
39 John Pottier, Re-imagining Rwanda, Page 131
43 relief web
47 John Pottier, Re-imagining Rwanda, Page 150
49 John Pottier, Re-imagining Rwanda, Page 150
50 Radio Netherlands website- www.rnw.nl/hotspots/us010823.html
51 Gerald Caplan, How dare Bush invoke Rwanda to justify his war, wwww.commondreams.org/views03/0312-07.htm