news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Rwanda/UN: Acknowledging Failure

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 31, 2004 (040331)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Some 2,000 personnel from several countries, including France, United Kingdom, United States and Italy, had come to evacuate their expatriates and though they were stumbling on corpses, they remained firm in totally ignoring the catastrophe." - retired General Romeo Dallaire, former commander, UN mission in Rwanda.

General Dallaire was speaking at a Memorial Conference on Rwanda Genocide at UN headquarters earlier this week, along with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN Special Adviser for Africa Ibrahim Gambari, as well as representatives of genocide survivors. Ambassador Gambari, who served as Nigeria's representative on the UN Security Council at the time, acknowledged that "Without a doubt, it was the Council, especially its most powerful members that had failed the people of Rwanda in their gravest hour of need." He continued, "The controversy over the international community's culpability for its failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda would not easily go away."

Conference speakers, in acknowledging the failure 10 years, were less than confident that the international community was yet ready to respond differently today. Improvements in planning for peacekeeping and response to conflict were mentioned. But the reports from the conference fail to note whether any speakers addressed the parallel lack of political will today to respond to the thousands dying daily from the AIDS pandemic, or to the cumulative toll from conflicts that fail to reach the threshold required to be be defined as genocide.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin features excerpts from an editorial by Gerald Caplan, founder of "Remembering Rwanda" and one of the authors of the report on the genocide produced in 2000 at the request of the Organization of African Unity. Also included are excerpts from the UN press release on the Memorial Conference, and links to several of the major reports produced on the genocide and the international failure to respond.

Another issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains a new report from the National Security Archive, including declassified documents and details on information available to the U.S. government at the time of the genocide in Rwanda.


NOTE: The Public Broadcasting System in the U.S., in a documentary co-produced with the BBC, will air a two-hour special documentary "Ghosts of Rwanda," beginning tomorrow April 1, 2004 A companion website will be available. For more details, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Rwanda Ten Years after the Genocide: Some Reminders of the International Response to the Crisis

Gerald Caplan

Slightly abridged. The full text of this editorial originally published in Pambazuka News for February 5 is available at

[Gerald Caplan was on the staff of the International Panel of Eminent Personalities appointed by the Organization of African Unity to investigate the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and is the founder of "Remembering Rwanda: The Rwanda Genocide 10th Anniversary Memorial Project".]

Around the world, commemorations of the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide are about to be launched. The central actors responsible for allowing Hutu extremists to perpetrate the genocide are well known: the government of France, the United Nations Security Council led by the USA with British backing, the UN Secretariat, the government of Belgium, and, by no means least, the Roman Catholic Church. The Organization of African Unity also refused to condemn the genocidaires and proved to be largely irrelevant throughout the crisis. As a consequence of these acts of commission and omission, 800,000 Tutsi and thousands of moderate Hutu were murdered in a period of 100 days. ... The following is a selection of some of those events. ...

  1. Time and again in the months prior to and during the genocide, the Commander of the UN military mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) pleaded with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York to expand his very limited mandate. The only time his request was ever approved was in the days immediately after the Rwandan president's plane was shot down, triggering the genocide. UNAMIR was then authorized to exceed its narrow mandate exclusively for the purpose of helping to evacuate foreign nationals, mainly westerners, from the country. Never was such flexibility granted to protect Rwandans.
  2. Heavily armed western troops began materializing at Kigali airport within hours to evacuate their nationals. Beyond UNAMIR's 2500 peacekeepers, these included 500 Belgian para-commandos, 450 French and 80 Italian troops from parachute regiments, another 500 Belgian para-commandos on stand-by in Kenya, 250 US Rangers on stand-by in Burundi, and 800 more French troops on stand-by in the region. None made any attempt to protect Rwandans at risk. Besides western nationals, French troops evacuated a number of well-known leaders of the extremist Hutu Power movement, including the wife of the murdered president and her family. All non-UNAMIR troops left within days, immediately after their evacuation mission was completed.
  3. From the beginning of the genocide to its end, no government or organization other than NGOs formally described events in Rwanda as a genocide.
  4. From beginning to end, all governments and official bodies continued to recognize the genocidaire government as the legitimate government of Rwanda.
  5. The months of the genocide happened to coincide with Rwanda's turn to fill one of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council. Throughout those 3 months, the representative of the government executing the genocide continued to take that seat and participate in all deliberations, including discussions on Rwanda.
  6. Almost all official bodies remained neutral as between the genocidaires and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the mostly Tutsi rebels in the civil war that was being fought at the same time as the genocide. As if they were morally equivalent groups, both the genocidaire government and those fighting to end the genocide were called upon by the UN, the Organization of African Unity and others to agree to a cease-fire. They did not call on the genocidaires to stop the genocide. Had the RPF agreed to a cease-fire, the scale of the genocide behind governemtn lines would have been even greater.
  7. Only days after the genocide began, 2500 Tutsi as well as Hutu opposition politicians crowded into a Kigali school known as ETO, where Belgian UN troops were billeted ... the Belgian soldiers were ordered to depart ETO to assist in evacuating foreign nationals from the country. They did so abruptly, making no arrangements whatever for the protection of those they were safeguarding. As they moved out, the killers moved in. When the afternoon was over, all 2500 civilians had been murdered.
  8. After 10 Belgian UN soldiers were killed by Rwandan government troops the day after the Rwandan President's plane was shot down, Belgium withdrew all its troops from the UN mission. So that Belgium would not alone be blamed for scuttling UNAMIR, its government then strenuously lobbied the UN to disband the mission in its entirety.
  9. Two weeks after the crisis had begun, with information about the magnitude of the genocide increasing by the day, the Security Council did come very close to shutting down UNAMIR altogether. Instead, led by the USA and the United Kingdom, it voted to decimate the mission, reducing it from 2500 to 270.
  10. After the deaths of 18 American soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the United States decided to participate in no more UN military missions. The Clinton administration further decided that no significant UN missions were to be allowed at all, even if American troops would not be involved. Thanks mostly to the delaying tactics of the US, after 100 days of the genocide not a single reinforcement of UN troops or military supplies had reached Rwanda.
  11. Bill Clinton later apologized for not doing more to stop the genocide. However, his claim that his administration had not been aware of the real situation was a lie.
  12. French officials were senior advisers to both the Rwandan government and military in the years leading to the genocide, with unparalleled influence on both. Virtually until the moment the genocide began, they gave unconditional support as well as considerable arms to the Hutu elite. ... To this day the French have never acknowledged their role nor apologized for it.
  13. After 6 weeks of genocide, France, which offered no troops to the UN mission, suddenly decided to intervene in Rwanda. Within a week of the decision, Operation Turquoise was able to deploy 2500 men with 100 armored personnel carriers, 10 helicopters, a battery of 120 mm mortars, 4 Jaguar fighter bombers, and 8 Mirage fighters and reconnaissance planes---all for an ostensibly humanitarian operation. The French forces created a safe haven in the south-west of the country which provided sanctuary not only to fortunate Tutsi but also to many leading Rwandan government and military officials as well as large numbers of soldiers and militia---the very Hutu Power militants who had organized and carried out the genocide. ...
  1. The Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda was the largest and most influential denomination in the country, with intimate ties to the government at all levels. It failed to denounce the government's explicit ethnic foundations, failed to denounce its increasing use of violence against Tutsi, failed to denounce or even name the genocide, failed to apologize for the many clergy who aided and abetted the genocidaires, and to this day has never apologized for its overall role. The Pope has refused to apologize on behalf of the Church as a whole.
  2. Within months of the end of the genocide, relief workers and representatives of the international community in Rwanda were telling Rwandans they must "Quit dwelling on the past and concentrate on rebuilding for the future" and insisting that "Yes, the genocide happened, but it's time to get over it and move on."
  3. George W. Bush, during the campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, was asked by a TV interviewer what he would do as president if, "God forbid, another Rwanda" should take place. He replied: "We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside our own strategic interest. I would not send US troops into Rwanda."
  4. The new Rwanda Patriotic Front government inherited a debt of close to $1 billion, some of it incurred by the previous government in genocide preparations---expanding its army and militias and buying arms. After the genocide, the RPF was obligated to repay in full the country's debt to its western lenders.
  5. Following the genocide, the World Bank was left with a $160 million program of aid to Rwanda that it had extended to the previous government. . Even though the new government was penniless, the Bank refused to activate that sum until the new government paid $9 million in interest incurred by its predecessor. A Bank official told a UN representative: "After all, we are a commercial enterprise and have to adhere to our regulations. " The sum was eventually paid by some donors.
  6. In the first nine months after the genocide, the donor community provided $1.4 billion in aid to the Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire and Tanzania. Since, as was universally known, genocidaires had taken over the camps, a good part of these funds went to feed and shelter them and to fund their re-training and re-arming as they planned cross-border raids back into Rwanda. For Rwanda itself, while donor funds for reconstruction were generously pledged, in the first year after the genocide only $68 million was actually disbursed. To this day, Rwanda has never received reparations remotely commensurate with the damage that the international community had failed to prevent.
  7. Once the genocide ended, the UN military mission was finally expanded. As UNAMIR II, it remained in Rwanda for almost two more years as a peacekeeping force, costing the UN $15 million a month. But the main challenge had become less one of peacekeeping and more one of peace-building--- the reconstruction of a totally devastated country. UNAMIR had the equipment, the skills and the will to play a major role in reviving the country's shattered structures. What it lacked was the mandate and modest funding from the Security Council to perform such a role. But UN headquarters never sought such authorization from the Security Council, nor did the Council ever initiate such a move. ...
  1. So far as is known, not a single person in any government or in the UN has ever been fired or held accountable for failing to intervene in the genocide. In fact, the opposite is true. Some careers flourished in the aftermath. Several of the main actors were actually promoted. We can consider this the globalization of impunity.
  2. Despite the unanimity of every major study undertaken and in the face of the testimonies of survivors and the first-hand accounts of international humanitarian workers in Rwanda at the time, denial of the genocide persists. Deniers include Hutu Power advocates, many of them still active in western countries, as well as lawyers and investigators working for Hutu clients at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Denying the Rwandan genocide is the moral equivalent of denying the Holocaust.

Memorial Conference on Rwanda Genocide

United Nations

Press Release AFR/868 HQ/630

Secretary-General Says Silence In Face
Of Past Genocide Must Be Replaced with "Global Clamour"

[Excerpts only: for full text of UN press release, including summaries of remarks of all panelists, see:]

The silence that had greeted genocides in the past must be replaced by a global clamour, and a willingness to call what was happening by its true name, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this morning at the opening of a one-day conference in memory of the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago.

The Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide, which had started with a minute of silence for the victims, was co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of Rwanda and Canada and moderated by Ruth Iyob, Director of the Africa Programme, International Peace Academy, andDavid M. Malone, President of the International Peace Academy.

During two panels that followed the opening of the Conference, participants in the event remembered the 1994 tragedy and considered means to ensure a more effective international response to genocide in the future. The Conference attracted representatives of governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, academics and members of the Rwandan Diaspora.

The international community had failed Rwanda, the Secretary-General stated. If it had acted promptly, it could have stopped most of the killing. But neither the political will nor the troops had been there. If the United Nations, government officials and the international media had paid more attention to the gathering signs of disaster, it might have been averted.

The Rwandan genocide raised questions that affected all humankind, including fundamental questions about the authority of the Security Council and the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping, Mr. Annan continued. If confronted by a new Rwanda today, would the international community respond effectively? He had suggested a number of measures that would better equip the United Nations and its Member States to meet genocide with resolve, including a special rapporteur on the subject. More must be done, and he was currently analysing what further steps could be taken.

The Foreign Minister of Rwanda, Charles Murigande, stressed the need to learn from the tragic failures in Rwanda, saying that no other nation or people should be allowed to suffer what the people of Rwanda had suffered. ...

The international community, while it had learned what needed to be done, still lacked political agreement to prevent a Rwanda from happening again, said the Foreign Minister of Canada, Bill Graham. ...

Harsh words were said about the role of the international community in Rwanda during the first panel - entitled "In Memoriam: Bearing Witness", which was chaired by the Foreign Minister of Rwanda.

While the head of the Association of the Widows of the Genocide, Speciose Kanyabogoyi, and genocide survivor, Eric Nzabihimana, recounted the events of April-August 1994, when some 800,000 people were murdered, former Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), Romeo Dallaire, said that the Mission had been "a last priority" for the international community. It had no budget and no structure at the time the killing began. The Security Council had made it a point not to consider the threats and warnings about Rwanda, and as the months went by and the peace agreement was "falling to pieces", there was political stagnation and no real desire to put any resources into the Mission.

He also recalled that some 2,000 personnel from several countries, including France, United Kingdom, United States and Italy, "remained firm in totally ignoring the catastrophe" as they fulfilled their mission of evacuating their expatriates, "though they were stumbling on corpses". On 22 April, when over 100,000 people had been killed, the bulk of the Force was ordered to withdraw, but 450 African and 13 Canadian troops were told to stay on the ground and observe. As millions were internally displaced, killed and injured, the Mission was able to save some 30,000, and on top of that, he had been ordered to abandon them. The order had come from the Security Council, and nobody objected.

"Never Again: Toward a More Effective International Response of Genocide" was the title of the second panel, which was chaired by Canada's Foreign Minister. Its keynote speakers included Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations Special Adviser for Africa, Ramesh Thakur, Vice-Rector of United Nations University and Danilo Turk, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs. ...

Mr. Gambari said that the real key to preventing conflict and genocide was political will to act promptly and decisively. Without a doubt, it was the Council, especially its most powerful members that had failed the people of Rwanda in their gravest hour of need. The controversy over the international community's culpability for its failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda would not easily go away.

Major reports on the Genocide in Rwanda, available on-line

Note: Two sites with extensive links for background as well as notes on current activities are Remembering Rwanda, at and
the Rwanda Commermoration Project

Several of the major reports, such as those produced for the UN and the OAU, are no longer available at the original URLs on the sites of these institutions. The links here, provided by other organizations, were located through Google.

(1) Organization of African Unity
International Panel of Eminent Personalities
Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide - 2000

See for press release and excerpts.
for full report

(2) United Nations
Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda - 1999

for UN press conference
for full report

(3) Human Rights Watch
"Leave None to Tell the Story" - 1999
for press release and excerpts
for full report

Human Rights Watch also has issued a short note "Ten Years Later", available at

(4) Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda by international agencies and NGOs
The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience - 1996
Journal of Humanitarian Assistance

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Peace & Security||Africa Politics & Human Rights|

URL for this file: