April 7, 2019

25 Years After Genocide Against Tutsis: What Was The World’s Responsibility?


Today is April 7. The killing machine would have been in action back in 1994; starting in wee hours of this morning.

This year however, 25 years after what former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill called the “crime without a name” in 1941 before Raphael Lamkin coined the word Genocide in 1943, world leaders have been arriving since Thursday for the 25th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that left 1,074,056 of them dead.

The following are the leaders in the country: Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel; Canada’s Governor General, Julie Payette; Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy and First Lady Zinash Tayachew; President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou; President of Congo Brazzaville, Denis Sassou N’gueso and others.

It’s well known that Rwandans committed this crime against fellow Rwandans.

Nonetheless, at The Chronicles, we are taking stock and asking, who was responsible for what among the international community. We explore the responsibility of different global actors before, during and after the genocide. Below is a preview:

Compassionate New Zealand

Current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has earned worldwide respect for her response following her country’s worst-ever terror attack on March 16. There is global praise for her compassionate-but-tough leadership style now called “Jacindamania”.

Back in 1994 however, nearly every global leader remained unbothered about what unfolded in Rwanda; but one diplomat could not keep quiet about what was happening. New Zealand was holding the presidency of the U.N. Security Council in April 1994. Ambassador Colin Keating was the envoy.

Despite trying to have Rwanda on UNSC agenda, he has since openly said the United States and France – both permanent veto holders, rejected a call to condemn the situation. Warnings sounded by U.N. Human Rights Commission on the possibility of genocide were blocked from appearing on the Council’s agenda. At the time, powerless Keating apologized in the council.

Due to his efforts, Amb. Keating, has been decorated with one of Rwanda’s highest honors, the ‘Umurinzi’ Campaign against Genocide Medal.

“You lent your voice to other lone and courageous voices that were indignant about the deafening silence of the then Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations. You were vocal in your disapproval of the French-led Operation Turquoise,” reads the citation that accompanied the medal.

France: Not much remains to be said

French President Emmanuel Macron has instituted another panel to apparently research the role of the French military in Rwanda. It will be another of the many such “investigations” for the past 25 years.

In 1994, President Macron was 17 years old. While he was the same year promising his current wife – many years his senior, that he would marry her, his President François Mitterrand was overseeing a genocide in Rwanda.

He deployed French troops as early as 1991 to aid the Kigali government against an RPF rebel’s onslaught. They stayed for years, during the genocide and after. In June 1994, Mitterrand sent more troops, who set up the infamous ‘Zone Turquoise’, essentially making large parts of Southwestern Rwanda a no-go zone for RPF rebels, until a new government took over on July 19. The new government forces reached this area in August, and that’s when the French pulled back to Zaire.

In November 1994, Mitterrand asked by what had happened in Rwanda, he said: “In those countries, a Genocide isn’t too important….You talked of Genocides, which Genocide do you want to mean? The one of Tutsis or Genocide of Hutus?”

As a show of how much personal interest President Mitterrand had on Rwanda, his son Jean-Christophe Mitterrand handled the Rwanda dossier as part of his “Africa desk” role.

Back in 1992, rebel leader Kagame, was in Paris where he was threatened with arrest. French officials told him at the Foreign Ministry that if the RPA didn’t stop the war, they would reach Kigali to find none of “your family members” still alive.

Like the old saying goes, the rest is history.

United States: The Clinton Factor

Today, former US President Bill Clinton is a regular visitor to Rwanda, and maintains a personal friendship with President Paul Kagame. The Clinton Foundation has built two of the best hospitals in Rwanda, and is involved in various other partnerships with government.

In 1994, Clinton was in the White House. He made it US policy to keep away from Rwanda. Together with key members of his administration, they believed what was happening in Rwanda did not affect US national interests. Clinton is actually reported to have called what was going in Rwanda as “tribal wars”. His officials were barred from acknowledging what was happening as genocide in order not to take responsibility as the genocide convention of 1948 required.

In March of 1998, on a brief visit to Rwanda, President Clinton issued what would later be known as the “Clinton apology”. He spoke to the crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport: “We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.

UN: Dollars for Inaction

In July 2018, Rwanda and the United Nations signed the Development Assistance Plan for 2018-2023 (UNDAPII) totaling $630m. The UN has channeled hundreds of billions of Francs to Rwanda since 1994. It is by far the loudest supporter of whatever the Government of Rwanda does – perhaps to keep the politicians in Kigali quiet, not to raise anything to do with 1994.

UN headquarters in New York got all the information it needed about Rwanda from a peacekeeping in place since 1993.

On January 11, 1994, Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, commander of U.N. forces in Rwanda – UNAMIR, sent a cable to his headquarters in New York informing that a key informer had told him that a campaign was underway to register all Tutsis for purposes of their elimination and ammunitions were already procured and a militia trained for this purpose. The details of what transpired after the cable was received has been widely reported.

Instead of bolstering peacekeepers, the UN, on April 21 in resolution 912 (1994) reduced the force from 2,548 to a paltry 270 – handing killers their wish.

Koffi Annan, who was head of peacekeeping during the genocide, would eventually become the UN Secretary General. Even after he said: “We must acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide in Rwanda”, Annan remained in a difficult relationship with Kigali.

Belgium’s Two Apologies

This Thursday April 4, 2019, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel apologized for the kidnapping, segregation, deportation and forced adoption of thousands of children born to mixed-race couples during its colonial rule of Rwanda, Burundi, and DR Congo. Apart from reactions on social media, there has been no official reaction – for obvious reasons, Michel enjoys quite goodwill in Rwanda.

It is not the first time Belgium is apologizing for its troubles in relation to Rwanda. In April 2000, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt made public apology in Rwanda for his country’s role in the 1994 genocide. He said: “Here before you I assume the responsibility of my country, the Belgian political and military authorities.”

Belgium’s role dates back to 1919 when it took over the administration of Rwanda from Germans. This role is well documented. A summary here would be a disservice.

The Catholic Church: Killing in the name of God?

On March 20, 2017, Pope Francis who had been in charge for five years, decided to turn the Rwanda page. During a visit of President Kagame and First Lady, the Pope apologized for “the sins and failings of the Church and its members”.

In 1994, Catholic parishes became scenes of mass killings during the 100-day rampage, as genocidal militia found people seeking refuge there, sometimes turned over by priests, with no way out.

Archbishop André Perraudin, the man who headed the Catholic Church in Rwanda before independence, during and years after, gave his blessing to the government at the time as it persecuted Tutsis.

Government of Rwanda has accused the Church of laying the “intellectual foundation for [the] genocide ideology”.

Various government and parliamentary reports say today, genocide denial and trivialisation continue to flourish in certain groups within the church and that genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions.

One priest alone, Father Athanase Seromba ordered bulldozers to level a church, killing 2,000 Tutsis who were hiding inside.

The Nigerian Diplomat

“Every time I come at this Genocide memorial I am hurt and saddened by what befell on Rwanda. United Nations should put in action Never Again,” is how Prof Ibrahim Gambari, said previously after visiting the Kigali genocide memorial site, where more than 250,000 victims are laid to rest.

In 1994, Nigeria was one of the non-permanent member of UN Security Council. Prof Gambari was its envoy and became President of the Council for the month of May 1994. He is widely remembered as a major driver behind many Security Council resolutions and presidential statements on the genocide in Rwanda.

In 2010, Gambari was honoured in Rwanda with “Umurinzi”, Rwanda’s Campaign Against Genocide Medal.

German Pastor and Not German Government

The case of Germany and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is unusual. Since 1976, Germany’s defense forces, the Bundeswehr, maintained close contacts with Rwanda’s former army. Berlin picked Rwanda as one of the beneficiaries for military equipment in an aid program for foreign forces. An advisory group of the Bundeswehr was also on the ground and it worked closely with the Rwandan military.

There was no government-led intervention to act against the conditions of Tutsis between 1959-1994, but one German decided not to be party to the silence.

Evangelical Pastor Jörg Zimmermann who lived in Rwanda from 1991 to 1994, wrote various letters to Germany about what was happening in Rwanda. Zimmermann also heard the hate speech against the Tutsi being spread on radio station RTLM, which he documented, because he spoke perfect Kinyarwanda language.

Germany was until 1919 Rwanda’s colonial master in which role it used to dismantle Rwanda’s centuries-old social and organizational fabric. Rwandan turned away from seeing each other as a one people, to artificial differences. It is these that the Belgians built on when they arrived.

Canada: Not Interest!

Canada had limited connection with Rwanda. Since 1994, it has no resident ambassador in Kigali. Rwanda’s high commission has no envoy for several years now.  Canada is considered a harmless partner to Rwanda.

From 1994 to 2010, Canada had a visa form specifically designated for Rwandans. With it, Canada profiled Rwandans as Hutus, Tutsi or Twa.

The visa form has questions like; What are the number on your pre-1996 Rwandan ID card and the name of the ethnic group listed for you on this card?; Please attach to this questionnaire photocopies of identity documents issued to you before 1996 (including your Rwandan ID card).

Despite having its son Gen Remeo Dallaire in charge of Rwanda as UN force commander, Ottawa maintained a laissez-faire relation with Rwanda.

However, former Governor-General Michaëlle Jean formally apologized to Rwandans for Canada’s role as part of the international community that failed to act “soon enough” to prevent the genocide.

“Canada acknowledges and takes responsibility as part of the international community for not having responded soon enough to what was happening here,”  she said on his visit in Rwanda in late April 2010.

“I think we could have made a difference. I think we could have prevented the magnitude of the horror that brought (…) genocide here.”

She was the highest ranking Canadian to visit. Current Governor General Julie Payette is actually in Rwanda for the 25th genocide commemoration. Yesterday April 6, she toured the Kigali Genocide Memorial Site.

African Countries

In general, African countries remained mute during the genocide.


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