Mehdi Alavi, Fair Observer.
Rwanda is a landlocked country located in East Africa. According to the Peace Worldwide Organization’s Civility Report 2021, Rwanda has a population of 13 million, a literacy rate of 73%, a gross domestic product (GDP) of $10.4 billion, and per capita income of $800, which makes it one of the poorest countries in the world. Rwanda is ruled by an authoritarian regime that persecutes political opponents across the country. Journalists and human rights defenders are often killed or disappear. Security forces work with impunity. Refugees are treated badly and some are killed. About 134,000 or 1.2% of the population are forced into modern-day slavery. The country remains a source of, and to lesser extent, transit and destination point for trafficking women and children.
Rwanda has a tragic past. For 100 days in 1994, around 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in Rwanda by the ethnic Hutus in what has become known as the Rwanda genocide. Once, the country was run by the ethnic minority Tutsis. In 1959, they were overthrown by the ethnic majority Hutus. Thousands of Tutsis escaped to neighboring countries. Some of the Tutsis in exile united to set up the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which began fighting against the Hutu government until a peace treaty was signed in 1993. In April 1994, a plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu president and high-ranking officials was shot down, killing all on board. Blaming the RPF, Hutu extremists began the slaughters of the Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers.
The RPF maintained that the plane was shot by the Hutu extremists in order to blame the RPF and rationalize genocide. Meanwhile, French forces present in Rwanda watched the massacres, but did nothing. The French government has denied this persistently until recently. After 27 years of denial, France was finally forced by its own government commission to officially admit its complicity in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In May 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron, spoke at the genocide memorial in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, where many of the victims were buried. He asked Rwandans to forgive France for its role in the 1994 genocide. “Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness,” Macron said.
United Nations Measures to Prevent Genocide
The United Nations (UN) Article 1 clearly states that the countries are bound to suppress “acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means,” a “settlement of international disputes” or resolution of situations that could lead to violence. In 1946, the UN General Assembly in its Resolution 96 (I) defined genocide and considered it an international crime.
In 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defined genocide as, “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” In the case of disputes, the convention made the International Court of Justice (ICJ) the final legal authority on genocide. In 1949, the Geneva Convention prohibited willful killings, torture, property destruction, unlawful deportation or confinement, and the taking of civilians as hostages.
More recently, international law has sought to prevent genocide. In May 1993, a Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established. The ICTY indicted a number of the perpetrators of the Bosnian genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Those indicted include Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity.
In August 1993, the Rwanda government signed a peace treaty with RPF, known as “Arusha Accords.” In October, the UN Security Council (UNSC) established the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) to assist the parties executing the peace agreement. The UNAMIR was supposed to monitor the progress in the peace process and help form the transitional government.
As mentioned earlier, the plane carrying the Rwandan Hutu President was shot down in 1994 and the Hutu government blamed the RPF. The next day, on April 7, 1994, government forces and Hutu militia began killing Tutsis, moderate Hutus and the UNAMIR peacekeepers who were among their first victims.
On June 22, 1994, after two and a half months of killings, the UN finally authorized a French-led multinational operation, “Operation Turquoise”, which set a protection zone in Rwanda to help victims and refugees. On July 15, 1994, RPF took over the country and stopped the 100 days of killings. In August 1994, whatever was left of the UNAMIR took over the French-led multinational operation and provided shelter to thousands of refugees.
In November 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established. Headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, the ICTR was supposed to “prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and neighboring States, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.” So far, ICTR has brought to justice 93 persons “responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda in 1994.”
French Support of Genocidal Hutu-led Regime
In April 2019, the US law firm Levy Firestone Muse released A Foreseeable Genocide, a report based on million pages of documents after years of interviews and investigation. The report found France to be a “collaborator” of the Hutu government in the genocide. The French were aware that the regime planned to exterminate the Tutsis.
As per the report, the “French government was unwavering in its support for its Rwandan allies even when their genocidal intentions became clear, and only the French government was an indispensable collaborator in building the institutions that would become instruments of the Genocide.” The report concluded that “the Government of France bears significant responsibility for having enabled a foreseeable genocide.”
In March 2021, a French commission found that France bore “heavy and overwhelming responsibility” for the Rwanda genocide. After this finding, the French government could no longer deny its involvement in the genocide. Under international pressure, the French president was finally forced to apologize for supporting the Hutu-led genocidal regime in Rwanda in 1994.
US Support for RPF
Even as the French backed a genocidal regime, the US supported the rebel RPF. Helen C Epstein, a visiting professor at Bard College, chronicled the secret role of the US in the Rwandan genocide in a tour de force in The Guardian. Rwandan President Paul Kagame was “then a senior officer in both the Ugandan army and the RPF, was in Kansas at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, studying field tactics and psyops, propaganda techniques to win hearts and minds.” He flew back to lead Uganda-backed RPF against the genocidal Hutu regime.
Kagame and the RPF were not blameless either. Epstein tells us that Robert Flaten, the then US ambassador to Rwanda, witnessed the terror caused by the RPF invasion of Rwanda. Apparently, “hundreds of thousands of mostly Hutu villagers fled RPF-held areas, saying they had seen abductions and killings.” Flaten urged the George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush Senior) administration “to impose sanctions on Uganda, as it had on Iraq after the Kuwait invasion earlier that year.” Instead, the US and its allies doubled aid to Yoweri Museveni’s government. Uganda’s defense spending ballooned to 48% of the budget. Strongman Museveni allocated a mere 13% for education and 5% for health, even as AIDS was ravaging the country and killing thousands.
In 2022, Museveni continues to rule Uganda while Kagame is the big boss of Rwanda. There has been relative peace in the region but both regimes are based on the barrel of the gun. Under the Belgians, the Tutsis “formed an elite minority caste in Rwanda” and “treated the Hutu peasants like serfs, forcing them to work on their land and sometimes beating them like donkeys.” Today, the Tutsis continue to occupy the top echelons of the Rwandan state. The Hutus may be better treated than a few decades ago but they are clearly second class citizens in their own land.
Time for Action
Like many other countries, Rwanda is still waiting for justice. It is another example of the failure of the UN to stop genocide, save victims, and bring to justice all guilty parties. In 1994, the UN only acted after 75 days of killings. Even then, it chose France, a biased party, to lead the operation. The UN has acted belatedly, inadequately and irresponsibly repeatedly. Genocides in Cambodia, the Balkans and other places are proof of that fact.
The UN usually serves the interests of the powerful and ignores the poor. Thus, we cannot rely on the UN to prevent genocides, crimes against humanity and other atrocities. It is we the people who must assume responsibility and support political leaders who strive for global peace and harmony.
In the hope of avoiding another genocide, we must demand that our political leaders take the following actions:
First, ICTR must continue its work until all individuals, Rwandan or not, are brought to justice. Its mandate must be expanded to include the forces of other countries who watched but chose not to take any action to stop the ongoing killings.
Second, France, which has already appointed a commission, must now form a criminal tribunal to investigate those who collaborated with the genocidal Hutu government in 1994. French troops who watched the killings, but chose not to act, should also be brought to justice. The French cannot be tried by the ICTR because France is a permanent member of the UNSC and will veto any such proposal. So, we must put pressure on France to bring its citizens to justice.
Third, France must make reparations for the loss of lives, injuries, human displacements, and property destruction caused by its illegal collaboration and complicity with the Hutu government. France has a GDP of over $2.7 trillion compared with Rwanda’s $10.4 billion. France must put its money where its mouth is and allocate at least $20 billion, amounting to less than 1% of its GDP, to compensate the victims of the genocide.
Fourth, the US must form a bipartisan committee to investigate its officials who played a dubious role in Rwanda or Uganda in the 1990s. Those who knew about killings and did nothing to prevent them must be brought to justice just like their French counterparts. Like France, the US is a member of the UNSC and its citizens cannot be tried by ICTR. So, it is up to American citizens to demand a reckoning of the dark days of the 1990s.
Fifth, the US must also pay reparations for the loss of lives, injuries, people displacements, and property destruction that occurred during the genocide. The US GDP is much larger than France and the US could easily give Rwanda $20 billion, about 1% of its GDP. If the bipartisan committee discovers systemic support of genocide, then this amount should be higher. This money should be spent to build infrastructure, educate people, improve healthcare, create means of production and much more.
Mehdi Alavi is an author and also the founder and president of Peace Worldwide Organization (http://www.peaceworldwide.org/), a non-religious, non-partisan charitable organization in the United States that promotes human rights, freedom, and peace for all. Annually, it releases its Civility Report, reporting on all countries that are members of the United Nations. The report also evaluates the performance of the United Nations and the United Nations Security Council.