“Desperate to have something to show for the constant American protestations of concern about Rwanda, administration officials took to telling reporters that Washington was contributing to a public-health initiative in Uganda to clean up more than ten thousand Rwandan corpses from the shores of Lake Victoria.”
“The genocide has been tolerated by the so-called international community, but I was told that the UN regarded the corpse-eating dogs as a health problem”
Your friends and family are killed by your neighbors. By your friends. By your family. Presumably, life goes on. But how?
Gallons of ink have been spilled grappling with the genocide in Rwanda, and it’s quite clear that that I’m not qualified to offer anything of much use to the discussion. All I can do is write about how it made me feel to read Philip Gourevitch’s book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, and urge you to read it, too.
The planned and calculated attempted eradication of one people by another has happened a distressing number of times in the past century. The Armenians at the hands of the Turks; the Jews by the Germans; the Cambodians by Khmer Rouge; the Tutsis (and moderate Hutus) at the hands of the extremist Hutu Power group; the black Sudanese at the hands of the Arab Sudanese and the Janjaweed. The list goes on.
Each hurts the heart to think about. But we must think about each instance, about what was and was not done, what could have been done differently, and how the next time can be stopped. About how we can hold our leaders accountable to do what they’ve pledged to do.
Much of the book tells the story of the international community’s utter failure in this respect, and because it’s the only piece I can credibly discuss, I’ll focus on it.
(Plus, Gourevitch does the Rwandan community a better service interviewing them and understanding those times than I could accomplish here)
The UN force, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, or UNAMIR, that stood idly by as hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by proponents of Hutu Power (while Washington sat on its hands and refused to assist); France’s stymying the rebels (the Rwandan Patriotic Front) just long enough to allow the genocidiares to flee Rwanda – right after they’d been backing Hutu Power militarily; the predilection of aid organizations to fund refugee camps teeming with, and run by, genocidaries, instead of the basic needs that Rwandan survivors needed.
The list is frighteningly, maddeningly, and exhaustingly long.
And it includes the Clinton administration, too, in a profound way. The ghost of Somalia – of the corpses of soldiers dragged through the streets – hung over America, and it seems the administration was too haunted by it to act in Rwanda. It dragged its feet, refusing to call the massacre a genocide, then refusing to meaningfully act once it admitted as much. As the quote at the top of this post shows, it was more concerned with optics than substance.
As a member of the “international community” – specifically a Westerner and American – this is pretty horrifying to grapple with. We Americans have been complicit in a genocide of our own, and there was no international community to step in and protect the Native Americans that were unable to protect themselves. But the international community didn’t do any better in Rwanda, or Darfur, and it remains to be seen if it has learned lessons from past failures.
Gourevitch’s book may go down as the account of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. I hope I’m wrong, and that a Rwandan will better be able to tell the story. But, as it stands now, Gourevitch’s book is that good, and, along with the other books I’ve written about recently, you really should read it.