1994 was not only the year that I did my GCSE’s and in which Brazil won the World Cup but also the year that a horrific genocide took place in Rwanda. We study the Rwandan Genocide briefly in Year 11 within the GCSE RS course as part of our investigation into the bite of the United Nations (Unit 8 Section 3). This week, as part of the countdown to our Year 11 exams, we’re re-watching the film Hotel Rwanda during all lunchtimes.
The following article tries to tackle the question: was someone to blame for letting this crisis unfold… Prevention of Rwandan Genocide
The genocide in Rwanda could have been prevented. There were many steps that the international community could have taken to prevent the genocide that would not have involved military action.
Solidarity within the UN was practically nonexistent with regards to Rwanda. Most countries had no investments or anything to gain from helping Rwanda, so little was done. Three of the five permanent members of the UN had reasons not to prevent the genocide. The US had nothing to gain, and France and China were supplying the government with arms. If the UN had expressed more concern for the atrocities going on, had decided early on that what was happening was indeed a genocide, action could have been taken much sooner. Early action could have prevented France and China from funding and/or fueling the genocide, and also could have prevented French troops from helping the Hutu Power regime flee the country.
The United States was very loath to take any kind of action in Rwanda because Rwanda did not represent one of the country’s economic interests. They refused even simple means of interference, and even helped to impede other countries from taking action. One thing that could have been done by any country was simply to recognize that the conditions in Rwanda after their independence leant themselves to the possibility of genocide. Recognizing this early and taking steps to ensure that genocidal plots were not put into action by the government could have been a serious obstacle to the genocide’s execution. Instead, United States officials argued over the use of the word genocide for fear that it would compel the country to act, as it obviously would have. If the conditions had been recognized, or rather, acknowledged sooner, the international community could have responded much quicker.
Rwanda did not have all the technology available to more developed countries. Telephone lines were, and are, scarce, but the country was heavily saturated with radios. In a country where almost everyone had a portable radio, especially after the government issued them to Hutus for free, radio was the most suitable and effective way of spreading propaganda. Only the United States had the technology for jamming the radio waves of propaganda, and, when alerted to this fact, the country staunchly refused to use the technology, to lend it, or even lend the equipment, to the United Nations so that someone else could take action. This completely prevented the international community from being able to jam the radio frequencies. Had they been able to, however, they would have been able to stop the spread of hate messages, and later in the genocide, it would have nearly incapacitated the government from hunting down targeted individuals, as lists of these people were read of the Hutu Power radio station. This could arguably have stopped the genocide in its tracks without setting a single soldier on Rwandan soil.
The United States and other western countries generally interact with other states, specifically on a state level. The consequences of this are that, even when the UN has reports that a genocide may be taking place within a country, its response is to notify the government that is possibly carrying out a genocide that there may be a genocide happening in their country. Obviously, if reports are leaking to the international community, it must be well-known intranationally, and the government, for some reason, is not taking action. The insistence on only dealing with other countries as states prevents any action being done for the voiceless individuals.
Again, on the issue of support, had the United States not so staunchly opposed action in Rwanda, other countries would probably have been more willing to lend troops or equipment or money. As it was, the United States’ refusal to contribute set the tone for the intervention, and that tone basically told other countries that they were not expected to help. Furthermore, when the United States did begrudgingly contribute equipment, they delayed its employ by haggling over the fee to the UN, to whom it has never paid its dues. This delay cost more lives as the meager intervention force was stalled for a couple months while it waited for heavy machinery.
In the aftermath, Rwanda is a very different country. While Hutus and Tutsis now live side by side, many feel that the only way for them to survive is to destroy the other ethnic group. The post-genocide government has tried to establish a greater level of stability within the country to ensure that a second genocide will not happen.
The government has abolished the ethnic identity cards that, for so long, were the only tangible means of distinguishing one group from another. Many citizens of Rwanda still remember what their neighbours were once labeled, however, and many victims of the genocide live side by side with the killers of their families. Many Rwandans now refuse to place themselves in an ethnic category at all, however, and a new generation of Rwandans who do not grow up with ethnic identity cards will help to ease the ethnic tensions.
After the genocide was officially declared “over” by the international community, the genocide continued outside of Rwanda’s borders, in the refugee camps where the Hutu Power regime-in-exile had set up operations. A year or two after the genocide, however, the government of Rwanda, with help from the Ugandan government, launched an attack against these camps and broke them up forcibly. This prevented the escaped criminals from exercising further misery upon the refugees, and from launching attacks on Rwanda. It also stopped the influx of foreign aid dollars funding reprisals from the Hutu Power refugees.
Some things that can be done to prevent further genocide in Rwanda would be monitoring of the radio broadcasts to ensure that no hateful messages are sent, and to jam any frequencies that broadcast hateful messages against one ethnic group or the other. Also, the infrastructure in Rwanda has been completely gutted, and its restructuring will take a long time. The Rwandans finally won the right from the UN to try their own criminals, in their own country, though this process has been shown to have innumerable problems of its own. Education is practically at a stand-still, and much needs to be done to ensure that the children of Rwanda are taught to live in community with each other. And, while recognize that it is a very Western way of looking at things, there is a severe level of psychological damage that has been done to the Rwandans almost categorically, and if those issues are not addressed then there are sure to be repercussions in the future.
This powerful animation was released by BBC’s Newsnight for the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide: