Central Afr. Rep.
Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Print this page
Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
document may not work.
Rwanda: Bystanders to Genocide
Rwanda: Bystanders to Genocide
Date distributed (ymd): 010904
Document reposted by APIC
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africapolicy.org
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +US policy focus+ +political/rights+
This posting contains (1) excerpts from a briefing on newly
released documents showing the U.S. role in blocking international
action against the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and (2) brief quotes
from a new 18,000 word article based on these documents and
The systematic indifference to African lives revealed by the
documents, as well as the fact that there has still been no
official U.S. investigation of responsibility for U.S. actions and
inactions at the time, are a revealing commentary on the continuity
of structural racism embedded in U.S. foreign policy making.
Links to other references on international complicity in allowing
the genocide to proceed, including the official UN, OAU, Belgian
and French reports, can be found at:
See also the comprehensive international"Rwanda: Lessons Learned"
report at http://www.jha.ac/aar.htm and the Human Rights Watch
report "Leave None to Tell the Story" at:
Excerpts from several of these reports previously reposted can be
found through the search at http://www.africapolicy.org/search.htm
Evidence of Inaction
A National Security Archive Briefing Book
Edited by William Ferroggiaro
August 20, 2001
Contact: William Ferroggiaro
(202) 994-7045; firstname.lastname@example.org
[links to PDF versions of all documents, with full source
information, are available through this URL.]
Today the National Security Archive publishes on the World Wide
Web sixteen declassified US government documents detailing how US
policymakers chose to be "bystanders" during the genocide that
decimated Rwanda in 1994. The documents include those cited in
the new investigative account, "Bystanders to Genocide: Why the
United States Let the Rwandan Tragedy Happen", by Samantha Power,
in the September 2001 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
[The full article is available at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/09/power.htm See also brief
Power's account is the result of a three-year investigation
involving more than 60 interviews of US policymakers and scores
of interviews with Rwandan, European and United Nations
officials. It also draws on hundreds of pages of recently
declassified US government documentation obtained under the US
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the National Security
Archive's William Ferroggiaro. The documents demonstrate what US
officials knew about the genocide, what options were considered,
and how and why they chose to avoid intervening in the slaughter.
The documents published today show that:
- Contrary to later public statements, the US lobbied the UN for
a total withdrawal of UN forces in Rwanda in April 1994;
- Secretary of State Warren Christopher did not authorize
officials to use the term "genocide" until May 21, and even then,
US officials waited another three weeks before using the term in
- Bureaucratic infighting slowed the US response to the genocide;
- The US refused to "jam" extremist radio broadcasts inciting the
killing because of costs and concern with international law;
- US officials knew exactly who was leading the genocide, and
actually spoke with those leaders to urge an end to the violence.
August 20, 2001
On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's personal
plane, a gift from French president Francois Mitterand, was shot
down as it returned to Rwanda, killing Habyarimana, Burundian
president Cyprien Ntarymira, and members of their entourages. The
two presidents were returning from Tanzania, where they'd met with
regional leaders concerning events in Burundi. Habyarimana
himself was pressed to implement the power-sharing Arusha Accord
his government had concluded with the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front
(RPF) in August 1993, which capped three years of war, cease-fires
and negotiations. To do so, however, would mean the effective end
of his 20-year, one-party rule over Rwandan politics and society.
Extremists in the military and government bitterly opposed the
accord; they are the likely culprits in his assassination. Within
an hour of the plane crash, the Presidential Guard, elements of
the Rwandan armed forces (FAR) and extremist militia (Interahamwe
and Impuzamugambi) set up roadblocks and barricades and began the
organized slaughter, starting in the capital Kigali, of nearly one
million Rwandans in 100 days time. Their first targets were those
most likely to resist the plan of genocide: the opposition Prime
Minister, the president of the constitutional court, priests,
leaders of the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party, the
Information Minister, and tellingly, the negotiator of the Arusha
Accord. Those who hesitated to join the campaign, such as the
governor of a southern province, were quickly removed from
positions of influence or killed. As a US intelligence analyst
noted in late April,
"The plan appears to have been to wipe out any RPF ally or
potential ally, and thus raise the costs and limit the possibility
of an RPF/Tutsi takeover No end to the unprecedented bloodshed is
yet in sight." (US Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence
and Research, Intelligence Assessment, "Roots of the Violence in
Rwanda", April 29, 1994)
As the killing intensified, the international community deserted
Rwanda. Western nations landed troops in Rwanda or Burundi in the
first week to evacuate their citizens, did so, and left. The UN
mission (UNAMIR), created in October 1993 to keep the peace and
assist the governmental transition in Rwanda, sought to intervene
between the killers and civilians. It also tried to mediate between
the RPF and the Rwandan army after the RPF struck from Rwanda to
protect Tutsi and rescue their battalion encamped in Kigali as
part of the Accord. On April 21, 1994, the United Nations Security
Council, at the behest of the United States which had no troops in
Rwanda Belgium, and others, voted to withdraw all but a remnant of
UNAMIR. The Security Council took this vote and others concerning
Rwanda even as the representative of the genocidal regime sat
amongst them as a non-permanent member. After human rights, media,
and diplomatic reports of the carnage mounted, the UN met and
debated and finally arrived at a compromise response on May 16.
UNAMIR II, as it was to be known, would be a more robust force of
5,500 troops. Again, however, the world failed to deliver, as the
full complement of troops and materiel would not arrive in Rwanda
until months after the genocide ended. Faced with the UN's delay,
but also concerned about its image as a former patron and arms
supplier of the Habyarimana regime, France announced on June 15
that it would intervene to stop the killing. In a June 22 vote,
the UN Security Council gave its blessing to this intervention;
that same day, French troops entered Rwanda from Zaire. While
intending a wider intervention, confronted with the RPF's rapid
advance across Rwanda, the French set up a "humanitarian zone" in
the southwest corner of Rwanda. Their intervention succeeded in
saving tens of thousands of Tutsi lives; it also facilitated the
safe exit of many of the genocide's plotters, who were allies of
On July 4, the RPF took the capital, Kigali; two weeks later, it
announced a new government comprised of RPF leaders and ministers
previously selected for the transition government called for in
the Arusha Accord. With the RPF's takeover, and with the
encouragement of extremist radio, Rwandans implicated in the
slaughter, their relatives and those who feared the arrival of the
RPF, fled to neighboring countries. In the end, the extremists
killed nearly one million Rwandans, approximately one-tenth of the
population. Were it not for the RPF's military prowess, the
genocide would have continued.
Despite overwhelming evidence of genocide and knowledge as to its
perpetrators, United States officials decided against taking a
leading role in confronting the slaughter in Rwanda. Rather, US
officials confined themselves to public statements, diplomatic
demarches, initiatives for a ceasefire, and attempts to contact
both the interim government perpetrating the killing and the RPF.
The US did use its influence, however, at the United Nations, but
did so to discourage a robust UN response (Document 4 and Document
13). In late July, however, with the evidence of genocide
littering the ground in Rwanda, the US did launch substantial
operations again, in a supporting role to assist humanitarian
relief efforts for those displaced by the genocide.
Facsimile from Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, Force Commander, United
Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, to Maj. Gen. Maurice Baril,
United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, "Request for
Protection for Informant", January 11, 1994.
In this notorious "genocide fax" (originally published in The New
Yorker), Gen. Dallaire warns UN peacekeeping officials Maj. Gen.
Maurice Baril, the military adviser to Secretary General Boutros
Boutros-Ghali, and Kofi Annan, who at the time was Under Secretary
General for PKO (peacekeeping operations) and is now UN Secretary
General of the existence of arms caches, a plot to assassinate
Belgian UN peacekeepers and Rwandan members of parliament, and the
existence of lists of Tutsis to be killed. Dallaire informs New
York of his intention to raid the caches, but foreshadowing later
developments, Annan and DPKO official Iqbal Riza refuse the
request, citing UNAMIR's limited mandate. Instead, they order
Dallaire to apprise the president of Rwanda of the informant's
allegations, despite the fact that the arms caches and
assassination plan are the work of those close to the president.
On April 7, the day after the shoot down of the President's plane,
members of the Presidential Guard carry out this plan, torturing,
killing, and mutilating 10 Belgian soldiers in the UN contingent
protecting the Prime Minister, who was also their target. As
foreseen by the plan's authors, Belgium quickly withdrew their
contingent from UNAMIR, breaking the backbone of the force. Within
two weeks, the UN Security Council voted to reduce UNAMIR to a
token presence, removing the last impediment to the slaughter.
US Department of State, cable number 099440, to US Mission to the
United Nations, New York, "Talking Points for UNAMIR Withdrawal",
April 15, 1994. Confidential.
This telegram forwards Department of State guidance to the US
Mission to the UN in New York instructing US diplomats there that
"the international community must give highest priority to full,
orderly withdrawal of all UNAMIR personnel as soon as possible."
Advising that this withdrawal does not require a UN Security
Council resolution which would have likely focused international
criticism the Department instructs the mission "that we will
oppose any effort at this time to preserve a UNAMIR presence in
Rwanda." April 15 was the first of two days of UN Security Council
debate on next steps in Rwanda for which the Rwandan ambassador
was present and about which he reported back to the interim
government in Rwanda. Over that same weekend, aware the UN Security
Council was in retreat, the interim Council of Ministers, the
genocide's architects, met in Kigali and decided to take the
program of extermination to the rest of the country.
Discussion Paper, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of
Defense for Middle East/Africa Region, Department of Defense, May
1, 1994. Secret.
A product of an intra-agency process comprised of working level
Pentagon action officers with expertise in African affairs,
humanitarian and refugee affairs, public affairs, and special
operations, and also officials of the Joint Staff's Strategic Plans
and Policy division, this memo for the record provides an inside
glimpse at the various goals, options and tactics discussed at a
meeting of officials charged with day-to-day responsibility for
the Rwanda crisis. It is filled with cautions against the US
becoming committed to action. Genocide comes up in the discussion:
"Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this
yesterday Genocide finding could commit USG to "do something".
US Department of State, cable number 127262, to US Mission to the
United Nations, New York, "Rwanda: Security Council Discussions",
May 13, 1994. Confidential.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff and
senior officials, including the Director of the Joint Staff,
drafted and approved this cable delivering instructions to the US
Mission in New York for Security Council debate over replenishing
UNAMIR. With much of the killing completed and most of the
remaining armed forces fleeing the RPF's countrywide advance, US
officials argue against a UN plan for a robust effort launched
into Kigali to protect surviving Rwandans, rescue others, and
deliver assistance. Such a plan, "in current circumstances, would
require a Chapter VII mandate", and the US "is not prepared at
this point to lift heavy equipment and troops into Kigali". It is
however, willing to consider its own plan, "outside-in", by which
protective zones would be established on Rwanda's borders. Even
this plan, however, is likely to be "an active protection
operation requiring the use of lethal force." As for the several
thousand Rwandans in Kigali under deteriorating UN protection, "we
recommend that these ad hoc protective efforts should continue
until a suitable alternative arrangement can be ensured." Even
when a plan for 5,500 troops with a protection mandate is finally
approved on May 17, the troops would not all be in place until
September, two months after the RPF captures the country and one
month after Gen. Dallaire completed his service in Rwanda.
Action memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State for African
Affairs George E. Moose, Assistant Secretary of State for
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck, Assistant
Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Douglas
J. Bennet, and Department of State Legal Adviser Conrad K. Harper,
through Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Peter
Tarnoff and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Tim Wirth,
to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, "Has Genocide Occurred
in Rwanda?", May 21, 1994. Secret.
The internal debate over whether genocide was occurring in Rwanda
in 1994 and US officials' use of the term began nearly as soon as
the killing began. Nevertheless, Department of State officials
refrained from characterizing it as such for weeks. While on June
10 Secretary of State Warren Christopher finally publicly called
the Rwandan slaughter "genocide", on May 21 he had authorized
Department officials "in light of the stark facts in Rwanda" to use
the formulation "acts of genocide have occurred" and authorized
delegations to agree to resolutions using various formulations of
the term. The memo argues for consistency with the use of the term
with relation to Bosnia. A previous memo dated May 16, sought
approval to use the term "genocide has occurred", but this
formulation didn't hold. ...
Memorandum from Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research
Toby T. Gati to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
George Moose and Department of State Legal Adviser Conrad Harper,
"Rwanda Geneva Convention Violations", circa May 18, 1994.
Secret/ORCON (originator controlled).
This intelligence analysis, prepared for Secretary Christopher's
decision as to use of the genocide label, finds "substantial,
circumstantial evidence implicating senior Rwandan government and
military officials in the widespread, systematic killing" of
Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The RPF, "unlike government forces",
"does not appear to have committed Geneva Convention defined
genocidal atrocities." The analysts report that between "200,000
to 500,000" are dead. ...
Bystanders to Genocide by Samantha Power
(The Atlantic Monthly, September 2001)
"So far people have explained the U.S. failure to respond to the
Rwandan genocide by claiming that the United States didn't know
what was happening, that it knew but didn't care, or that
regardless of what it knew there was nothing useful to be done. ...
This material [declassified documents, interviews] provides a
clearer picture than was previously possible of the interplay among
people, motives, and events. It reveals that the U.S. government
knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed
up countless opportunities to intervene."
"In reality the United States did much more than fail to send
troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN
peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to
block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused
to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial
instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide.
And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each
day, U.S. officials shunned the term 'genocide,' for fear of being
obliged to act. ... Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit
U.S. policy objective."
"In order not to appreciate that genocide or something close to it
was under way, U.S. officials had to ignore public reports and
internal intelligence and debate."
"In the three days during which some 4,000 foreigners were
evacuated, about 20,000 Rwandans were killed. After the American
evacuees were safely out and the U.S. embassy had been closed, Bill
and Hillary Clinton visited the people who had manned the
emergency-operations room at the State Department and offered
congratulations on a 'job well done.'"
"Once the Americans had been evacuated, Rwanda largely dropped off
the radar of most senior Clinton Administration officials.
...Cabinet-level officials focused on crises elsewhere [such as
Haiti and Bosnia].... Throughout the U.S. government Africa
specialists had the least clout of all regional specialists and the
smallest chance of effecting policy outcomes. In contrast, those
with the most pull in the bureaucracy had never visited Rwanda or
met any Rwandans. ... During the entire three months of the
genocide Clinton never assembled his top policy advisers to discuss
the killings. Anthony Lake likewise never gathered the "principals"
- the Cabinet-level members of the foreign-policy team. Rwanda was
never thought to warrant its own top-level meeting. "
"Because this is a story of nondecisions and bureaucratic business
as usual, few Americans are haunted by the memory of what they did
in response to genocide in Rwanda. Most senior officials remember
only fleeting encounters with the topic while the killings were
taking place. The more reflective among them puzzle occasionally
over how developments that cast the darkest shadow over the Clinton
Administration's foreign-policy record could have barely registered
at the time. But most say they have not talked in any detail among
themselves about the events .... Requests for a congressional
investigation have gone ignored."
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information
Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa).
Africa Action's information services provide accessible
information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and
international policies toward Africa that advance economic,
political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.