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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Genocide and U.S. Policy, 1

Rwanda: Genocide and U.S. Policy, 1
Date distributed (ymd): 980526
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains the first part of congressional testimony by Holly Burkhalter on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and U.S. Policy. The next posting contains the remainder of the testimony, together with additional on-line references on Rwanda.

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Physicians for Human Rights
Washington Office
110 Maryland Ave. NE #511
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 547-9881
Fax: (202) 547-9050

The 1994 Rwandan Genocide and U.S. Policy

Testimony of Holly Burkhalter, Physicians for Human Rights
Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Operations

May 5, 1998

Thank you for holding this important hearing, Chairman Smith, and for inviting me to testify. My name is Holly Burkhalter, and I am the advocacy director of Physicians for Human Rights. Physicians for Human Rights, based in Boston, mobilizes the medical and health communities to protect and promote human rights for all people. Since our founding in 1986, PHR has sent over 75 medical and forensic teams to dozens of countries to investigate reports of torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial executions; prison conditions; landmines; use of chemical weapons and other issues.

I commend you and Representative McKinney for taking this initiative to investigate U.S. policy during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Mr. Chairman, it is a perverse fact of life that the larger the number of victims the easier it is for the world to ignore them. In this testimony I make many references to "genocide," but that word tends to obscure the fact that genocide -- and torture, pain, and death -- occurs one person at a time. We at Physicians for Human Rights were forcefully reminded of that fact when our doctors and anthropologists excavated a mass grave at Kibuye at the behest of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. We spent months with the victims -- both the living and the dead. We learned about the genocide first hand as we carefully lifted each of 450 victims from the grave: the skull cleaved in two by a machete blow, the baby tied to his dead mother's back, the children with achilles tendons cut so that they couldn't run, the priest in his clerical garb. And we saw that the suffering of the survivors of genocide is experienced one person at a time as we worked with families to help identify the clothing our team retrieved from the mass grave.

Physicians for Human Rights collected yet more evidence of the impact of genocide on individual Rwandans when we conducted a medical survey documenting widespread and heartbreaking mental trauma among child survivors in the refugee camps. At today's hearing, I will use the opportunity to review what I believe went badly wrong during those terrible months of April through June, and to recommend a number of policies which, if enacted, would enable the U.S. to respond more appropriately if there is a resurgence of genocide or mass ethnic killing in Rwanda or elsewhere. We are deeply concerned that four years after the genocide there has been no discernable effort by the executive branch to change American peacekeeping policy so that an appropriate response would be possible during future genocides. And we see no indication that Congress would provide the financial and political support for such policies even were they to be advanced by the executive branch. I hope that this hearing contributes to new thinking in both branches of government.

Mr. Chairman, my organization believes that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 continues today, as the Interhamwe and ex-FAR (former Rwandan army) continue their targeted slaughter of Tutsi exclusively on the basis of their ethnicity. Every week we learn of dozens of killings of unarmed Tutsi men, women, and children by the insurgency whose goals and methods of "eliminating in whole or in part" the Tutsi ethnic minority in Rwanda have not changed over the last four years. It is of course the case that the genocidaires' capacity to commit genocide is greatly reduced from the time that they controlled the military resources of Rwanda, that their victims today number in the hundreds as compared to the hundreds of thousands, and that they are not in a position to topple the present government of Rwanda. None of these factors has the slightest bearing on the fact that the Genocide Convention requires its signatories to do today what it did not do in 1994: to prevent genocide and punish the perpetrators.

It is appropriate and honorable for the Clinton Administration to acknowledge the United States's failure to respond appropriately to the 1994 genocide, as Secretary Albright did in December and President Clinton did last month. Physicians for Human Rights welcomes their candor and commends them for it. We were also highly gratified by President Clinton's pledge to "increase our vigilance and strengthen our stand against those who would commit such atrocities in the future." Yet apologies alone are a poor tribute to the victims of genocide if the policies which frustrated an international response to stop genocide and save lives are still in place. A pledge of "never again" is a hollow one if there is no planning, preparation, resources, or political commitment to take the steps necessary to act on that pledge.

Accordingly, Physicians for Human Rights calls upon the Clinton Administration to develop a "Genocide Prevention and Response" policy initiative, and for the Congress to strongly support it, politically and financially. Such a policy, which I will discuss in detail below, should include the following elements:

  • President Clinton should announce that prevention and suppression of genocide is a vital U.S. interest, and that it is the policy of the United States to act on an urgent basis to comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention.
  • Presidential Decision Directive 25 (regarding U.S. guidelines for participation in or support of international peacekeeping endeavors) should be replaced with another directive which explicitly authorizes U.S. support for a United Nations-sanctioned military intervention to deter or stop genocide and to protect the victims.

To prevent or deter genocide, the U.S. should take the following actions:

  • Respond quickly and publicly to early warnings of mass ethnic killing or genocide-in-the-making. Publicly condemn actions which foment ethnic hatred, pressure governments responsible by withholding non-humanitarian foreign aid, deny visas to and seize assets of genocide-provoking individuals.
  • Engage at the highest levels with other governments to coordinate international condemnation, stigmatization, and isolation of genocide-provoking individuals, entities, or governments, and begin contingency planning with our allies for the use of force to protect victims and stop mass killings;
  • Engage in intensive monitoring in the affected area and urge other governments and the United Nations to do the same. Appoint a senior official to direct intelligence gathering and analysis for the purpose of protecting vulnerable communities; deterring attacks; gathering evidence for identification, stigmatization, isolation, and potential prosecution of genocide perpetrators; tracking weapons flows; assisting in the provision of humanitarian relief for the victims; and assessing the likelihood of actual genocide.
  • Take steps to stop the flow of weapons and other military aid to perpetrators of ethnic violence.
  • Forcibly stop the broadcasting of specific incitements to kill or injure minorities or other targeted groups by jamming the airwaves or providing the equipment and political support for others to do so.

To stop genocide in progress and protect the victims:

  • As soon as it becomes apparent, publicly call and condemn by name -- genocide -- acts with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, and condemn those who are engaged in directing or participating in it.
  • Provide the United Nations with the financial, military, political, and diplomatic resources to establish and support a standing rapid reaction interventionary force or a standby force such as the African Crisis Response Initiative with Chapter VII authority for the express purpose of intervening to prevent or stop genocide and to protect victims.
  • Until such forces are established, equipped, and trained, commit in advance and pre-position equipment and vehicles to permit an ad hoc force to be deployed quickly. Provide resources to the U.N.'s Office of Peacekeeping to draw up contingency plans for intervening in specific situations to suppress genocide. * Apprehend those indicted for genocide and turn them over to the appropriate international tribunal, if such exists. If such a tribunal has not been formed, take the lead in creating such a court immediately.

Ignoring Early Warnings: In a speech to genocide survivors in Rwanda President Clinton apologized for Western inaction during the genocide. His remorse was welcome, but we take exception to the President's suggestion that the U.S. did not respond because the government didn't know what was happening at the time.

As early as 1993, human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, where I was working at the time, made available to Congress, the executive branch, and the U.N. early indicators of the trouble ahead in Rwanda. Those warning signs included selective killings of Tutsi, the formation of armed militia by extremist political parties, the drawing up of lists of Tutsi "enemies" (who were later exterminated), the stockpiling and distribution of thousands of guns and other light weapons to civilians throughout the communes, and the broadcasting of virulently anti-Tutsi messages by extremist radio stations.

We now know that the United Nations, and, presumably, Security Council members, had a great deal more information than the early warning indicators provided by human rights groups. On January 11, 1994, Major General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda (UNAMIR), sent a fax to the United Nations providing details of the genocide to come. The information came from an informant to General Dallaire, and it stated that the informant had been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali for purposes, the informant believed, of their extermination. Dallaire requested U.N. authorization to confiscate arms caches within 36 hours, and to provide asylum to the informant and his family. Dallaire's fax also informed U.N. officials that the genocide plan included provoking the Belgium troops making up the bulk of the UNAMIR contingent, killing some of them, and thus ensure that Belgium would withdraw its troops from UNAMIR. This is precisely what occurred.

The United Nations official to whom Dallaire appealed, Major General Maurice Baril, refused to authorize the actions and, according to Belgian Senator Alain Destexhe, ordered Dallaire to inform the President Habyarimana and his political party of the informant's intelligence, along with the U.N.'s decision not to act on it. Secretary General Kofi Annan's spokesman stated that all senior officials at the U.N. Office of Peacekeeping were behind General Baril's decision.

We believe that the U.S. Ambassador in Kigali, Ambassador Rawson, also had extensive information on the gathering genocide. We are troubled by the United Nations's claim that the peacekeeping office did not respond positively to General Dallaire's request because it could not assess the validity of the intelligence he was relying upon. The U.S. could have helped investigate and corroborate Dallaire's information. It would be very useful for this Subcommittee to request all cable traffic between U.S. Embassy/Kigali and the State Department and United Nations to assess what role the U.S. actually did play at this critical time.

Speaking more generally, we believe that the United States and others should devote significant resources to gathering intelligence in situations where preparations for mass ethnic killing appear to be underway so that they can quickly intervene to stop the killing. In Rwanda, we may assume that the government of Belgium was collecting intelligence on such matters as the creation of extremist militia, the broadcasts of hate radio, targeted killings of Tutsi, and the influx of light weapons into communes if only because hundreds of Belgian troops were deployed within UNAMIR and their security would have been of high concern to Brussels.

In Rwanda, as in Bosnia, the real issue has not been the gathering of intelligence but rather the analysis of it and acting on it to prevent abuse and apprehend abusers. Quantities of information so vast as to be unusuable are collected through satellite photography, radio and telephone intercepts, etc. The key to using this material effectively to inform a response to burgeoning genocide is in 1) telling the intelligence gatherers what to look for in a specific area of search and to focus the inquiry on indicators of trouble ahead (such as troop movements, flow of weapons, positioning of vehicles, orders given, received, and acknowledged, etc.) 2) ordering that the material be analyzed and evaluated specifically for purposes of information about the possibility of mass killing; and 3) making that information available to policy makers both in the U.S., the U.N., and other foreign capitals so that it can be acted upon.

Everyone agrees that "early warning" is essential for appropriate response to humanitarian disasters, and the collection and analysis of intelligence and deployment of international monitors can serve this function. But all the warnings in the world are worthless if there is no response. The Clinton Administration could have taken but did not take the following actions in the months before the Rwanda genocide, in response to the early warning indicators: 1) convened a diplomatic meeting of governments with influence on Rwanda, including neighboring governments and donors such as France and Belgium, and publicly demanded that arms caches be identified and destroyed, that hate radio be stopped, that killings of Tutsi leaders be investigated and prosecuted promptly, and that extremist militia be disbanded and disarmed. 2) responded to General Dallaire's intelligence report of genocide to come (the January 11 fax to the United Nations) by insisting that he be authorized to take the actions he requested and leading efforts at the UN to enlarge UNAMIR'a mandate if such were required and provide him with the resources with which to carry it out.

"Peacekeeping" During the Genocide: Shortly after the genocide, General Dallaire stated that he could have saved significant numbers of lives, if not stopped the genocide, if he had had 1,800 additional troops, appropriate mandate, and armored vehicles. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, in cooperation with the U.S. Army and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, addressed General Dallaire's premise and largely concurred with it, concluding that "a modern force of 5,000 troops could have significantly altered the outcome of the conflict."

As you know, Dallaire and his 2,500-strong UNAMIR force were deployed in Rwanda for purposes of monitoring the Arusha peace accord and assisting in the transition to a coalition government, demobolizing military forces, integrating some RPA units into the Rwandan army, and establishing a demilitarized zone. Though UNAMIR's mandate did include contributing to the security of Kigali, some observers believe that in order for UNAMIR to have checked the genocide a Chapter VII mandate to reestablish peace and security and rules of engagement permitting offensive action would be necessary.

It is, however, important to note that even while Dallaire was denied the rules of engagement that he felt were required to take offensive action to save Rwandan lives, UNAMIR troops made several excursions into the countryside for the explicit purpose of evacuating European expatriates without any change in rules or mandate. It would be useful to this investigation if the Subcommittee would solicit information from the U.N. peacekeeping office, from General Dallaire, and from Secretary Albright and those who served with her at the United Nations about this apparent discrepancy between what protection UNAMIR was permitted to offer Europeans and Rwandans during the genocide.

As noted above, the United Nations peacekeeping office denied Dallaire permission for UNAMIR to take steps to head off the genocide four months before it began. He appealed on numerous occasions thereafter, in the period from January - April, 1994, for an increase in troops and a mandate to save lives and was repeatedly denied. Thus when President Habyarimana's plane was shot down on April 6 and the organized killing of Tutsi and moderate Hutu political figures began in Kigali, UNAMIR was ill-equipped to deal with the problem. As predicted by General Dallaire's informant, the extremists did indeed target the Belgian troops, in particular those who were assigned to protect Hutu Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana. She was murdered along with three Belgian peacekeepers. The remaining seven peacekeepers in the contingent laid down their arms in the hope that they would appear nonthreatening, given their rules of engagement which required them to avoid combat. They were tortured and murdered.

(continued in part 2)

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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