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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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, 2

Rwanda: Genocide and U.S. Policy, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 980526
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

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

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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

[continued from part 1]

Within days, Belgium had deployed 850 troops under its own flag to evacuate Belgian citizens from Rwanda. Once that was accomplished, Brussels withdrew its 420 soldiers from UNAMIR. Other soldiers panicked and were sent out of the country, and Dallaire was left with a weakened force while troop contributing nations were demanding assurances that they were not in jeopardy. For two weeks, the Security Council discussed the fate of UNAMIR, with Washington strongly supporting complete withdrawal of the force on the grounds that it could neither carry out its duties nor be protected. On April 21, the Security Council voted to drawn down UNAMIR to a skeletal force of 250.

The decision essentially to withdraw the force as the genocide was gathering speed had enormous practical and political consequences inside Rwanda. It made it impossible for existing troops to expand their efforts to protect the tens of thousands of Tutsi who had taken refuge in churches and schools throughout the country, and sent an unmistakable message to the genocidal forces that there would be no impediment to their finishing the job.

The Clinton Administration defends its support for the Security Council decision on the grounds that no nation wanted to contribute troops and that there was no mandate for UNAMIR to use lethal force to even protect itself, much less Rwandan civilians. But in retrospect, one can imagine a host of different responses. When the decision was made, killings were still largely confined to Kigali and its environs and it is possible that in the early days of the genocide a relatively small force which had appropriate vehicles, weapons, and mandate, could have protected itself and concentrations of Tutsi in the capitol, and sent an unmistakable signal to the presidential guard and militia to stop the killings. Such a force could also have dismantled the road blocks which were erected in Kigali and were rapidly going up all over Rwanda, and helped keep Tutsi civilians in their homes.

This last point is crucial. As noted by Col. Scott Feil, in "Preventing Genocide, How the Use of Force Might Have Succeeded in Rwanda," Rwandan Tutsi are thoroughly integrated into communities and are not easily identified by appearance or name. Thus the militia and Rwandan army soldiers bent on exterminating the Tutsi had to first get whole villages moving and funnel everyone through checkpoints where identity cards could be checked and Tutsi then separated for extermination. "Under these circumstances, measures to prevent people from leaving their villages would be extremely important; "safe sites," smaller and more easily defended community groupings, would be the best way to stabilize and secure the population in Rwanda."

Sabotaging Humanitarian Intervention: In the days following the April 21 decision to reduce UNAMIR forces, mass killings skyrocketed. On April 29, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali asked the Security Council to reconsider its decision and to consider "forceful action to restore law and order and end the massacres." On May 2, the Secretary General wrote to African heads of state requesting troops for an African peacekeeping force -- a force that at the time the Clinton Administration said it would help finance, equip, and transport.

The African force never materialized. In part, U.S. refusal to commit its own troops to the effort reduced the prestige of the mission and discouraged troop-contributing nations which would have been eager to join an American-led intervention. Accordingly, the U.N. Secretary General floated a new plan -- a UNAMIR II which would enlarge the existing contingent by 800 men and augment it with another battalion within a few weeks. The mandate for UNAMIR II was limited to obtaining a cease-fire, supporting humanitarian assistance, and opening the airport. The U.S. offered an alternative plan, and weeks were lost in negotiating the differences. Finally on May 17, the Security Council voted unanimously to support a compromise plan. But even then, the U.S. insisted that the mandate of the force (which included no Americans) not be expanded to include the use of force to stop killings and demanded a review of the plan before its actual implementation, including before initial planned deployment of 150 military observers. Moreover, the Pentagon successfully blocked even the provision of vehicles and equipment, which, had they been provided, could at least have been used by the existing UNAMIR troops to enhance their security and enable them to travel outside of Kigali to defend concentrations of displaced Tutsi in the countryside.

The case of the mythical armored personnel carriers (apc) is a good example. The U.N. formally requested 50 apc's from the U.S. on May 19 and Washington agreed to provide them two weeks later. For the next two months the U.S. managed to stall on its commitment: weeks were lost while bureaucrats dithered over how much the U.S. would be reimbursed for their use. Weeks later there were hot debates over whether to use tracked or treaded vehicles. Further time was lost while it was determined that the vehicles were the wrong color, then no one was able to figure out how to transport the vehicles from Frankfurt to the African continent, and so on. The upshot of such shenanigans was that the carriers were ready to roll long after the RPA had seized control of Rwanda and ended the genocide.

A New Peacekeeping Policy: The unhappy fate of UNAMIR and UNAMIR II illuminate several policies which could be developed which would permit a more useful response in the event of future genocides.

First, because of American leadership at the Security Council, the U.S. has the capacity to slow deliberations on humanitarian intervention to a virtual standstill, even when there are no American troops involved. Some of the obstruction and delay in 1994 were necessitated by the fact that expanded UNAMIR and other humanitarian initiatives were ad hoc, and American representatives, ever mindful of Congress's opposition to paying its U.N. dues or participating in its operations, put the brakes on while they scrutinized every detail of each new initiative. That is understandable, but in 1994 the genocidal killers moved much more quickly than did the U.S. and U.N. bureaucrats. While U.S. officials demanded reviews, plodded through Pentagon and U.N. procurement bureaucracies, and checked Congress's pulse about intervention, hundreds of thousands of civilians were butchered.

But if it were the policy of the U.S. government to respond vigorously and affirmatively to genocide, a different outcome might be possible. First, peacekeeping policy as articulated in Presidential Decision Directive 25 must be changed, and here, Congress has a very important obligation. PDD 25 was promulgated at the height of the genocide, on May 5, 1994. It appeared to have been designed to thwart American participation in situations just like Rwanda's, including such requirements that any U.N. mission must be a response to threats to international peace and security, must advance American interests at acceptable risk, and must have adequate command and control procedures and an exit strategy. To my knowledge, there were very few public criticisms of the limited nature of PDD 25 by the Congress and no clamor at Congressional hearings to amend the policy in such a way so as to permit an appropriate response to the genocide which at that very moment was unfolding in Rwanda.

If peacekeeping policy was changed so that suppressing genocide was identified as a vital American interest and included among the purposes of U.S. peacekeeping policy, one can imagine a host of activities that the executive branch might engage to operationalize that goal. Steps could include offering U.S. military advice to the U.N. peacekeeping office to draw up interventionary plans on an urgent basis in advance of an actual outbreak of genocide so that the weeks of fumbling during the Rwanda genocide might be avoided. The Pentagon should be ordered to do what the U.N. has long desired: locate, refurbish, and designate a supply of vehicles and equipment which could be seconded to the U.N. on an urgent basis when needed. The Pentagon's red tape for procurement is exceeded only by the U.N.'s. That red tape must be obliterated in times of genocide. The President should order that supplies and equipment and vehicles be identified now, for possible use in times of crisis, and supply them immediately. Congress should warmly support the initiative. But in some cases, these measures alone may not be sufficient to prevent or stop genocide if there are no troops to intervene. In such circumstances of genocide, our own government should offer troops, as well as the material and technical assistance described above, to stop the killing.

Additionally, there are many sophisticated proposals for an international interventionary force and it is not within the expertise of Physicians for Human Rights to endorse any of them in particular. I would note, however, that the standing rapid reaction interventionary force which was proposed many years ago by Sir Brian Urquhart, still offers a vision for preventing and responding to genocide. While we realize that there does not now exist the political will to establish such a force, we urge policy makers to reconsider such an initiative, in light of the genocide in 1994 Rwanda and in Bosnia.

The African Crisis Response Initiative may at some point be able to serve such a function, at the behest of the U.N. or the OAU. As you know, as it is currently configured, ACRI is not designed to play a Chapter VII role; it is, rather, a classic peacekeeping (Chapter VI) initiative. But the ACRI model -- advance training of certain units ina number of countries in advance of any specific crisis -- may lend itself to a different role. One proposal I have heard discussed would be for ten countries (not necessarily all African) to each designate 5,000 troops that would train together as a unit on a regular basis at aU.N./U.S. peacekeeping training facility. They would be reimbursed at U.N. rates, and groups of them would be available for an operation. Commanders for each unit would have been identified long before the intervention and would have trained with the troops and familiar to each other. Thus instead of a pick-up scramble at the last minute -- when chances of success are lowest -- a trained and ready fighting force would be available for intervention before a genocidal situation spiraled out of control. In the absence of a standing U.N. rapid deployment force, the ACRI-plus model or other plans which involve advance training of designated units, deserves close consideration. A key component of any such project must be advance training, drill, and discipline in the laws of armed conflict. Peackeepers have themselves committed extremely serious abuses against the unarmed local population.

Finally, it is worth noting that the failure of troop-contributing countries to supply the United Nations with troops to separate armed men from the gigantic Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire has contributed to the continued killing of Tutsi in the region. As you know, the genocidaires, operating from the refugee camps, exterminated thousands of Zairian Tutsi and launched continuous military operations across the border, killing thousands of Rwandan Tutsi civilians.

Responding to Genocide Today: Mr. Chairman, most of my policy suggestions relate to situations where it is government authorities who are engaged in genocide. In Rwanda today, the attempt to exterminate the minority Tutsi is of course not a government initiative but rather a continuation of the 1994 genocide by the defeated Rwandan military (now known as ex-FAR) and the militia. To my knowledge, the government of Rwanda, which is engaged in active counterinsurgency measures, has not requested international intervention of any type to suppress the genocidaires. Nonetheless, the insurgents have inflicted huge casualties on Rwandan Tutsi civilians, and attacks appear to be spreading throughout the country. Rwandan Hutu civilians who do not necessarily support the genocidaires, are forced to give them food, and, all too often, are targets of reprisals by Rwandan government forces. Numerous human rights organizations, including my own, have reported on killings of Hutu civilians by the RPA in the context of a counterinsurgency campaign which has been extremely brutal.

Physicians for Human Rights believes that the United Nations should take specific actions to help suppress the insurgency, including taking into custody ex-FAR and militamen engaged in the killing of Tutsi civilians, and delivering them for prosecution for genocide. We also would support the provision to the Rwandan authorities of intelligence and other military assistance which would enable them to respond to attacks by the insurgency if attacks and reprisals by the RPA against civilians have stopped and the perpetrators have been punished.

Mr. Chairman, I would conclude by noting that the West's refusal to suppress the genocide in Rwanda was extraordinarily costly in three ways: first and foremost, it was costly in the terrible loss of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi Rwandan men, women, and children and of the courageous Hutu civilians who sheltered them. A second casualty of the genocide was the image and thus the potential effectiveness of the United Nations and its various organizations. In particular, the U.N.'s failure to stop the genocide and subsequent refusal to disarm the camps -- assured, in part, by the United States -- has contributed to a "go it alone" mentality on the part of the Rwandan authorities that has had disastrous consequences for human rights in Rwanda and Congo.

As you know, the Rwandan authorities repeatedly appealed to the international community to disarm the refugee camps. When such action was not forthcoming, the Rwandan army took matters into its own hands and emptied the camps. That action eliminated a very important source of support for the insurgency, but many thousands of unarmed refugees died as a result. When the insurgency surged within Rwanda, as the genocidaire began to return home with the refugees, the RPA again took care of things its way: at the cost of thousands of civilian lives.

Physicians for Human Rights in no way equates RPA killings of Hutu civilians in the Congo and Rwanda with the genocide. We do note, however, that the ruthless character of both the invasion of Congo and the counterinsurgency at home and Rwanda's desperate go-it-alone approach are part of the legacy of the genocide and the West's failure to suppress the genocidaire today. Accordingly, we urge that Rwanda's donors target their military assistance to programs which support reform elements within the Rwandan military and which upgrade both troop behavior and military justice systems designed to address violations by the military. We also urge Rwanda's donors to help the country recover from the genocide by providing generous non-military aid so that health care, housing and jobs may be increased considerably, and shared by all Rwandans.

Additional Rwanda References on the Web

International Response to Conflict and Genocide
The full 1996 report from the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda, the indispensable source on the international reaction to the genocide and its aftermath.

UN Relief Web
Detailed and frequent updates on the Great Lakes region from a variety of sources.

InterMedia Tribunal Reports
Regular coverage of the International Criminal Tribunal Africa for Rwanda, in English and French.

INCORE Country Guide
1997 guide to Internet Sources on conflict and ethnicity in Rwanda.

UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Strategic Humanitarian Coordination in the Great Lakes Region 1996-1997
An independent study released March 1998.

U.S. Committee for Refugees
Testimony on Genocide and the Continuing Cycle of Violence

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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