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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: "Leave None to Tell the Story"

Rwanda: "Leave None to Tell the Story"
Date distributed (ymd): 990403
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains the press release and introduction for the new study "Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda," released March 31 by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights. It also includes a brief introductory note with references to other sources.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Writing in the Washington Post ( for April 3, 1999, columnist Colbert King quoted President Clinton's Wednesday interview with Dan Rather of CBS. Replying to a question comparing Kosovo and Rwanda, Clinton said, "I think the rest of the world was caught flat-footed and did not have the mechanism to deal with it [Rwanda]. We did do some good and I think limited some killing there."

"I'll bet that's not how those who watched the dead pile up in Rwanda remember it," replies King in his column. "Neither do the human rights organizations and Canadian Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the top U.N. military officer on the ground in Rwanda. They were begging other nations and international organizations to help end the nightmare in Rwanda (which started exactly five years ago next Tuesday)[April 6]."

"It was genocide," continues the column. "The world was not caught flat-footed as the president told Dan Rather. It looked squarely in the face of evil and averted its gaze.

Warnings of the coming catastrophe and carnage were sent to U.N. headquarters and to Western countries, including the United States. But America, which today is spending millions and putting scores of American lives on the line in Europe, was not ready to spend more money or risk one life to ward off atrocities in Africa. Read Human Rights Watch's just-released, blow-by-blow account of the steady buildup toward the Rwandan genocide and the cries for help that went ignored. Read it during this season, when hearts and minds are lifted to a higher spiritual plane and centered on the sanctity of life -- read it and weep.

No, Mr. President, say what you wish to the cameras, but your administration was not caught flat-footed in Rwanda. Your State Department and United Nations ambassador -- then Madeleine Albright -- heard the terrifying words of warning. Your White House just didn't want to get involved."

Additional on-line sources include:

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
1998 guide to Internet Sources on conflict and ethnicity in Rwanda.

Testimony by Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights
on The Rwandan Genocide and U.S. Policy and

For yet more links see APIC's regional page:

Additional recent books include:

[To order the following books from through APIC's Africa Web Bookshop, go to and enter the ISBN number of the book you want to order. Or go to and look up other books on Rwanda available at]

Alain Destexhe, et al, Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century (1996; ISBN: 0814718736).

Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Familes (1998; ISBN: 0374286973).

Fergal Keane, Seasons of Blood: A Rwandan Journey (1997; ISBN: 0140247602).

Hugh McCullum, The Angels Have Left Us: The Rwanda Crisis and the Churches (1995; ISBN: 282541154X).

Catharine Newbury, The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda (1993; ISBN: 0231062575).

Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (1997; ISBN: 023110409X).

Human Rights Watch
Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de L'homme

Rwandan Genocide Could Have Been Stopped

Comprehensive Study Points Finger
at U.S., U.N., France, Belgium

[The study is available on the Human Rights Watch website at

To subscribe to the mailing list for news reports from HRW Africa, you can send mail to with the following command in the body of your email message: subscribe hrw-news-africa

For more information about the mailing list, write to]

(Paris, March 31, 1999)-The Rwandan genocide could have been stopped with tougher action from outside powers, according to a comprehensive study released today by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues. Next week will mark the fifth anniversary of the genocide, in which more than half a million Tutsi and thousands of Hutu associated with them were killed. An
internationally-recognized team of historians, political scientists, and lawyers spent four years conducting research and analysis of the genocide. The team was the first to have access to documents of the genocidal government, as well as to previously unpublished diplomatic and judicial records. Researchers also conducted hundreds of interviews with Rwandans-both local organizers of the genocide and those they targeted for extermination. The 800 page history contains dozens of maps and primary sources. "The world has been saying for five years now that the Rwandan genocide was a terrible thing," said Alison Des Forges, author of the study. "But that's not enough. We need to know how such killing campaigns work, if we hope ever to prevent them."

Many people outside Rwanda called the genocide a spontaneous outburst of ethnic violence on a massive scale. But this study makes clear how a relatively small group of determined killers planned the mass murder for months in advance and then enticed and intimidated others into following them. Other observers blamed the "failed state." But this history shows how organizers took over a highly centralized government and used its efficient machinery to carry the killing campaign into every part of the country. The study recounts security meetings in which specific people were chosen for slaughter, the disposal of bodies was arranged, and the property of victims was divided. "Our extraordinarily rich sources, both written and spoken, bring alive both the suffering of the victims and the motives of the killers," said Des Forges, a consultant for Human Rights Watch and a historian specializing in the study of central Africa. The research team also interviewed foreign decision-makers and had access to confidential diplomatic accounts. It establishes that U.S., French, and Belgian authorities, as well as those at the United Nations, received dozens of warnings in the months before the genocide but failed to act effectively. Even worse, foreign leaders reacted timidly and tardily once the killing began. "The Americans were interested in saving money, the Belgians were interested in saving face, and the French were interested in saving their ally, the genocidal government," said Des Forges. "All of that took priority over saving lives."

Unwilling to call genocide by its name, foreign leaders treated the outlaw government as legitimate and even allowed it to remain a member of the U.N. Security Council. The killers used their "legitimacy" abroad to buttress their authority at home and sought to cover the genocide with a cloak of legality. In a similar way, officials and ordinary people used the pretext of "orders" from a supposedly legitimate government to hide from themselves and others the evil they were doing. The study shows that even people at local meetings, in areas far from the capital, discussed foreign reactions to the genocide. Protests from abroad, as hesitant and conditional as they were, did produce changes in tactics. "If such small efforts could get results, imagine what a firmer stand, taken earlier, might have produced," said Des Forges. "International interventions must be prompt, strong, and smart. We hope this history will make us all smarter about how genocide works-and how to disrupt it more effectively."


"When I came out, there were no birds," said one survivor who had hidden throughout the genocide. "There was sunshine and the stench of death."

The sweetly sickening odor of decomposing bodies hung over many parts of Rwanda in July 1994: on Nyanza ridge, overlooking the capital, Kigali, where skulls and bones, torn clothing, and scraps of paper were scattered among the bushes; at Nyamata, where bodies lay twisted and heaped on benches and the floor of a church; at Nyarubuye in eastern Rwanda, where the cadaver of a little girl, otherwise intact, had been flattened by passing vehicles to the thinness of cardboard in front of the church steps; on the shores of idyllic Lake Kivu in western Rwanda, where pieces of human bodies had been thrown down the steep hillside; and at Nyakizu in southern Rwanda, where the sun bleached fragments of bone in the sand of the schoolyard and, on a nearby hill, a small red sweater held together the ribcage of a decapitated child.

In the thirteen weeks after April 6, 1994, at least half a million people perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were slain because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it.

The killers struck with a speed and devastation that suggested an aberrant force of nature, "a people gone mad," said some observers. "Another cycle of tribal violence," said others. The nation of some seven million people encompassed three ethnic groups. The Twa, were so few as to play no political role, leaving only Hutu and Tutsi to face each other without intermediaries. The Hutu, vastly superior in number, remembered past years of oppressive Tutsi rule, and many of them not only resented but feared the minority. The government, run by Hutu, was at war with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), rebels who were predominantly Tutsi. In addition, Rwanda was one of the poorest nations in the world and growing poorer, with too little land for its many people and falling prices for its products on the world market. Food production had diminished because of drought and the disruptions of war: it was estimated that 800,000 people would need food aid to survive in 1994.

But this genocide was not an uncontrollable outburst of rage by a people consumed by "ancient tribal hatreds." Nor was it the preordained result of the impersonal forces of poverty and over-population.

This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda. Then, faced with RPF success on the battlefield and at the negotiatingtable, these few powerholders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide. They believed that the extermination campaign would restore the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace.They seized control of the state and used its machinery and itsauthority to carry out the slaughter.

Like the organizers, the killers who executed the genocide were not demons nor automatons responding to ineluctable forces. They were people who chose to do evil. Tens of thousands, swayed by fear, hatred, or hope of profit, made the choice quickly and easily. They were the first to kill, rape, rob and destroy. They attacked Tutsi frequently and until the very end, without doubt or remorse. Many made their victims suffer horribly and enjoyed doing so.

Hundreds of thousands of others chose to participate in the genocide reluctantly, some only under duress or in fear of their own lives. Unlike the zealots who never questioned their original choice, these people had to decide repeatedly whether or not to participate, each time weighing the kind of action planned, the identity of the proposed victim, the rewards of participating and the likely costs of not participating. Because attacks were incited or ordered by supposedly legitimate authorities, those with misgivings found it easier to commit crimes and to believe or pretend to believe they had done no wrong.

Policymakers in France, Belgium, and the United States and at the United Nations all knew of the preparations for massive slaughter and failed to take the steps needed to prevent it. Aware from the start that Tutsi were being targeted for elimination, the leading foreign actors refused to acknowledge the genocide. To have stopped the leaders and the zealots would have required military force; in the early stages, a relatively small force. Not only did international leaders reject this course, but they also declined for weeks to use their political and moral authority to challenge the legitimacy of the genocidal government. They refused to declare that a government guilty of exterminating its citizens would never receive international assistance. They did nothing to silence the radio that broadcast calls for slaughter. Such simple measures would have sapped the strength of the authorities bent on mass murder and encouraged Rwandan opposition to the extermination campaign.

When international leaders did finally voice disapproval, the genocidal authorities listened well enough to change their tactics although not their ultimate goal. Far from cause for satisfaction, this small success only underscores the tragedy: if timid protests produced this result in late April, what might have been the result in mid-April had all the world cried "Never again."

This study, summarized in the introduction, describes in detail how the killing campaign was executed, linking oral testimony with extensive written documentation. It draws upon interviews with those who were marked for extinction but managed to survive, those who killed or directed killings, those who saved or sought to save others, and those who watched and tried not to see. It presents minutes of local meetings where operations against Tutsi were planned and correspondence in which administrators congratulated their subordinates for successfully destroying "the enemy." It analyzes the layers of language and the silences that made up the deceptive discourse of genocide, broadcast on the radio and delivered at public meetings. It places the genocide in the immediate political context, showing how local and national political rivalries among Hutu influenced the course of the campaign to eliminate Tutsi. It traces changes in the tactics and organization of the campaign as well as its collapse as the RPF defeated the genocidal government.

Drawing on many sources, including previously unpublished testimony and documents from diplomats and United Nations staff, the study shows how international actors failed to avert or stop the genocide. It ties the expansion of the killing campaign to early international inertia and it shows that international protests against the slaughter, when they finally came, were discussed even at local meetings on the distant hills of Rwanda. Thus the study establishes that the international community, so anxious to absent itself from the scene, was in fact present at the genocide.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). 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 and individuals.

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