Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Rwandan Genocide

One of the priest protested but he was told by gendarmes that the church was harbouring "inkotanyi". The priest told the soldier that the people were Christian worshippers, the members of the congregation. But the gendarmes insisted and continued to examine identity cards. A Presidential Guard officer arrived and told the soldiers not to waste their bullets because the Interahamwe would soon come with machetes. Then the militia came in, one hundred of them, and threatening the priest they began to kill people, slashing with their machetes and clubs, hacking arms, legs, genitals and the faces of the terrified people who tried to protect the children under the pews. Some people were dragged outside the church and attacked in the courtyard. The killing continued for two hours as the whole compound was searched. Only two people are beloved to have survived the killing at the church. Not even babies were spared. That day in Gikondo there was a street littered with corpses the length of a kilometre.
There were UN witnesses to the killing in Gikondo. Major Jerzy Maczka and Major Chudy Ryszard, both from Poland, were among the unarmed UN military observers (UNMOs) from sixteen countries, spread throughout Rwanda and living in local communities to ensure compliance with the peace agreement. The observers were an integral part of UNAMIR. When the attack on the church began, the two Polish major had been in the gardens. With rifle barrels held at their throats by gendarmes, the two were forced to watch  as the militia pulled people out of the church and killed them. They saw how families run for their lives.  Maczka tried to contact UNAMIR headquarters but the channels on the Motorola system were jammed with calls for help, and he could not get through. Afterwards he helped the priest with the wounded and took photographs of the dead. What he had witnessed was clear cooperation and a division of labour between the police and the army on the one hand, and the militia on the other. He knew they were looking for Tutsi. There were a pile of identity cards, charred as though in an effort to burn them to erase any evidence that these people existed.


An accurate death toll for the Rwandan genocide may never be possible. The figure of 800,000 is now generally accepted, though it remains unclear why this number is so commonly used . It is a statistic provided by Human Rights Watch but it seems to be based on a census of Tutsi in 1991 and does not estimate the number of other victims who died in the genocide. A higher figures given for several experts present in Rwanda while the genocide took place. Philippe Gaillard, the Chief Delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who had an intimate knowledge of the country, its politics and its population, and was probably the first person to recognise that genocide was likely, estimates that up to one million people were killed. The figure is confirmed by Charles Petrie, the deputy co-ordinator of the UN Rwanda Emergency Office.


The sexual crimes in the genocide were unparalleled. The rape of women was so extensive that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), thanks largely to representations by human rights groups, would later make an historic determination that systematic rape is a crime against humanity and that sexual violence constitutes genocide in the same way as other acts.


The catastrophic failure over Rwanda has been examined by the UN, in an independent inquiry seeking to establish the role of the organisation in what happened. The Report of the Independent Inquiry into the actions of the UN during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was authorised by Kofi Annan, who became Secretary-General in December 1996 after the US vetoed a second term for Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
This report, published in December 1999, called the genocide one of the most abhorrent events of the twentieth century. The report left no doubt that each part of the UN system, and in particular the Secretary-General, the Secretariat, the Security Council and the members state, had to assume and acknowledge their responsibility in the failure to prevent genocide. The circumstances of the genocide have also been considered by an international panel created by the Organisation of African Unity and a report, 'Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide", was published in Addis Ababa in July 2000. It showed how the potential to prevent the genocide was very real; it would have been possible to at least minimise significantly the carnage once it began. Those who most egregiously failed to use their power and influence included the governments of France, Belgium, the USA, the UK, the Catholic Church and the UN Secretariat.

Conspiracy to Murder, The Rwandan Genocide
by Linda Melvern

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