Complicit in crime

Published : Aug 05, 2000 00:00 IST

An independent committee appointed by the Organisation of African Unity indicts the United States, France and the United Nations, among others, for their failure to prevent or halt the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.


AN independent panel of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has severely criticised the United States, France and Belgium, besides the United Nations and the Catholic Church, for their role in the events that led to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which claimed more than 800,000 lives. In its report "Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide", the committee has said that these nations and organisations, along with the Hutu-led government of Rwanda, were guilty of complicity or negligence as extremist Hutu milit ias massacred the minority Tutsis.

The panel was chaired by the former Canadian Ambassador to the U.N., Stephen Lewis. Its other members were Sir Ketumile Masire, former President of Botswana; Ahmadu Toure, former President of Mali; Lisbet Palme, Swedish expert on the U.N. Committee on th e Rights of the Child; Elen Jonson-Sirleaf, former Finance Minister of Liberia; Justice P.N. Bhagwati, former Chief Justice of India; and Hocine Djoudi, an Algerian diplomat.

The panel, which submitted its report in the second week of July, has said that a "significant level of reparations" should be paid to Rwanda by the nations and institutions that failed to prevent or stop the genocide. It has asked the U.N. Secretary-Gen eral Kofi Annan to establish a commission to name the countries that are morally bound to compensate Rwanda for the devastation. Besides asking the U.N. to formulate an appropriate scale of compensation, the panel has demanded the cancellation of Rwanda' s international debts. The events of 1994 cannot be consigned to history as their impact is still being felt all over the region, according to the report.

The ongoing war in the Congo is an after-effect of the Rwandan genocide. "The 1994 genocide in one small country ultimately triggered a conflict in the heart of Africa that has directly or indirectly touched at least one-third of the nations on the conti nent," the report says. Unlike an earlier U.N. report on Rwanda, it delves into the history of the region.

The report is especially scathing about the roles of France and the U.S. According to the report, three months before the horrific event, the U.N. was aware that a genocide was being planned. The U.N. military mission in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, had informed the U.N. Secretariat that lists of Tutsis were being prepared for extermination. "At the U.N., the Security Council, led unremittingly by the United States, simply did not care enough about Rwanda to intervene appropriately. What makes the Secur ity Council's betrayal of its responsibility even more intolerable is that the genocide was in no way inevitable. First, it could have been prevented entirely. Then, once it was allowed to begin, the destruction could have been significantly mitigated. A ll that was required was a reasonable-sized international military force," the report says.

President Bill Clinton has said that the failure to prevent the genocide was owing to "ignorance" on the part of the international community. But the report says that the U.S. government knew precisely what was happening, including during the months of t he genocide.

"But domestic politics took priority over the lives of helpless Africans. After losing 18 soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the U.S. was unwilling to participate in any further peacekeeping missions, and was largely opposed to the Security Council's a uthorising any serious missions at all, with or without American participation," the report says. It concedes that genocide would not have taken place in the first place if Rwandans had not planned and carried it out; however, it points out that when "et hnic radicalism" was raising its ugly head, France had the wherewithal to arrest any dangerous trends. The report says that France had "unrivalled influence at the very highest level" of the Hutu-led government of the time.

The report points out that France was an ardent supporter of President Juvenal Habyarimana's government. Rwanda is politically and economically close to France. According to the report, the French government played a crucial role in preventing the Habyar imana government from being toppled by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The RPF had launched an invasion from neighbouring Uganda in 1991. "Rwanda was a French-speaking country, and the response from France was the most positive. Its forces prevented a swift RPF victory over the inept Rwandan army. And the French soldiers an d advisers remained in the country, counselling Habyarimana's people politically and militarily on keeping these "Anglo-Saxon" interlopers from English speaking Uganda at bay. The Habyarimana government learned it could always count on the unconditional public and private support of the French President and government," says the report.

According to the report, the French had, "with the surprising concurrence of the Security Council", sent a force to Rwanda, two months after the conflict started. The force created a safe zone in the southwest of the country. Frightened Hutu peasants as well as Rwandan soldiers and militia men involved in the genocide took shelter in this zone as the RPF advanced. The soldiers and the militia were then allowed to cross over to Eastern Zaire and join other "genocidaires" who had reached eastern Zaire thr ough other routes.

After the RPF took over the country, the extremist Hutus continued their war from Zaire, with disastrous consequences for the region. "The French government, with tacit American approval, supported Zaire's President Mobutu as the only person who could he lp with the refugee crisis in his country. In fact, important groups in the Zairean government became the primary suppliers of arms to the Ex-Far (the former Rwandan army) and militia, although many other countries and groups were involved in weapons tra ding as well," says the report.

Rwanda and Uganda organised an invasion of Zaire to overthrow the dictatorship of Mobutu Seseseko, an ally of the Hutu regime that was overthrown. This was in a bid to uproot the Hutu extremists from their sanctuaries in eastern Zaire. The new government in Kigali thought that Laurent Kabila, who was catapulted to the Presidency in Zaire, would be perpetually beholden to them. But Kabila had other ideas. Deciding to be his own man, he threw out his Tutsi advisors. Two years ago Rwanda and Uganda organis ed another invasion of Congo to overthrow Kabila and install a more pliable leader. But this led to an African war, with countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, rushing in troops to defend Kabila.

The war still continues, wreaking havoc on the economies and people of Central Africa. Stephen Lewis said in a statement that the French even sent in a shipment of arms even as the genocide was on. Lewis said: "There is almost no redemptive feature in th e conduct of the government of France." He was equally scathing about the U.S. role. "It is simply beyond belief that because of Somalia hundreds of thousands of Rwandans needlessly lost their lives. I want to say, as a personal observation, I don't know how Madeleine Albright lives with it," Lewis said. Albright was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. at the time.

The Catholic Church has been criticised for its close connection with the Habyarimana government before the genocide. Some senior members of the Catholic clergy have been indicted for abetting the holocaust. Lewis said he regretted the absence of an apol ogy from France and the Catholic Church for their part in the human tragedy of major proportions.

The report says: "Within Rwanda itself, those with the heaviest responsibility were the Catholic and Anglican hierarchies and the French government, all supporters of the Habyarimana government. Church leaders failed to use their unique moral position am ong the overwhelmingly Christian population to denounce ethnic hatred and human rights abuse. The French government was guilty of the same failure at the elite level. Its unconditional public backing of the Habyarimana government constituted a major disi ncentive for the radicals to make concessions or to think in terms of a compromise." The Anglican Church had apologised for its role.

As the report has pointed out, the facts are not in question: A small number of major actors could directly have prevented or halted the genocide or at least reduced its extent. They include France, in Rwanda itself; the U.S. at the Security Council; Bel gium, whose soldiers could have saved countless lives if they were allowed to remain in the country; and Rwanda's church leaders. In the bitter words of the commander of the U.N.'s military mission in Kigali, the "international community has blood on its hands."

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