Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work. The systematic indifference to African lives revealed by the documents, as well as the fact that there has still been no official U. The documents demonstrate what US officials knew about the genocide, what options were considered, and how and why they chose to avoid intervening in the slaughter. The documents published today show that: Contrary to later public statements, the US lobbied the UN for a total withdrawal of UN forces in Rwanda in April ; Secretary of State Warren Christopher did not authorize officials to use the term "genocide" until May 21, and even then, US officials waited another three weeks before using the term in public; Bureaucratic infighting slowed the US response to the genocide; The US refused to "jam" extremist radio broadcasts inciting the killing because of costs and concern with international law; US officials knew exactly who was leading the genocide, and actually spoke with those leaders to urge an end to the violence.
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In the course of a hundred days in the Hutu government of Rwanda and its extremist allies very nearly succeeded in exterminating the country's Tutsi minority. Using firearms, machetes, and a variety of garden implements, Hutu militiamen, soldiers, and ordinary citizens murdered some , Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu. It was the fastest, most efficient killing spree of the twentieth century. A few years later, in a series in The New Yorker , Philip Gourevitch recounted in horrific detail the story of the genocide and the world's failure to stop it.
President Bill Clinton, a famously avid reader, expressed shock. He sent copies of Gourevitch's articles to his second-term national-security adviser, Sandy Berger.
The articles bore confused, angry, searching queries in the margins. As the terror in Rwanda had unfolded, Clinton had shown virtually no interest in stopping the genocide, and his Administration had stood by as the death toll rose into the hundreds of thousands. Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings?
Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U. Why did they decide or decide not to decide as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U. If so, why weren't they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives? So far people have explained the U. The account that follows is based on a three-year investigation involving sixty interviews with senior, mid-level, and junior State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council officials who helped to shape or inform U.
It also reflects dozens of interviews with Rwandan, European, and United Nations officials and with peacekeepers, journalists, and nongovernmental workers in Rwanda. Thanks to the National Security Archive www. This material provides a clearer picture than was previously possible of the interplay among people, motives, and events.
It reveals that the U. In March of , on a visit to Rwanda, President Clinton issued what would later be known as the "Clinton apology," which was actually a carefully hedged acknowledgment. He spoke to the crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport: "We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred" in Rwanda.
This implied that the United States had done a good deal but not quite enough. In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8, Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.
The United States in fact did virtually nothing "to try to limit what occurred. With the grace of one grown practiced at public remorse, the President gripped the lectern with both hands and looked across the dais at the Rwandan officials and survivors who surrounded him. Making eye contact and shaking his head, he explained, "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate [pause] the depth [pause] and the speed [pause] with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.
Clinton chose his words with characteristic care. It was true that although top U. In the first three weeks of the genocide the most influential American policymakers portrayed and, they insist, perceived the deaths not as atrocities or the components and symptoms of genocide but as wartime "casualties"—the deaths of combatants or those caught between them in a civil war.
Yet this formulation avoids the critical issue of whether Clinton and his close advisers might reasonably have been expected to "fully appreciate" the true dimensions and nature of the massacres. During the first three days of the killings U. And the American press spoke of the door-to-door hunting of unarmed civilians. By the end of the second week informed nongovernmental groups had already begun to call on the Administration to use the term "genocide," causing diplomats and lawyers at the State Department to begin debating the word's applicability soon thereafter.
In order not to appreciate that genocide or something close to it was under way, U. The story of U. But whatever their convictions about "never again," many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen. In examining how and why the United States failed Rwanda, we see that without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices.
We also see that with the possibility of deploying U. Domestic political forces that might have pressed for action were absent. And most U. One of the most thoughtful analyses of how the American system can remain predicated on the noblest of values while allowing the vilest of crimes was offered in by a brilliant and earnest young foreign-service officer who had just resigned from the National Security Council to protest the U.
In an article in Foreign Policy , "The Human Reality of Realpolitik," he and a colleague analyzed the process whereby American policymakers with moral sensibilities could have waged a war of such immoral consequence as the one in Vietnam. They wrote,. Policy analysis excluded discussion of human consequences. It is seen as a sign that one's 'rational' arguments are weak. In , fifty years after the Holocaust and twenty years after America's retreat from Vietnam, it was possible to believe that the system had changed and that talk of human consequences had become admissible.
Indeed, when the machetes were raised in Central Africa, the White House official primarily responsible for the shaping of U. The genocide in Rwanda presented Lake and the rest of the Clinton team with an opportunity to prove that "good, steady policy" could be made in the interest of saving lives. Rwanda was a test for another man as well: Romeo Dallaire, then a major general in the Canadian army who at the time of the genocide was the commander of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda.
If ever there was a peacekeeper who believed wholeheartedly in the promise of humanitarian action, it was Dallaire. A broad-shouldered French-Canadian with deep-set sky-blue eyes, Dallaire has the thick, calloused hands of one brought up in a culture that prizes soldiering, service, and sacrifice. He saw the United Nations as the embodiment of all three.
Before his posting to Rwanda Dallaire had served as the commandant of an army brigade that sent peacekeeping battalions to Cambodia and Bosnia, but he had never seen actual combat himself. When, in the summer of , he received the phone call from UN headquarters offering him the Rwanda posting, he was ecstatic. Dallaire was sent to command a UN force that would help to keep the peace in Rwanda, a nation the size of Vermont, which was known as "the land of a thousand hills" for its rolling terrain.
Before Rwanda achieved independence from Belgium, in , the Tutsi, who made up 15 percent of the populace, had enjoyed a privileged status. But independence ushered in three decades of Hutu rule, under which Tutsi were systematically discriminated against and periodically subjected to waves of killing and ethnic cleansing. In a group of armed exiles, mainly Tutsi, who had been clustered on the Ugandan border, invaded Rwanda. Over the next several years the rebels, known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front , gained ground against Hutu government forces.
In Tanzania brokered peace talks, which resulted in a power-sharing agreement known as the Arusha Accords. Under its terms the Rwandan government agreed to share power with Hutu opposition parties and the Tutsi minority. UN peacekeepers would be deployed to patrol a cease-fire and assist in demilitarization and demobilization as well as to help provide a secure environment, so that exiled Tutsi could return. The hope among moderate Rwandans and Western observers was that Hutu and Tutsi would at last be able to coexist in harmony.
Hutu extremists rejected these terms and set out to terrorize Tutsi and also those Hutu politicians supportive of the peace process. In several thousand Rwandans were killed, and some 9, were detained. Guns, grenades, and machetes began arriving by the planeload. A pair of international commissions—one sent by the United Nations, the other by an independent collection of human-rights organizations—warned explicitly of a possible genocide.
But Dallaire knew nothing of the precariousness of the Arusha Accords. When he made a preliminary reconnaissance trip to Rwanda, in August of , he was told that the country was committed to peace and that a UN presence was essential. A visit with extremists, who preferred to eradicate Tutsi rather than cede power, was not on Dallaire's itinerary. Remarkably, no UN officials in New York thought to give Dallaire copies of the alarming reports from the international investigators.
The sum total of Dallaire's intelligence data before that first trip to Rwanda consisted of one encyclopedia's summary of Rwandan history, which Major Brent Beardsley, Dallaire's executive assistant, had snatched at the last minute from his local public library.
Beardsley says, "We flew to Rwanda with a Michelin road map, a copy of the Arusha agreement, and that was it. We were under the impression that the situation was quite straightforward: there was one cohesive government side and one cohesive rebel side, and they had come together to sign the peace agreement and had then requested that we come in to help them implement it.
Though Dallaire gravely underestimated the tensions brewing in Rwanda, he still felt that he would need a force of 5, to help the parties implement the terms of the Arusha Accords. But when his superiors warned him that the United States would never agree to pay for such a large deployment, Dallaire reluctantly trimmed his written request to 2, He remembers, "I was told, 'Don't ask for a brigade, because it ain't there.
Once he was actually posted to Rwanda, in October of , Dallaire lacked not merely intelligence data and manpower but also institutional support. Madeleine Albright, then the U. Amid these widespread crises and logistical headaches the Rwanda mission had a very low status. Life was not made easier for Dallaire or the UN peacekeeping office by the fact that American patience for peacekeeping was thinning.
Congress owed half a billion dollars in UN dues and peacekeeping costs. It had tired of its obligation to foot a third of the bill for what had come to feel like an insatiable global appetite for mischief and an equally insatiable UN appetite for missions. The Clinton Administration had taken office better disposed toward peacekeeping than any other Administration in U.
But it felt that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations needed fixing and demanded that the UN "learn to say no" to chancy or costly missions. UNAMIR the acronym by which it was known was equipped with hand-me-down vehicles from the UN's Cambodia mission, and only eighty of the that turned up were usable. When the medical supplies ran out, in March of , New York said there was no cash for resupply.
Very little could be procured locally, given that Rwanda was one of Africa's poorest nations. Replacement spare parts, batteries, and even ammunition could rarely be found. Dallaire spent some 70 percent of his time battling UN logistics. Dallaire had major problems with his personnel, as well. He commanded troops, military observers, and civilian personnel from twenty-six countries. Though multinationality is meant to be a virtue of UN missions, the diversity yielded grave discrepancies in resources.
Bystanders to Genocide
Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let the Rwandan Tragedy Happen.
Perpetrator Studies Network