Triumph of Evil
excerpt of interview of Philip Gourevitch, author of "We Wish To Inform You...Stories from Rwanda"
by PBS Frontline
[with explanations in square brackets by Jackie Jura]

Q: ...In this case, was it a breakdown of a civil war, a breakdown of a cease-fire?

There's no question that after Habyarimana's plane was shot down and the genocidal massacres began in Rwanda, the civil war was also renewed. It was an act of war against the people of Rwanda by the now acting government of Rwanda, the genocidal government. Immediately, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) returned to the field of battle and started its war again. And it was clear that that would happen.

So, of course, you had two things happening at once. You had a civil war and you had a genocide....And troops who might have been fighting the RPF to win a civil war were instead diverted to oversee the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda.

Q: Who was the interahamwe?

The interahamwe was a militia group recruited in the name of civil self defense, the idea being that the population should be prepared to defend itself against the enemy. This was a way of popularizing the war, making the war an affair of you and me. Every Hutu must consider himself attacked by every Tutsi, rather than thinking that the state was being attacked by a rebel army. So the interahamwe was recruited. Primarily there was a lot of unemployment in Rwanda in the early '90s. These were sort of village youth who [had] gone to the cities looking for work, couldn't find work, were recruited to this kind of youth culture of militia movements. And the interahamwe literally means "those who attack together." And it was through the interahamwe that a large part of the younger Rwandan Hutu males were recruited into the genocidal logic, the genocidal propaganda and into the movement of killing.

Q: Who was the informant who [on January 11th, 1994] sent a fax to [a UN Military Observation Officer in the field, who passed it on to UN Commander General Dallaire in Kigali who then passesd it on to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York with a covering letter saying that he (Dallaire) would be taking action to raid the weapons caches]:?

The informant who essentially laid out for the United Nations force commander what was being planned in Rwanda, that an extermination was being planned of Tutsis, was a man who had first been a member of President Habyarimana's security staff (in other words, he was a top ranking military security official) and had now been hired through the president's political party (which was essentially indistinguishable from the apparatus of the state) to run an interahamwe militia training program for the city of Kigali, training Hutu combatants to kill Tutsi. And he tells in his information very clearly, that he thinks that his men could kill 1,000 Tutsis in 20 minutes.

Q: What was so remarkable about this [information that was sent in the fax]?

What makes this [information] utterly remarkable is that it describes a program planned in the highest echelons of the state, in the president's court, to eliminate a part of the population. It uses the word "extermination." The [informant] says that he believes it is for their extermination....It's utterly extraordinary: the precision, the detail, the confidence in the tone of the informant. That the U.N. field commander [and UN force commander General Dallaire] trusts his informant is unmistakable.

It's really important to remember, that the [accompanying letter that Dallaire faxed to UN Security Head Annan in New York] is not headed "Request to Take Action." It's headed "Request for Protection for Informant." The force commander [Dallaire] presumes that it was okay to take action. And he says, "Look, my mission, my rules are to go out there and to seize these illegal arms caches. (Kigali was supposed to be a weapons-free zone under the U.N. mandate.) I'm going to go out and seize these arms caches. I know they're there. I believe my informant. What I want to know is how to protect him. This man has come forward at tremendous risk to himself. (He believed that his informant was at risk.) Tell me how to do that." And the U.N. [Boutros-Bourtros Gali and Kofi Annan] said, "We don't know how."

Another thing that makes this truly extraordinary [information] is that everything [the informant said] came true. Now, U.N. people, in their own defense, at peacekeeping headquarters (now the secretary-general's office) will tell you, "Well, hindsight isn't a fair way of looking at this." Well, but all judgment of history has to be made in hindsight. And the fact is, here was a force commander saying he trusted the man. The man told a lot. What the man told proved to be entirely true, which is what the force commander thought. His judgment was confirmed. And instead, the informant was lost, so we never got to hear more from him. Because once he was denied protection, good-bye.

It's astonishing, too, that [in this faxed information from the informant] there is a threat to the peacekeepers. The [informant describes] a plan to shoot Belgian peacekeepers. That should really be special in U.N. headquarters because as we know in this day and age, one of the greatest fears of anybody who thinks about engaging in peacekeeping forces is having body bags come back ... and here's an announcement that: Guess what? The people that are planning to exterminate part of their population are also planning to set the thing in motion by shooting the mostly European mainstay of the peacekeeping force. That alone should make [the information] extraordinary even if one doesn't care about the extermination of Rwandans.

Q: How did the U.N. respond to this [information]?

Essentially, the response of the U.N. peacekeeping headquarters in New York [Kofi Annan] was to treat this [information] as a routine bureaucratic matter. It set off no special alarm bells that rang loudly. [The information] was not disseminated. One sometimes can imagine if [the informant's information] appeared on the front page of all the world's major newspapers, on the TV and so forth. In other words, a lot of influence could have been exerted by leaking this [information] and drawing attention to this crisis. No. It was treated as a routine bureaucratic matter. And the idea was: Let's just stick with the rules. We're not obliged to do anything in response to such information. What our mandate rules (and the U.N. loves to fall back on mandate rules) are, we should tell the president [Habyarimana] that there's a cease-fire violation been reported. And so the U.N. commanders were instructed to go to the president [Habyarimana] and tell him that they had this information about illegal arms caches and about rumors of a program to commit massacres, and to say, "Gee, this is against the rules of the cease-fire that we're here to enforce."

The absurdity of this is that essentially what they were doing is, they were being charged to go to the president [Habyarimana] and tell him that he had a leak in his own court, where the planning of a genocide was taking place, and to say, "By the way, we've been tipped off." Well, that would make the informant's position even more precarious than ever before. It would alert the president [Habyariman] rather than punish him. It would just tell him, "Be careful." It's a little bit like the way we would say to Saddam, "We're coming to inspect. You get two weeks to move your stuff." And so the president was alerted to this ...

Q: Why did they tell [Commanding General Dallaire] not to go after the gun caches, and to tell the president?

The interahamwe was a militia being run by [President Habyarimana's] political party. It was being run by his cronies, by his business partners, by his colonels and generals. He was not always at the very command top of it, but he was totally involved in the circle of people who were planning these massacres, and who were plotting to scrap the peace process and seize power through massacres and through a war against the Tutsis rather than a war against the real military enemy.

So here's this president [Habyarimana]. And what does U.N. headquarters tell its commanders to do? Go tell him [President Habyarimana] that we've been tipped off about this. Now, on one level I suppose the argument is: That's how these missions work. They treat a government as a government until it's overthrown. That's who they have to deal with. They deal in diplomatic terms. On the other hand, what it really constitutes is telling somebody who is plotting a massive crime against humanity that he should be more careful; he should watch his flank; he's got a leak in his operation. That's really what the information would compute as, in President Habyarimana's head. Make life precarious for the informant, guarantee that no more information will come to the U.N. through those channels ...

Q: What happened to the Belgian soldiers, and why? Was it intentional?

Throughout the period that UNAMIR [United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda] had been in the country, the Hutu power propagandists (both on radio but especially in print, where it was easier for them to carry on because you had to read Rwandan) were saying, "You know, this U.N. force is in the way if trouble begins. If we want to go about our business, what are we going to do about this U.N. force?" And they'd been looking around, and they said, "You know, these U.N. blue helmets, they don't seem to have a lot of fighting strength. They tend to run away when the fighting begins." This was clearly declared in a number of articles that one can trace. And one of the things that had been also said in the famous fax [information from the informant] of January 11th that was sent to peacekeeping headquarters [Kofi Annan] is: When the president [Habyariman] is attacked, so too we will attack a bunch of Belgian blue helmets who make up the mainstay of the U.N. contingent, and with the aim of forcing the Belgians, by killing some of them, to be afraid and turn tail and run away. And the whole force will then be withdrawn. It was clearly a plan.

Well, on the morning of April 7, 1994, after the assassination of President Habyarimana, as death squads and assassin groups were fanning out through the capital, hunting political oppositionists, they came to the prime minister's house. She was one of the main oppositionists that they were after. While they were there, ten Belgian blue helmets arrived to say, "Hey, what's going on," and to offer protection. Well, not only did they fail to protect her, but they were then taken captive by the military of the new genocidal government. They were taken back to a military base, and in the course of several hours they were tortured, murdered and mutilated. It was a shocking event. And as soon as [their bodies] were released, within the week, sure enough, as the assassins had planned, the Belgians lost their appetite for this mission, and the force began to crumble.

Q: What were the Hutus' intention by killing the blue helmets?

Remember that at the end of 1993 in Somalia, 18 American Rangers on a peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu had been killed, and their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, televised around the world. And the Clinton administration, which had come into office talking about a brave new era of peacekeeping and global intervention and policing, lost its appetite for peacekeeping very fast.

Well, the Rwandans who were planning a genocide, the Hutu extremists around the president [Habyarimana], studied this sort of event very closely. They said, "Look, they come in here telling us what to do, these peacekeepers. They come in here with a good line of talk, but they don't have the strength to fight, and they can't stand body bags." They studied this. It was in their newspapers. It was in their plans. And they said, "If we kill some of them, they'll go away." That was in the [informant's information] that was faxed to U.N. headquarters [Kofi Annan]. It was predicted that they were planning to kill some Belgians. And sure enough, on the morning after the president's [Habyarimana's] assassination, they killed these blue helmets. And it's clear from the script that they wrote in advance that what they wanted (the Hutu power leaders [Bizimana, Bizimungu & Bagosoro] whose military killed these blue helmets) was to scare away the U.N. mission on the brink of the genocide.

Q: What was the Clinton's administration's policy? How was it implemented through Madeline Albright?

Pretty much as soon as the ten Belgian blue helmets had been killed, the debate became: Should we beef up the U.N. force, or should we cut it back? The Clinton administration--and one should always remember that in the United Nations Security Council [headed by Kofi Annan in 1994], the United States is essentially the 800-pound gorilla that sits where it wants and can bend others to its will. It's the great power. The Clinton administration's policy was, "Let's withdraw altogether. Let's get out of Rwanda. Leave it to its fate." The United States ambassador to the United Nations at that time was then Madeline Albright. And it was she who was in the wretched position of having to represent this position to the Security Council, and who did so very effectively.

Q: How would you respond to Iqbal Riza [Kofi Annan's Deputy] saying, "Certainly in the first few days, neither the people on the ground or we here knew that this was a planned genocide. We knew that fighting had resumed, and we all viewed it as a breakdown of the cease-fire." What did they know at U.N.?

It's clear that by the time that President Habyarimana was assassinated, there was plenty of information floating around U.N. headquarters [headed by Boutros-Ghali & Kofi Annan] to the effect that his [Habyarimans's] entourage, the people around him, were eager to commit massacres against the Tutsis. There had been massacres--practice massacres, one could call them--throughout the '90s. They had continued. There were a lot of political assassinations in the months of early 1994. There was a lot of trouble. One had to effectively tune that out. One had to willfully ignore a lot of information in order to think that when the president's [Habyarimana's] plane was shot down and violence returned to Kigali, that that violence was simply a resumption of the same old civil war, rather than a new order of political massacres. If nothing else, the purges on the first night and the first morning (during which, of course, the Belgians were killed), were of a thoroughness and extremity that had not been seen before. And those were not enemy forces.

So it's extraordinary at the least, that those who were charged with maintaining the Rwanda mission at the U.N. can now plead that they didn't recognize what was going on. Certainly, the wish that it was only a cease-fire violation, rather than the wish to see clearly how starkly it was in fact the fulfillment of all the predictions of extermination. It was that wish not to notice, I think, that prevailed.

Q: They didn't put two and two together?

Riza [Annan's Assistant] basically told me when I spoke to him that, "Look, after the debacle of peacekeeping for Americans in Somalia, we here at peacekeeping headquarters knew that there was no major appetite to get involved in such missions," particularly ... in Africa. That was the climate. When I said, "Well, but did you share the information? Did you push it? Did you aggressively pursue this," the attitude was, "Well, we knew that they didn't want to do it." So there was almost an attitude of collapse. There was an attitude of "Why bother?" There was not a very aggressive point of view there ... it's essentially the plea that we didn't realize it was a genocide; therefore, we didn't respond to it as one. It's pretty appalling that it wasn't recognized.

One of the things that's so astonishing when one comes to this now and looks at this with any care, is how profoundly it was scripted ... when I say "profoundly," I mean how thoroughly it was scripted, how thoroughly it was announced, how thoroughly it was a genocide foretold, how thoroughly the signs were on the surface. They were on the radio. They were in the newspapers. You could buy them at any street corner. You could hear them at any rally. You didn't have to go looking. This was not a top secret program that was coming forward. It was something that was really quite conspicuously announced....[end of quoting from Frontline interview of Gourevitch]

Reporting the Story of a Genocide
excerpt of interview of Philip Gourevitch, author and Staff Writer for the New Yorker
by Harry Kreisler of UCLA at Berkley
February 11, 2000

Q: ...The international community and the United States did nothing [in Rwanda]. There was evidence that something was about to happen, there were warnings from the general in charge of the small UN contingent there. Why did the international community, which had the responsibility of carrying this humanitarian mantle of "never again," let this happen?

There was a dream, there was a hope that we would act differently in the future. But we didn't. And when push came to shove, Rwanda was the test, and in Rwanda we said no, we will not. Unlike Bosnia, where we also disgraced ourselves in terms of the intervention policy of the world community for much of that time, in Rwanda we did nothing ever, even in the end we didn't. There was no strategic interest. There was no economic interest. The only claim that Rwanda laid on us was fellow humanity, and that's not enough. It turns out that the lesson of Rwanda is that that is not enough. And it's been borne out consistently every since. We wouldn't go in there today, I guarantee you. As much as Clinton has gone over there and wrung his hands, as much as Madeleine Albright has. Kofi Annan has never apologized. And to me it virtually invalidates his entire career. It's one of the great stains on his career.

Q: Specifically explain that, because you had a piece in the New Yorker about that.

He was the head of peacekeeping operations during this time, and in Rwanda there was a peacekeeping force in the months before the genocide. The commander of that force, the Canadian Major General Roméo Dallaire, warned repeatedly and clearly that preparations for the extermination -- that was the word he was using -- of the Tutsi population were being laid into place by the government and its entourage. And Kofi Annan's peacekeeping office had the attitude, "Eh? Just lay low." They took an extremely casual response to these warnings. They never made a fuss about them, they never blew the trumpet about them, they never drew attention to them. He then proceeded to say, "It's the fault of the member states."

This is part of the whole problem with the security arrangements of the international community, so called, which is that the member states go to the UN and blame the UN for not doing things, and the UN blames the member states for not having empowered them. But the bottom line is that these are career bureaucrats at the UN who could do things or could not do things. And they don't do them. Annan went to Rwanda a few years ago, pursued by this story. Clinton had gone and said, this is a disgrace on people like me. Madeline Albright had said it. The French were beginning to start to say things like that. And what did Kofi Annan say? "I have no regrets, the world failed Rwanda." This absolute abdication of personal responsibility makes one feel that the UN is actually a very, very dangerous place because it goes around preaching accountability for heads of state. It goes around claiming that it wants to impose democratic standards, end cycles of impunity, and bring in accountability. And they are more infallible than any other institution on earth in their own eyes. They cannot be wrong. In that case the question is, can they ever be right? If they can't be blamed for anything how could they ever take credit for something? If they are flunkies, let's treat them as flunkies, ignore them and hold them not accountable. And yet they want responsibility and I find that in that drama something terrible was exposed by the Rwandan catastrophe about the feebleness of certain international institutions. [Notice the UN's similiarities to Orwell's Big Brother organization which was a dedicated sect doing evil in the name of good.~jj]

Q: The hypocrisy that you're addressing is based on an ideal that isn't realized yet, one could argue. To the extent that the international community is making promises about external intervention, that is a better thing than having no position at all; but on the other hand, the best would be if they actually acted on those principles.

I would go further. In the intervention debate, I'm a journalist -- obviously, I'm an opinionated journalist to some extent, after I've looked at a situation. One tends to react rather strongly when a lot of people are at risk like this. But I'm not a policymaker. I don't have a 100% position on intervention. I think probably it's true that one has to look at it case by case, and I don't say we should always be intervening every time somebody's getting killed. What I do say is that the most pernicious story of the nineties has been the consistent habit of the United States and its partners in the so-called international community of making false promises of protection and then abandoning endangered peoples to annihilation, when push comes to shove, because we don't mean to stand behind those promises. That's revolting. That's scandalous. It makes me embarrassed, it makes people dead, and it doesn't do anybody any good. And it weakens our word, our word is no good.

If somebody says, you're a lucky man, you're in a UN safe haven, you are about to get killed. It's the most terrifying thing anybody could tell you. If somebody tells you you're in a UN safe haven, run for your life! That's a terrible lesson. So the promise seems to me to be terrible. What happened in Rwanda is, here was this UN force, and if you ask Rwandans, "Look, it was obviously getting very, very hairy here in the months before the genocide, why did you stay? You saw it coming didn't you?" Well, nobody saw it coming, they saw things getting very hairy. All of them will say that among other reasons it was because the UN was there.

Now the UN will say, "We never promised to protect them." Well perhaps not, but look at East Timor. What happened in East Timor? We always say, should we intervene? We already intervened. We had the UN in there encouraging people to get involved in a risky political transition, to engage in elections. We were encouraging them to step out on a limb that exposed them to tremendous political danger. We made no provision for their protection, although they seemed to assume it. Look at Srebrenica. That's the story: it's the promise of protection that we don't mean to back up. And it makes us in some way villains in stories where we might be better off saying honestly you'd better fend for yourselves, defend yourselves if you must.... [end of quoting from UCLA interview of Gourevitch]


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~
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