"We Americans, we Europeans, we're literally sustaining
the single largest collection of war criminals on earth,
and helping them rearm, fatten up, train and start to slaughter people again.
They began to kill people systematically across Eastern Zaire [Congo]
and they were raiding into Rwanda."
GOMA CAMP MAFIA HUTU HOTEL
"Finally the Rwandan government, after two years of warnings, said
'We are going to break up these camps because they are getting ready to annihilate us.
And they are not refugee camps,
they are military bases.'"
Reporting the story of a Genocide,
interview of Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish To Inform You...Stories of Rwanda
at UCLA-Berkely, Feb 11, 2000, by Harry Kreisler
Question: Now another story within your stories is the story of what happened after the genocide and the humanitarian organizations who were ministering to the Hutu refugees who had fled to what was then Zaire [Congo's name under Mobutu]. At bottom what you're describing is how humanitarian intervention to save refugees became an operation to build up the remnants of the armies that had actually committed the genocide, with really a lack of self consciousness on the part of most of the idealists and the humanitarians who were there to save people.
"Yes, I mean the story of Rwanda as it relates to international interventions and do-gooding is a very dismal story. It reflects very dismally on these institutions. In the aftermath of the genocide, several million Rwandan Hutus, about a million and a half probably all told in the end, settled in refugee camps ringing Rwanda, the largest of them in Goma, Zaire [Congo]. These camps were, from the very start, presided over by the same militias, military and political structures that ran the genocidal regime. They became camps of the genocide. And these armies were never disarmed. These people were never regulated: are they even refugees or are they fugitives? The law that defines a refugee is somebody fleeing political persecution, not legitimate legal prosecution for being a criminal. And yet we were basically, we with our tax dollars I mean ..."
Question: We the United States.
"We Americans, we Europeans; but being American, my tax dollar. That's one of the reasons it makes one annoyed. We're literally sustaining the single largest collection of war criminals on earth, and helping them rearm, fatten up, train and start to slaughter people again. They began to kill people systematically across Eastern Zaire [Congo] and they were raiding into Rwanda. They were not unaware, the people who ran these camps. If you talk to them increasingly they will sort of admit to you "it was beyond us and maybe we shouldn't have done that." At the time they knew perfectly well that something was very vulgar and amiss, and very criminal and amiss. But basically there is a way in which these organizations are in business and they justified to themselves a completely untenable position. What was their justification? "Look at all these poor people. If we were to withdraw, these poor people would be lost." And you say, so what happens? Are you going to stay here forever? "Well, no," because of course what happened is in the end they withdrew. So they were saying "We have to stay here to save these people from themselves," i.e. from being in Africa, and in the end what happened was finally the Rwandan government, after two years of warnings, said "We are going to break up these camps because they are getting ready to annihilate us. And they are not refugee camps, they are military bases."
Question: We should explain that the Rwandan government is now controlled by the Tutsis, by the RPF, which came in ...
"The Rwandese Patriotic Front, that's right."
Question: And gained control of the government once the Hutus had fled, and are trying to build a state and a community in the aftermath of the genocide.
"That's right. They always said that the refugees should come home and be included in society, and the refugee organizations basically refused to believe them, although when people came home they weren't all slaughtered. But [the organizations] said, "Well, we can't let them all go home," and they couldn't figure out how to repatriate them, and of course the people didn't want to [return home]. Why would they want to? They were getting free medical care. The malnutrition rates and health rates and so forth in these refugee camps were closer to those of Switzerland than those of the surrounding neighborhoods of Africa, which did not make them popular amongst the Zairians/Congolese who were living around the camps. They saw these people who had committed crimes in Rwanda suddenly taking over the area. These people were systematically stealing the cattle and defoliating the forests, and so forth, and being fed for free by the world. Well of course it's a good deal.
"Now people say, oh how cynical. How can you say that those poor refugees were happier living that way than being at home? Nobody would rather be a refugee. It's not true. I mean it is cynical, but it's a fact. It's not the only place in the world we've seen this. It happened in Afghanistan camps, it happened with the Khmer Rouge in the border camps of Thailand around Cambodia. Refugee camps are fundamentally going to become political organizations, organizing places. [The refugee organizations] broke all the rules of humanitarian law; for instance, refugee camps are not supposed to be established less than fifty miles from the border of the country from which the people fled, for the obvious reason that people who flee countries tend to be opponents at least of the regime, and if you put them right on the border they're dangerous. Where were they? Within a mile or two. You could see them all from Rwanda. And so this terrible situation arose, which meant that, from the moment that I arrived in 1995, there was an inevitable prospect of war. There was a next war. And everybody was waiting for the next war. And these refugee organizations were blindly going on, building up, fattening up, this army of genocide."
Question: This area, and your book conveys this quite powerfully, is a place where humanitarian idealism meets realpolitik in a sense, because in the aftermath of this genocide an all-out war broke out between all the neighboring countries because of the inability to deal with the aftermath of the genocide.
Question: And the humanitarians that you've just been characterizing couldn't comprehend that.
"They didn't respond. Even if they could comprehend it, it was a very limited set of responses. Humanitarianism generally has professed neutrality. Neutrality in the face of genocide seems to me to be complicity. It's an absurd position. Why would anybody ... what is appealing about neutrality in the face of a genocide? Zero. Yet this was the position. Objectivity is different than neutrality, and objectivity would allow one to say objectively these are war criminals. But neutrality requires you to say, these are war criminals, have a sandwich, have a blanket. Oh, is that a Kalishnikov, please don't show it to me. Oh, you're going to show it to me, please don't shoot me. Oh you shot me, have a sandwich. It was that pathetic. They were being used like the staff at a Mafia hotel."
SLEEPING ON LAVA IN RAIN
KNOW NKUNDA CONGO
Reader says that some Hutu refugees crossing the border from Rwanda into Zaire (Congo) were disarmed
RWANDA'S GOOD MAN KAGAME and HOW KAGAME BECAME RWANDA'S LEADER
6. AMAHORO CELEBRATIONS PRELUDE and 12. THE REAL HOTEL RWANDA and 27. GOMA'S LUMUMBA VOLCANO
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