Remembering Rwanda

In 1994, you and I were around two or three years old.  We liked Barney and bubble baths.  We’d hang out, play all day, and then hit the sack.  If we woke up in the middle of the night, it was simply because nature was calling very loudly, or because we had bad dreams.  For you and I, they were only dreams.  The terror, the cold sweat, the fear that twisted like a knife in our stomachs—we could banish all that by opening our eyes, and making for the safety of mom or dad.   

Now imagine, for a second, that mom and dad aren’t there when you go looking.  You run back out of their room and stumble over something on the floor—the bodies of your parents.  This is not a bad dream.  This is real.

You look up, and meet the most hateful eyes you have ever seen.  You are two years old.  There’s not a lot you understand about hate.  The man lifts his machete, and the world goes black.  In 1994, in a tiny central-African country called Rwanda, the world went black for hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  Today, we’re going to look at the causes of the conflict, as well as the devastation that resulted due to the world’s lack of interest.

The Rwandan government, comprised of the majority Hutu tribe, began sanctioning the systematic slaughter of Tutsi citizens-basically murdering everyone who wasn’t Hutu.  In response, Tutsi rebels amassed a civilian army in northern Rwanda to resist the extremist Hutu government. Not weeks before this genocide began, the two tribes had adopted a peace agreement.  In a severely inadequate attempt at enforcing the agreement, the United Nations, or U.N., sent a small, unarmed force of Western soldiers to keep tabs on the country.  But then, over a period of 100 days, between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsi men, women, and children were brutally and systematically murdered at the hands of their Hutu countrymen.

After Hitler’s Holocaust, the world swore that nothing like this would ever happen again.  But fifty short years later, when Rwanda’s extremist government sanctioned slaughter in the name of ethnic cleansing, the leaders of the Western world stood by and did nothing.  The United Nations, or U.N., of which the United States of America is an active member, has a responsibility to intervene in genocidal situations.  This stipulation is in their official charter.  So how did the United Nations manage to avoid getting involved?  According to Kofi Annan, head of Peacekeeping Operations in 1994, the U.N. lacked “a culture of speaking out.”  Nobody put forth an argument for “humanitarian intervention” based on the simple fact that we all belong to the human race.  Rather, responsibility got lost as the U.N. attempted to redraw the definition of “genocide” to exclude the massacre going on in Rwanda.

So while thousands of innocent lives were decimated every day, we dealt only with silence, and an up-in-the-air controversy surrounding definition of terms.   The predominant reason, however, that the United States of America chose to overlook Rwanda, is even simpler.  Strictly speaking, Rwanda had nothing to offer us.  As then-President Clinton said to the United Nations head, “Rwanda is a marginal problem. We are not interested in this problem.”   It had no oil, no money, and no influence.   How many barrels of oil does it take to make a human life worth saving?

Not everyone turned tail and ran, however.  Led by Paul Kagame, the Tutsi rebel force, known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, took down the Hutu government and stopped the slaughter.  Paul Kagame is now the President of the country.  Additionally, upward of 65000 lives were saved by the Red Cross, which stood its ground and bargained out safe passage of Red Cross patients throughout Rwanda.  Philippe Gaillard, the Frenchman in charge of the Rwandan Red Cross, asked a simple question: “What do you do in the face of evil?”  In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, people answered that question very differently.  Some, like Gaillard and Kagame, faced the evil right back down.  Others, in weighing the personal advantages of interference, deemed it justifiable to avoid the confrontation.  As a result, around 800,000 Rwandans lost their lives.

The United Nations and the United States have since issued formal apologies.  Many world politicians even trekked to Rwanda after the disaster to view the consequences of their inaction.  Their remorse was a step in the right direction.  But it was only a single step, and it came too late.

In the famous words of Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Evil triumphed in Rwanda for 100 days in 1994.  Hopefully, next time, evil will actually meet with some resistance.


RESEARCH what the government is doing today

TALK to your friends and family about what you find

ORGANIZE around the causes most important to you

TAKE ACTION to make tomorrow better.


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