chapter  1
12 Pages

Rwanda, the genocide of our time

Introduction Before setting out to explain and understand how it is possible that the UN Security Council failed to prevent the massacres in Rwanda, it is first necessary to describe the crisis. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a chronological and narrative story of the events of the Rwandan conflict. It will thereby lay the groundwork for subsequent chapters, which will tackle the more fundamental questions concerning the failures of the UN. This chapter will contest the way in which mass killings are universally labelled as ‘genocides’ at the expense of analyses of their particular historical circumstances and social contexts. A comparative framework will therefore not be applied; instead, the following analysis aspires to explore the particular conditions and mechanisms that produced the devastating events in Rwanda. The Rwandan genocide was conducted in a routine and mechanical manner not (only) by madmen but mostly by normal people. As Gérard Prunier notes, this confirms Hannah Arendt’s adage that evil is extremely banal (Prunier 1998: xii). The nettoyage, or ‘cleansing’, of the minority Tutsi population became the civic duty of every Hutu in the country. Posters, leaflets and radio broadcasts had dehumanised the Tutsi into ‘snakes’, ‘cockroaches’ and ‘animals’ (Physicians for Human Rights (UK) 1994: 10). By the beginning of the genocide the Tutsi had become a socially dead people, like the Jews had become by the beginning of Hitler’s Final Solution. Dehumanisation, among other factors, created the ideal conditions for genocide. Moreover, Hutu extremists portrayed Tutsi as génocidaires themselves, who were allegedly plotting the extermination of the Hutu. This was pure misinformation, but fear among Hutu spread rapidly. Thus, when the genocide finally began, the killed Tutsi accumulated at three times the rate of dead Jews during the Holocaust. By some accounts, as many Rwandans killed as were killed (Berkeley 1998). The potential for genocide began to emerge gradually under the colonial rule of Germany from 1897 to 1919, and then under Belgian authority from 1919 to 1962. The pace of this dangerous development was intensified with the 1959 revolution and the birth of the Hutu Republic. However, the operational mechanisms of genocide, such as killing squads and executive plans, were created only

from 1992 onwards. This acknowledgement of the complexity of the Rwandan crisis is necessary, as it prevents us from drifting into backward causalities,1 where reconstruction of past events overcomes description of past events. To use Colin Wight’s definition, backward causalities are complicit in the constitution of realities they merely claim to describe. They are similar to what John Shotter terms an ex post facto fallacy, which is committed as follows: being tempted to take one specific descriptive statement as true of a situation which is in fact subject to a number of possible interpretations, and then perceiving the constructed true statement retrospectively as quite definite (Shotter 1993: 85). Previous accounts have tended to commit an ex post facto fallacy by taking the term ‘genocide’ as the true and definite statement to describe the situation in Rwanda, without considering other possible interpretations. Alain Destexhe begins his detailed account of the Rwandan conflict with the definition of three genocides in the twentieth century. Only then does he go on to elaborate the causes of the crisis, such as the aggravation of ethnic divisions and political extremism (Destexhe 1995). The Genocide Convention, which was signed by UN Member States on 9 December 1948, defines genocide as a criminal act with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part.2 The Rwandan massacres undoubtedly amounted to a genocide, as there were massive crimes against humanity committed with the intent of destroying the Tutsi as an ethnic group. Destexhe is also right, at least in legal terms, as to what constituted the three genocides of the twentieth century, namely the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1916, the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.3