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"The grave is only half full. Who will help fill it?"
RADIO MILLE COLLINS, Rwanda, April 1994

The "best of humanity" turned away from its grossest expression. If the Rwanda experience cannot motivate a grass-roots response toward something better, what can? Could this be what happened to the Neanderthals? Their brutish appearance may have evolved with personalities too peaceful to counter an aggressive Neandercide whenever resources became an issue.

We are haunted that the rest of the world stood by. We are haunted by the phrase "I am a war president." We are haunted by both sides in the "right to life" issue. All these come too close to home. Of course there are times when a country has to fight for survival. But where does it all end if violence is the only medicine applied, if the rule puts national interest above that of humanity itself? War has never solved a thing over the millennia. The Chinese Wall brings a lesson here.

We excerpt from Global Policy Forum:

    "Torn by ethnic conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus, Rwanda experienced Africa's worst genocide in modern times. The conflict had origins in Belgium's colonial rule, which favored the minority Tutsis and fostered differences between the two groups. In 1962, when the country gained independence, Gregoire Kayibanda headed the first recognized Hutu government. Juvenal Habyarimana seized power in a military coup a decade later, following the massacre of thousands of Hutus in neighboring Burundi. For nearly twenty years under Habyarimana, ethnic relations simmered with sporadic outbreaks of violence. In 1993, Habyarimana signed a short-lived, power-sharing agreement with the Tutsis, aiming to end the fighting. In April 1994, the plane carrying Habyarimana and the President of Burundi was shot down. The event triggered the notorious genocide. Extremist Hutu militia aided by the Rwandan army launched systematic massacres against Tutsis. Despite reports of mass killings, the UN failed to take immediate action to stop the massacres, due to opposition from France and the US. Around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed within 100 days, and over three million people fled to neighboring countries..."

According to Linda Melvern, who researched the genocide for six years, the true number of deaths is closer to one million. The 800,000 was one of several early guesses that was picked up on repeatedly.

News correspondents on the scene in 1994 still have nightmares about what they saw. Victims they saw suffered unspeakable abuses -- many never living to tell about it. By accident or good fortune, many survived to tell their tales -- if they were able. Many could not, cannot. Repressing all memories, these human beings can only go on, some depressed permanently, in pure agony; others with an optimistic spirit too profound to describe; all with psyches permanently scarred. Leroy Sievers, executive producer of Nightline, was one of those correspondents.

The Rwandan genocide did not go totally unpunished. First Hutu militias were trained and incited to attack the Tutsis, then when the Tusti military, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, RFP, gained the upper hand, many of the Bagosoro cabal who executed a coup, their organized and well-trained killers, their cohorts, families and hangers-on were in turn slaughtered by the Tutsi or forced on long marches that accomplished the same thing. Each was too awful to ignore, but ignore it the rest of the world did. Unfortunately, the genocide continued in exile since Hutu chiefs remained in control of their own local people as they sought refuge elsewhere.

Leroy Sievers, wanting a first-hand view, managed to join the Hutu refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the later slaughter. A large number of people perished, and Sievers had this to say:

    The smell of death. It overpowers you...

    I was literally straddling a woman, waiting for the others to move on. I didn't have the courage at that point to look down to see if she was alive or dead. Then I felt something on my foot. I looked down and saw a small boy. He looked to be about 5, which meant he was probably 10. Malnutrition will do that. He was lying on his back and had thrown his arm up over his head. His fingers had gotten tangled in my boot laces. As I looked in his eyes, I saw the light go out. And he died.

    ...It was five years before I could tell that story.

    ...On the road, about 15 feet away, on the other side of the barbed wire, was a steady stream of humanity walking deeper into Zaire [now the Democratic Republic of Congo - Ed] toward almost certain death. Just as we got there, a woman laid her tiny daughter down in the dust at the side of the road right in front of us. The girl was dead. Who knows how long the mother had been carrying her body, numbed perhaps, or just unwilling to acknowledge what had happened, before her burden became too much. She put the body down, stood, and then merged back into that stream of misery.

    ...The children. They caught our eyes. Sometimes they would be sitting by the body of a dead parent. A death sentence for them, as no one else would take care of them. Especially the babies. They would be crying, sitting in the dirt, having no idea what was happening, or why their parents weren't moving anymore. It wouldn't be long before they, too, were lying by the side of the road.

    Going into the middle of the camps was truly a descent into hell. A medieval hell. Biblical. People would literally fall over next to us. You could barely tell the dead from the dying. "Drop dead." You can hear kids saying it on just about any playground. But it's different when it actually happens.

    ...Bulldozers came in, or just groups of men with shovels, who dug great pits. Those rolled-up sleeping mats, the ones containing bodies, were dumped into the pits by the hundreds. By the thousands. By the tens of thousands.

And then Sievers, back home to another reality, wrote of his reporting"

    "When we got home, people complimented the work, but they treated us differently, like we were damaged. Years later, when I was diagnosed with colon cancer, I recognized the same attitude. People knew we were hurting, but they had no frame of reference. To this day, there are things about that story that I will only talk about with those who were there.

    "...Rwanda was the only story that ever gave me nightmares. They lasted for years. The story was the seminal moment in my professional life. No story, before or after, had such a profound effect on me. Why did we do it? I don't know. The flip answer is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Was it a story that needed telling? Absolutely. Did the world listen? I don't know. I fear that people just turned the channel, that the images were too painful. Was it worth it? For many years, if you asked me why I did what I did, I could give you all sorts of answers. To inform the public. For the adventure. It's what I do. It's who I am.

    "...Writing this stopped the nightly visits from that little boy with those accusing eyes and that dreadful question. Why didn't the world do more? I still have no answer for him. And now I fear that he may just have given up on me.

    "I hope not."

Of the genocides in history, Rwanda stands out. Singular. Once the slaughter began, each wave seemed to take on a mind of its own--out of anyone's control, and beyond belief; each wave in opposite directions. In fact, it had been meticulousoly planned and executed with precision. Ordinary people, armed and trained to kill with machetes, incited by hate propaganda, turned on their neighbors while "modern humanity" looked the other way from its most gross and savage expressions. At the same time, there were amazing examples of courage and humanity -- nominal enemies saving each other and their friends in acts showing strong internal Loci of Control. A little known religious aspect is that the Muslims were far more able to protect their fellow Tutsis and Hutus than the vastly predominant Catholics could protect theirs.

Why has the name of a beautiful country with an historically peaceful people become synonymous with genocide? Because the rest of us turned away, ignored our responsibilities, hid our eyes, that's why!
To quote Sievers once again:

"Why didn't the world do more?"

What has humanity come to? If we cannot face up to the awful potential of our human nature, Rwanda and worse will happen again and again.

Except for perspective, power, and riches, how much difference is there between a genocidal leader and leaders of modern countries who stand by and let it happen? Many were well aware of the true situation. But their own national interest was not at stake.

Since abortion was illegal in Rwanda, what of the countless babies born of rape whose mothers contracted STDs and/or AIDS in the process? What does the Religious Right have to say? Or the religious Left if there is such a thing.

If Rwanda cannot motivate a grass-roots response toward something better, what can?

These are troubling questions; they demand answers. Some can be found at the root level: Summary. Others are evident from the excellent histories of the genocide written by Dallair, Prunier and Melvern. All three of these authors indict the UN and the members of the Security Council. As now constituted, the Security Council simply cannot deal with violence on the genocide scale effectively; at the least new rules of engagement and a new code of international ethics are needed. With hindsight most observers agree that too-little too-late may in fact magnify an otherwise simple problem. On Rwanda, the window of opportunity was short.

Standing by while Eden burns is a culture/social problem that humanity-at-large brings to the table. If democracy is the governance of choice, and we see nothing better at the moment, then it has to extend to the world, the citizen nations of the world, and a more effective equivalent of the UN coordinating world governance and keeping the international public order.

The NGOs need to coordinate better; some had information others needed. The NGOs could learn from the Red Cross.

Some resources.

Evidence of Inaction
Global Policy Forum
How the genocide happened.
Human Rights Watch - Rwanda
International Criminal Tribunal
Leave None to Tell the Story
Never Again International
Rwanda 1994
Rwanda Genocide
Rwanda 10 Years On
Rwandan Genocide Project - Yale
The Cross and the Genocide


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