FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6th: 19 Years since the genocide in Rwanda and Eleven Things You Should Know About the Genocide in Rwanda

   April 6th: 19 Years since the genocide in Rwanda and

Eleven Things You Should Know About the Genocide in Rwanda

       A brutal and evil campaign started today 19 years ago.  Over the following 100 days, the Hutu government planned and sponsored the murder of nearly a million people: men and women, children and babies--most of them split open and hacked to death with machetes like this:

It's worthwhile to pause today and recall this heartbreaking tragedy and perhaps discuss it with 
your family and kids (once they are old enough).  When my daughters are older, I plan on sitting down with them each year and watching one of the films below, or discussing one of articles/books that I've listed below.  It's important that we acknowledge that this genocide occurred, that we analyze why and how it occurred, and that we recognize the brave sacrifices of the men and women who DID DO something during the genocide.  Finally, despite the rhetoric of "never again", its important to keep at the forefront of our dialogue that IT IS possible for such a genocide to occur again if we (i.e., the international community on the macro level and you and I on the micro level) don't remain diligent, vigilant and proactive.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote here is an apt one:
"In the end,
we will remember
not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends."

Eleven Things You Should Know about the Genocide in Rwanda (and which I didn't know either until I wrote a paper about it):

1. In 100 days, Hutu extremists killed 800,000 men, women and children--507,000 of them Tutsis (77% of the registered Tutsi population).  That's about 11% of their population.  That would be the equivalent of 26 million people being killed in the US over a 3 month period.

2. The U.S. government (USG) acknowledged early on (on 28 April to be exact, when there were at least 100,00 already dead) that people were being slaughtered, but instructed its UN Ambassador to remain in "listening mode" and "not commit the USG to anything."

3. The best and most complete account of the genocide is the Alison Des Forges' (of HRW) Leave None to Tell the Story.

4. A shorter but equally excellent read is Samantha Powers' damning condemnation of the U.S. government's silence (i.e., inaction) in "Bystanders to Genocide" from the Atlantic Monthly.

5.The USG's belated humanitarian response (after the genocide was over) actual enabled many of the killers to escape the country through the refugee camps.

6.  Hutu hate radio broadcasts were used to incite and organize the killings--the USG had the capability to jam these broadcasts but deemed it too expensive.

7.  The NSA archive is a non-profit group run through George Washington University that archives thousands of previously classified documents (obtained through FOIA) that lend a primary source look into look at hundreds of events in our nation's history.

8.  Never again?  It could happen in Syria.

9.  What constitutes "justice" and reconciliation after the genocide is a lot different than you might imagine (See Gourevitch's top-notch New Yorker Article)

10. In 2001, there was a backlog of 100,000 perpetrators waiting to be tried--this is one reason Kagame instituted the gacaca "grass courts."

11.  President Clinton's March 1998 apology in Rwanda may have been technically accurate: "we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred," however, in reality the U.S. didn't just not do as much as it should have, instead official in the U.S. government willfully and aggressively pressured the international community to not only withdraw peace-keeeping forces but also prevented others from intervening.

Most people have seen or are familiar with the superb movie Hotel Rwanda.

Another movie on the genocide is the vivid and heartbreaking Sometimes in April.  I wrote a paper evaluating the Raoul Peck's masterpiece here.

A few others that are on my "to watch" list are:
Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire (2005)

Shake Hands with the Devil (2007)

That Spring in 1994: What I Remember—Recollections of the Rwandan Genocide

That spring in 1994, I was 15 years old and a freshman at Bedford High School in Massachusetts.   Searching my memory of that period, I can't uncover even a faded polaroid recollection to give witness to the murder of almost a million men, women, boys, girls and babies. 

That spring

I remember working as a bagger at the grocery store on Hanscomb Air Force Base. 
I remember fleeing the base theatre with my friend CJ after we lit up cigars during a movie.
I remember the field where I would play soccer by my school.

What I can recall

I close my eyes and I can smell the dusty paper of the grocery bags.
I close my eyes and I can feel my heart racing as we were chased out of the theatre.
I close my eyes and I can see the long and overgrown green grass of the soccer field.

That same spring

Nearly a million people's last breath and smell was rotten and rife with
sweat, urine, and blood.
Murderers crushed and ripped apart nearly a million hearts.
Murderers smashed shut nearly a million sets of eyes. 

That same spring

Millions of people


And millions of people did


                                                          and everyday

I trudge with the grief of my own ignorance
like an iron yoke
on the shoulders
of my soul.

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