Friday, November 26, 2004

The Ivory Coast Experience: Could Rwanda Have Been Prevented?

The trailer of the Hotel Rwanda has a scene in which hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle is disabused by a UN General, played by Nick Nolte of his illusions that a "superpower" would come to save his people. Variety describes a promotional event for the film, sponsored by the UN refugee agency.

Still, star Don Cheadle disliked being trotted out for the chatterati. ... But the man Cheadle portrays, Paul Rusesabagina, was very social, saying he felt no ill will toward the superpower that did not intervene. ... Michael Moore came to support "one of the best films I've seen this year." He quipped, "My next job is to convince Tom Hanks (news) to run for president in '08."

"Superpower" of course, is a code word for the United States. It was the United States which let the atrocity which killed nearly a million people happen, or so the implication goes. The actual events which took place in 1994 are described succinctly by Wikipedia.

between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness officially left 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militias known as the Interahamwe. ... For the next couple of weeks, many questionable decisions were made by the United Nations, which had a peacekeeping force in the country. Belgium and the UN withdrew almost all of their forces after ten Belgians were killed, leaving all of their Rwandans employees, mostly Tutsis, behind. The UN Security Council unanimously voted to withdraw its troops, with France and Belgium at the forefront, over the protests of the peacekeepers' top commander Canadian Romeo Dallaire. The new Rwandan government lead by self proclaimed President Sindikubwabo worked hard to minimize international criticism. Rwanda at that time had a seat on the Security Council and its ambassador argued that the claims of genocide were exaggerated and that the government was doing all that it could to stop it. Representatives of the Rwandan Catholic Church, long associated with the radical Hutus in Rwanda, also used their links in Europe to reduce criticism. France, which felt the United States and United Kingdom would use the massacres to try to expand their influence in that francophone part of Africa also worked to prevent a foreign intervention.

The failure of the UN peacekeeping force, led by Canadian Romeo Dallaire to militarily oppose the massacre has been the subject of much debate. What is not generally recognized is that aside from UN forces, which did nothing, French forces were rapidly present in Rwanda in some numbers. Africa Online quotes French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin as claiming credit for saving many Rwandan lives.

France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted Thursday that French troops saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide. The statement comes as French and Rwandan officials are trading accusations on who was responsible for the genocide. ... In an interview with Radio France International, Kagame claimed that not only did French troops train and command the forces that carried out the massacres, they also had a direct hand in the killings. Kagame's remarks initially drew a no comment from French authorities, but on Thursday, Foreign Minister de Villepin offered a spirited defence of the actions of French troops in Rwanda. In an interview with the same French radio station, he claimed the French troops saved several hundred thousand lives. De Villepin called Kagame's remarks uncalled for, and an untrue version of history.

Exactly what forces were available in Rwanda? Dallaire's command contained 2,500 lightly armed men composed of different nationalities.

Gen. Dallaire was allotted only 2548 of the 4500 soldiers he requested to carry out his mission. To make matters worse, several contingents were poorly equipped and very lightly armed.

In the first weeks of the fighting, more than 1,000 French and Belgian paratroopers arrived in Rwanda. Foreign Affairs notes:

During the crucial first weeks, the U.N., at the behest of the United States, ordered the more than 2,000 peacekeepers in Rwanda to do nothing to halt the killing and then withdrew all but a rump force of 400 soldiers. Some 1,000 elite French and Belgian troops (backed by 250 U.S. Marines just across the border) swooped in to rescue foreign nationals (most of them not at risk) and then left, ignoring the slaughter of Rwandan civilians. Clinton and other international leaders said nothing of substance. Seeing the international indifference, Rwandans became convinced that the genocidal government would succeed. Those who hesitated at first now yielded to fear or opportunism and carried the slaughter throughout Rwanda.

U.N. peacekeepers and the evacuation force could have deterred the killings had they acted promptly. Belgian military records show cases in which they did just that when permitted to use their weapons. Firm and coherent international censure could have influenced the organizers of the genocide. On the two occasions when they received outraged telephone calls from foreign governments, the organizers halted attacks on hundreds of Tutsi at the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali. Jamming the genocidal radio broadcasts would have kept the organizers from passing orders directly to the population. The military radio, the only other channel accessible to the genocide's organizers, did not broadcast to civilians.

This story is essentially repeated at NathanielTurnerCom.

Heavily armed western troops began materializing at Kigali airport within hours to evacuate their nationals. Beyond UNAMIR's 2500 peacekeepers, these included 500 Belgian para-commandos, 450 French and 80 Italian troops from parachute regiments, another 500 Belgian para-commandos on stand-by in Kenya, 250 US Rangers on stand-by in Burundi, and 800 more French troops on stand-by in the region. None made any attempt to protect Rwandans at risk. Besides western nationals, French troops evacuated a number of well-known leaders of the extremist Hutu Power movement, including the wife of the murdered president and her family. All non-UNAMIR troops left within days, immediately after their evacuation mission was completed.

One of the arguments that has often been made by the defenders of the UN Peacekeeping mission's failure was that only "a superpower" had the massive wherewithal to stop the genocide. While it is true that the Clinton administration seems to have turned a blind eye to events in the African country, recent events in the Ivory Coast suggest that effective military force did not have to be very large. The scale of the French action in Rwanda itself when it decided to intervene is indicative. Six weeks into the massacres, the French deployed in force.

After 6 weeks of genocide, France, which offered no troops to the UN mission, suddenly decided to intervene in Rwanda. Within a week of the decision, Operation Turquoise was able to deploy 2500 men with 100 armored personnel carriers, 10 helicopters, a battery of 120 mm mortars, 4 Jaguar fighter bombers, and 8 Mirage fighters and reconnaissance planes---all for an ostensibly humanitarian operation. The French forces created a safe haven in the south-west of the country which provided sanctuary not only to fortunate Tutsi but also to many leading Rwandan government and military officials as well as large numbers of soldiers and militia---the very Hutu Power militants who had organized and carried out the genocide.

This force was not only sufficient to stop the massacres but to create a geographical safe haven in the southern part of the country. The recently suppressed November, 2004 riots in the Ivory Coast provides another basis for comparison for the scale of forces required to effect at least a temporary cessation of unrest. According to Fox News, French strength, which was sufficient to halt the fighting in a day was as follows.

It now has 4,000 peacekeeping troops stationed mostly in the center of the country, between government and rebel forces. The UN has another 6,000 peacekeepers. The French reinforcements arriving yesterday number roughly 300.

This is larger, but not an order of magnitude larger, then the forces available in Rwanda during the 1994 massacres. Operation Turquoise was a brigade minus sized deployment. In the Ivory Coast, the French had a brigade plus and augmented it with a company plus. The UN force available in Rwanda had other problems, more to do with rules of engagement, mission orders and leadership than its mere size. NathanielTurnerCom reports:

Only days after the genocide began, 2500 Tutsi as well as Hutu opposition politicians crowded into a Kigali school known as ETO, where Belgian UN troops were billeted ... the Belgian soldiers were ordered to depart ETO to assist in evacuating foreign nationals from the country. They did so abruptly, making no arrangements whatever for the protection of those they were safeguarding. As they moved out, the killers moved in. When the afternoon was over, all 2500 civilians had been murdered.

We hear about those Belgian soldiers again from the Canadian Defence Association website:

Critics claim that against the better judgement of Belgian commanders, Gen. Dallaire ordered his troops to disperse into a number of weak outposts incapable of mutual support should trouble arise. The Belgian court-martial discovered that the opposite had occurred. Based on the original Belgian offer of a Battalion, Dallaire planned to concentrate the entire unit as a reaction force. Due to the failure of troop contributing nations to fulfil their commitments, Dallaire altered his plan somewhat, but still intended to deploy complete Belgian companies in strong defensible positions in the heart of the Rwandan capital where Hutu government troops and militias were located.

Belgian commanders refused to comply with Dallaire's orders. Concentrating soldiers, even in company locations, would require quartering them in tents. Belgian field living standards demanded that their soldiers be put up in hard shelters. With no extra UN funds to provide accommodation large enough to house a Belgian company, they instead dispersed themselves in platoon strength or less around the city. Each small position required its our security detail further reducing the already minimal UNAMIR capacity to conduct any kind of pro-active operations.

The question of whether a minor European or North American power could have intervened will always be an open one. As for American culpability, the producers of the Hotel Rwanda can hardly be faulted for insinuating that America was at fault when President Bill Clinton suggested as much. During a visit to Kigali in 1998 he apologized for not acting quickly enough to prevent the massacres. "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."


The Washington Post has a long article on the movie mentioned above, Hotel Rwanda, which describes the efforts of a hotelier credited with saving the lives of 1,200 people in 1994. Paul Rusesabagina is played by Don Cheadle in the movie. The Post says the real life character -- who may have saved more lives than the entire UN Peacekeeping operation -- used a Rolodex as his principal weapon.

The tools of his trade were nothing unusual: the keys to the hotel's storage rooms and cellars and a Rolodex of important people, including Rwandans, U.N. officials and employees at Sabena, the Belgian firm that owned the hotel. ... One morning, a phalanx of soldiers appeared at his door. "Are you the hotel manager?" one of them barked. "If so, tell all the cockroaches to leave in 30 minutes." Rusesabagina rushed to the roof and looked down on a sea of spears, guns and machetes. "This is the end, I told myself," he said. But then "I started calling. The director of Sabena in Brussels, he called the king of Belgium, the president of France, to weigh in."

Eventually, Rusesabagina, his family and two nieces whose parents had been killed were evacuated by the United Nations to a camp in Tanzania. Today, Rusesabagina lives in Brussels.

But the people he called must have kept his confidences to themselves. The official story is that nobody knew. The UN was surprised, the Canadians nonplussed, the Europeans unaware and President Clinton was shocked, positively shocked that such a thing could be happening. The Canadian General in charge of the peacekeeping force was given a Peace Medal; the director of UN Peacekeeping Operations went on to become the Secretary General and President Clinton went on to express his regrets in Kigali four years later. "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."