I always promised myself that if I ever ran for public office I would highlight anti-genocide legislation as one of the principal planks of my platform. As such, I’m traveling to Rwanda this week where I will visit the main locations of the mass slaughter of the Tutsis by the Hutus in 1994. My trip is being organized by James Smith, my old friend from the UK who runs a genocide remembrance center in Rwanda. In addition, Samantha Power, President Obama’s principal advisor on Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs and the foremost anti-genocide advocate in the world has been very helpful in introducing me to the staff of the American Embassy in Kigali with whom I will also meet. Unexpectedly, my daughter Chana, who serves in the Israel army, was also helpful when her unit hosted the Rwandan Chief of Staff and she shared with him how much her father has read and written about the genocide, leading the Chief of Staff to kindly invite me to Rwanda.
The Rwandan genocide of Tutsis by Hutus happened at a rate even quicker than the liquidation of Jews at the hands of the Germans. The best estimate is that 800,000 were killed in a hundred days, which translates to 334 murders per hour, or about six murders per minute. Most of these were low-tech executions by machete. Tens of thousands of others were horribly maimed but did not die.
And why would a would-be Congressman from New Jersey travel across the globe in the Middle of his campaign to highlight the slaughter? Because Rwanda represents one of the lowest points in American foreign policy where the mightiest, richest nation on earth did not lift a pinky to rescue almost a million of the poorest people on earth.
As Phillip Gourevitch explains in his definitive account of the Rwandan genocide, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We will Be Killed with Our Families, President Clinton, still haunted by the murder of American soldiers in Somalia, chose to take no action in Rwanda. Worse, his administration obstructed the efforts of other nations to stop the slaughter.
On April 21, 1994, the Canadian UN commandeer in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire, declared that he required only 5000 troops to bring the genocide to a rapid halt. In addition, a single bombing run against the RTLM Hutu Power radio transmitting antenna would have made it impossible for the Hutus to coordinate their genocide. But on the very same day, the Security Council, with the Clinton administration’s blessing, ordered the UN force under Dallaire reduced by ninety percent to a skeleton staff of 270 troops who would powerlessly witness the slaughter to come. This in turn was influenced by Presidential Decision Directive 25, which “amounted to a checklist of reasons to avoid American involvement in UN peacekeeping missions,” even though Dallaire did not seek American troops and the mission was not peacekeeping but genocide prevention. Indeed, Madeleine Albright, the American Ambassador to the UN, opposed leaving even this tiny UN force. She also pressured other countries “to duck, as the death toll leapt from thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands… the absolute low point in her career as a stateswoman.”
In the end, eight African nations, fed up with American inaction, agreed to send in an intervention force to stop the slaughter provided that the U.S. would lend them fifty armored personal carriers. The Clinton administration decided it would lease rather than lend the armor for a price of $15 million. The carriers sat on a runway in Germany while the UN pleaded for a $5 million reduction as the genocidal inferno raged. The story only gets worse from there, with the Clinton State Department refusing to label the Rwanda horrors a genocide because of the 1948 Genocide Convention that would have obligated the United States to intervene.
All this could be dismissed as something that happened 18 years ago and does not much matter now. But as we’ve learned, history is always destined to repeat itself.
Every day innocent men, women, and children die in Syria with the world scarcely giving a damn. Russia has blocked every UN effort to merely censure Bashar Assad for the slaughter, yet the United States has not even removed its Ambassador from Moscow to protest this protection of a head of state butchering his people.
About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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