Sound of Silence

War between the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) raged from 1990 to 1993, which caused hatred and set the stage for the genocide. The RPF was a political organization of Rwandan refugees mainly consisting of Tutsis who invaded Rwanda on October 1st 1990 from neighboring Uganda. The RPF’s invasion was for the fight of democracy and human rights for Rwanda, as well as the rights for the refugees to return to their country. This caused a destabilization in Rwanda and angered the Hutu so much that they struck back to eliminate the Tutsi population. In 1992 the U.S. and France provided aid and tried to keep peace in Rwanda. The UN Security Council even provided a UN force, but when violence broke out in 1994 victims were deserted and abandoned.

The day President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane crashed, the French soldiers secured the airport and eventually evacuated on April 14th. This decision to end French involvement in 1994 was a political one even though France and Rwanda had previously signed an agreement in 1975. Even in 1992 when there were warnings that violence would escalate if international communities did nothing for the crimes in Rwanda, the countries did not do enough. The Belgian government withdrew troops reducing the strength from 2,165 to 1,515 troops.

After a couple of months it was too difficult for the Security Council to ignore what was going on because of the pressure they were getting from the public and outside organizations. U.S. news paid limited attention to the genocide for the first couple months, but when the violence turned into a crisis of refugees, they were more focused on the story. The killings were rooted in political ethnic tensions, so it would be complicated to prove which groups were guilty. The U.S. and many other countries knew of the killings going on but avoided using the word genocide so they would not have to interfere or act. The U.S. did not want to repeat what happened in Somalia where their troops became sucked into the fighting, so they decided to leave themselves out of Rwanda. This caused many western countries to be seen at fault for not speaking out more forcefully during this massacre.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9th 1948 gives responsibility to all other countries to prevent genocides from occurring. This convention was created in reaction to the Holocaust in an attempt to prevent any form of genocide from happening again, and can be used to hold governments responsible if they are bystanders of the genocide. The convention works through the United Nations, so the Security Council plays an important role in the prevention of genocides and actions taken against human rights. Since France is a permanent member of the Security Council and close ally of Rwanda, it had a responsibility to intervene. The UN Security Council has “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (Kroslak 2008, 11).

It was the RPF’s successful resistance that stopped the genocide – not the United Nations, France, the United States or any other country. When the RPF took control of the country, the Hutus were afraid of the revenge and many left the country, leaving a wake of confusion and destruction that has taken many years for Rwanda to overcome.

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