In 1968, Jon Gresley, an American, graduated from college and entered the US Peace Corps. “The year of 1968 has a particular significance to many of us living in the United States. It names a generation.”
He remembers the assassination of John F. Kennedy some few years earlier, and how in 1968 assassins took down Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy.
With nostalgia, Jon says he was part of “a generation that organized against the war in Vietnam and organized for civil rights.” Unforgettable still, he says, are the 1968 riots that broke out in America, and the Chicago Police “cracking heads of demonstrators” at the Democratic convention.
The world was in revolution and would replace the old order. He says, “Ours was to be a better world.”
But visiting the genocide sites in Rwanda tells Jon that his 1968 generation has not yet built that better world.
For Jon, the Holocaust in Europe belonged to the generation of his grandparents and the genocide in Cambodia belonged to the generation of his parents.
“The generation of 1968 includes many of the world leaders who were in key roles as heads of state or heads of key international organizations in the 1990s and who failed to intervene to prevent or stop the genocide in Rwanda. The Rwanda genocide belongs to the generation of 1968.”
Walking through the genocide sites, Jon felt a variety of feelings: anger, frustration, failure and horror.
“Anger that genocide can occur without being stopped by anyone, including the international community;” “Frustration that the US government and the United Nations seemed to underestimate or ignore what was happening;”
“Failure, as I feel I bear some part of responsibility as this occurred in my lifetime. It is different than looking back on something that happened before I was born or when I was too young to be aware and mount a protest;” and
“Horror, to imagine what occurred and what it was like for the victims who were killed so brutally, and for the victims who lived through the genocide but carry the worst memories.”
Survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda know this even better. There are no words adequate to address what happened to them. Like in other places where genocide has occurred, there were horrific events—at the extreme end of human experience.
Still unfathomable to me! No one should ever have had to suffer such a cataclysm and no one should ever again have to suffer such a tragedy.
Sadly, when horrible things, like genocide occur in regions of the globe that are of little strategic interest to the developed world, these events fall “under the radar” of news coverage and go largely unreported, or at best misreported as something other than what is really occurring.
Difficult to comprehend is how this could all have happened in a world dominated by 24/7 news coverage from all corners of the globe.
Between April and July, 1994, the international community was visibly present, in form of missions accredited to Rwanda. And, more important, the United Nations United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR).
But evidently inept! UNAMIR attained another meaning “Under No Actual Mandate Involving Relief.”
This was a feeble UN peace keeping force, holding no real power to enforce protection, standing idly by while international law supposedly constrained world leaders from responding to genocidal acts often thinly veiled by other names.
On April 20, 1994, the Special report of the UN Secretary General on UNAMIR was still talking about “a torrent of widespread killings, mainly in Kigali but also in other parts of the country.” Conveniently avoiding reality, the report wrongly described the government army as “unruly,” as if genocide were skirmishes.
The UN Security Council was told that negotiations were very important, and that “the most urgent of those tasks” was to secure a cease-fire “through contacts with representatives of the armed forces and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), in the hope that this would lead to political efforts to return to the peace process under the Arusha agreement.”
On May 13, 1994, the UN Secretariat’s report still described what was happening in Rwanda as “civil conflict”.
Our world has become far too interdependent for its leaders to hide behind semantics when atrocities such as genocide occur.
They opted to turn a blind eye as the extermination of the Tutsi continued under the guise of civil war.
World leaders should have acted, as a moral obligation and an ethical commitment to humanity.
Even when the world recognized there was genocide, Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi still spoke about a civil war that had been caused by multi-party politics.
On May 26, 1994 Moi asked the RPF and the government troops “to lay down arms and resolve their differences amicably for the good of all Rwandese people.”
One might naively assume that President Moi was too far away to know what was happening. But, not Burundian President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, who was right next door.
Speaking on Radio France Internationale, on June 14, 1994, Ntibantunganya suggested that “the two sides should return to the Arusha accords.” To negotiate, with genocidaires!
The Burundian president said his government was “very well acquainted with the different sides in the Rwandan crisis,” and thought it could “have contacts at a deep level, based on diplomacy.”
This is not surprising.
Burundi is the only country whose ambassador physically remained with the genocidaire government to the very end, in Gisenyi.
On June15, the Foreign Minister of France, Alain Juppe, justified the French mission to send troops to Rwanda to the rescue of genocidaires. “Either the cease-fire is respected, or else the massacres go on. If they go on, then we cannot continue to tolerate this situation....”
On the same day, the outgoing UN Special Representative to Rwanda, Jacques Roger Booh-Booh, became the first international diplomat to express the double genocide lie.
Booh-Booh said: “The reality is that the RPF (rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front) and the Rwandan government have prepared for war and not peace, and will have to bear their responsibility in history for the genocide they are inflicting on their own people.”
If the UN had been serious about preventing genocide they would have recognized that genocide was happening and sent troops to help the RPF oust the genocidaire regime.
Instead of acting, the UN did what it always does: debate, debate some more and then put out some watered down resolution that does nothing except make them feel better about doing something.
What the UN and world leaders lack is the political will to step out of the mire of loquacious debate over terminology and instead move forward with efficient and strategic responses to the genocidal humanitarian crises.
In 1994 the world failed to do anything to stop genocide.
The United Nations Genocide Convention had been in place since 1948, and yet this genocide occurred without a response from the world community, despite many early and late warnings.
Knowing Rwanda puts the UN Genocide Convention in a new light for Jon Gresley. He knows that a new resolve and commitment to “Never Again” is required.
World leaders must be prepared to take early and decisive action to prevent genocide in the future.
Many people, especially survivors of any genocide live with Gresley’s understanding of the need for prevention.
If the international community is to prevent genocide, a strategy is needed to fight the root causes of hatred, isolation, and political and social backlash.
These include institutionalized inequality, political disempowerment, racial discrimination, racism, and genocide denial.
These causative agents still exist in the world, and unless corrected through some intervention, will lead to other genocides somewhere, sometime.
Genocide does not just happen. It is the process of dehumanizing that makes this crime possible. There are many warning signs.
The Tutsi in Rwanda lived through this before April 1994. In December 1990, the Hutu extremists’ journal Kangura had published the “Hutu Ten Commandments.”
These were guidelines to deprive the Tutsi of the little space that remained to them. The 8th commandment was “Stop Having Mercy on the Tutsi.”
Somewhere, sometime—we need a meaningful commitment of resources from the international community to intercede to prevent or stop genocide when it begins.
It obviously does no good to say we are committed to stopping genocide if we then become unwilling to ever use the word again, to describe events that would otherwise draw our response.
We must find a way to respond. Our response cannot be to close our eyes, ears and hearts and pretend that genocide never existed. The denial is too costly in human lives.
When one is in the Genocide Memorial, at Gisozi, one feels loss. There are beautiful photos, of the lost children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. They are lost, but not forgotten. You are with the lost souls and many lost opportunities.