BOSTON - Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary had a bitter disagreement on whether the US should have intervened to stop the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, according to a newspaper report published on Tuesday this week.
Clinton made the revelation – thirteen years after Genocide and seven after leaving the White House – while campaigning for Hillary ahead of the Democrats 2008 US Presidential candidate primary elections.
The Boston Globe newspaper reported that while addressing an audience in Iowa State on the campaign trail, Clinton talked about things he had done wrong on healthcare and briefly discussed welfare reform.
He had been asked whether there were any issues they disagreed on.
According to the newspaper, in a more somber tone, Clinton explained that Hillary had wanted the US to intervene in Rwanda in 1994, when hundreds of thousands of people died in a genocide that lasted just three months.
“I believe if I had moved we might have saved at least a third of those lives. I think she clearly would have done that,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Clinton has often said that not acting in Rwanda was one of his biggest regrets. It’s a decision, he said, for which he continues to try to make amends. Had he listened to his wife, Clinton said, things might have been different.
He went on to explain how the US intervened in the former Yugoslavia and could only take on so much at once. But not acting in Rwanda, he said, was a mistake his wife wouldn’t make.
Documents declassified in 2004 indicate that Clinton’s administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by Genocide but silenced any discussion about the information to justify its inaction.
Senior officials privately apparently used the word Genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene. The daily secret CIA’s national intelligence briefs given to Clinton, the then vice-president, Al Gore, and hundreds of senior officials, included almost daily reports on Rwanda.
In a particular one, dated April 23, (1994) said rebels (in reference to then RPF) would continue fighting to “stop the genocide, which ... is spreading south”.
The mass killings started on April 7, a day after former president Juvenal Habyarimana had died in a plane crash – along with Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira and several senior officials from both sides.
Over the next 100 days, tens of thousands would be brutally massacred as the powers look on – as the media also kept a blackout on Rwanda.
However, the Clinton administration did not publicly use the word genocide until May 25, 1994 and even then downplayed its impact by saying “acts of genocide”.
In 1998, Clinton apologised for not acting quickly enough or immediately calling the crimes Genocide.
His foundation, the Clinton Foundation, has dedicated enormous efforts to supporting Rwanda over the HIV/Aids scourge – one of the outcomes of the Genocide – as hundreds of women were infected leaving HIV widows and orphans.