Monday, April 05, 2004

The April that would not end

After blogging about shameful consumerism, it feels shallow, almost disrespectful to address something on the opposite side of the spectrum: the shameful neglect of the genocide in Rwanda. The ten-year anniversary of that particular holocaust is upon us and it's probably a good time to ask how the world could so ignore the slaughter of thousands in just a matter of days? In case you want some statistics, that's 800,000 people in 100 days, 250,000 people in Kigali alone. This was a planned and determined extermination by the interim government in order to remove opposition. Rwanda is such a clear case of genocide, and still no one did anything, despite that in 1945, after the fall of Germany, so many said, "Never again."

You can talk about Iraqis needing saving all day long, but that's just changing the fundamental reason for a war we never needed. When you put something under the title of humanitarian, it becomes much more palatable and justifiable. We're in Iraq because Saddam was a bad bad leader and he killed lots of people and looky at us, we're liberating them. And yet when the government of Rwanda did the same thing -- in plain sight of the world -- no nation of the world felt particularly humanitarian enough to say, "Whoa, let's go do something about that." It makes you wonder how the political process determines who we will save, who we will help, and whom we will leave alone. We all agree that there is value in life, that we value all life, yet it becomes increasingly apparent that some lives are worth more than others, hence, more worthy of saving than others. It's how that calculation is made that disturbs me. If saving Iraqis from the brutal regime of Saddam is the main and only consideration (currently as there are no WMDs) of the war there, then surely the Clinton administration should have applied that same line of thinking to Rwanda.

An excerpt from HRW's Leave None to Tell Their Story:

U.N. troops, in Rwanda under the terms of the peace accords, tried for a few hours to keep the peace, then withdrew to their posts—as ordered by superiors in New York—leaving the local population at the mercy of assailants. Officers opposed to Bagosora realized that a continuing foreign presence was essential to restricting the killing campaign and appealed to representatives of France, Belgium and the U.S. not to desert Rwanda. But, suspecting the kind of horrors to come, the foreigners had already packed their bags. An experienced and well-equipped force of French, Belgian, and Italian troops rushed in to evacuate the foreigners, and then departed. U.S. Marines dispatched to the area stopped in neighboring Burundi once it was clear that U.S.citizens would be evacuated without their help. The first impression of international indifference to the fate of Rwandans was confirmed soon after, when the Belgians began arranging for the withdrawal of their troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force. Ten of these soldiers, a contingent different from those of the evacuation expedition, had been slain and, as the organizers of the violence had anticipated, the Belgian government did not want to risk any further casualities.

You can read more about what happened in Rwanda in April of 1994 here. There will be a moment of silence at noon tomorrow in rememberance of the Rwandan slaughter.

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