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FRONTLINE

#1710

"The Triumph of Evil"

Air Date: January 26, 1999

Produced by Mike Robinson, Ben Loeterman

Steve Bradshaw, Reporter

Written by Steve Bradshaw, Ben Loeterman

NARRATOR: In March 1998, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was consuming his presidency, Bill Clinton escaped to Africa, to make his long-planned tour of the continent. He had come to offer hope, to strengthen America's commitment to Africa, and on this afternoon in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, he had come to apologize.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: I have come today to pay the respects of my nation to all who suffered and all who perished in the Rwandan genocide.

NARRATOR: The genocide five years ago in Rwanda was meticulously planned and brutally executed, the methodical slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and their sympathizers.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, "The New Yorker": There have been cases of mass political murder, but never a country and a society so completely and totally convulsed by an effort at pure, unambiguous genocide since the end of World War II, and the world left the Rwandans to it.

NARRATOR: The killing lasted 100 days, sometimes over 10,000 killed each day. All the while America - and the world - did almost nothing to stop it.

JAMES WOODS, Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense, 1986-94: People didn't want to really grasp and admit that they knew and understood what was happening because they didn't want to bear the consequences then of dealing with it. They did not want an intervention.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.

NARRATOR: The story behind President Clinton's dramatic apology for the world's failure in Rwanda is a story about the triumph of evil, which the philosopher Edmund Burke observed happens when good men do nothing.

MICHAEL BARNETT, U.S. Mission to the U.N., 1994: What really haunts me was that I and others could have been so cavalier, so complacent.

INTERVIEWER: Do you believe that you were a bystander to genocide?

MICHAEL BARNETT: Yeah. We all were.

NARRATOR: In April, 1993, during the first months of his new administration, President Clinton officially dedicated the new Holocaust Museum in Washington.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: To preserve this shared history of anguish, to keep it vivid and real so that evil can be combated and contained, we are here to consecrate this memorial and to contemplate its meaning for us.

The evil represented in this museum is incontestable, but as we are its witness, so must we remain its adversary in the world in which we live.

NARRATOR: The discovery of the Nazi death camps 50 years earlier had shocked the world into bold new promises, a universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations genocide convention that pledged the world would never again tolerate attempts to exterminate whole groups of people.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: Our task, with God's blessing upon our souls and the memories of the fallen in our hearts and minds, is to the ceaseless struggle to preserve human rights and dignity. I pray that we shall prevail.

NARRATOR: As the President added his voice to the ritual chorus of "never again," his new administration was formulating its foreign policy and making hard-nosed decisions about where America's interests really lay.

JAMES WOODS, Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense, 1986-94: In the Spring of '93, when the Clinton administration came in, we were asked to develop lists of what we thought would be serious crises this administration might face and forward that to the new secretary of defense, Mr. Aspin. I put Rwanda-Burundi on the list.

I won't go into personalities, but I received guidance from higher authorities, "Look, if something happens in Rwanda-Burundi, we don't care. Take it off the list. It's not- U.S. national interest is not involved and," you know, "we can't put all these silly humanitarian issues on lists like important problems like the Middle East and North Korea and so on."

NARRATOR: In 1993, Rwanda, one of Africa's smallest countries with just seven million citizens, was a deeply troubled country with a deeply troubled past. Decades earlier, under colonial rule, the Belgians had used the Tutsis, Rwanda's aristocracy, to enforce their rule over the Hutu majority, who were mostly poor farmers.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, "The New Yorker": The Belgians created an idea whereby the Tutsi were a master race, the Hutu an inferior race. And ethnic identity cards were issued. Much like in South Africa, an apartheid-like system was imposed. All privileges went to the Tutsi minority, and the Hutu majority was almost in bondage.

At independence in the late '50s and early '60s, this system was reversed. The majority Hutu rebelled, seized power, in the name of majority rule imposed an apartheid-like system in reverse and oppressed the Tutsi bitterly.

NARRATOR: Faced with discrimination and increasing Hutu violence, most Tutsis fled to neighboring countries, where they formed a guerrilla army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

In 1990, the rebel Tutsis invaded Rwanda and forced peace talks with Juvenal Habyarimana, the Hutu president. Anxious to stay in power himself, Habyarimana signed a peace treaty agreeing to share power with the Tutsis.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH: To the Hutu extremists who formed the entourage around the Hutu dictatorship, President Habyarimana, it was the threat of peace that was even greater than the threat of war because it amounted to a defeat. It meant that they couldn't have a total victory. They faced suddenly the threat of sharing power, which was the one thing on earth that they couldn't stand sharing.

NARRATOR: Late in 1993, the United Nations dispatched its Assistance Mission for Rwanda - or UNAMIR - to help keep the fragile new peace between the Hutu government and the Tutsi rebels. The U.N. force was small, about 2,500 soldiers from several countries, including Belgium and Ghana. In the beginning they had believed this would be a routine peacekeeping mission.

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO, Deputy Commander, UNAMIR: From all the indications, because I had served on some other U.N. missions before, but at first the level of 2,548 indicated clearly that it was going to be an easy mission, or it was anticipated to be an easy mission.

NARRATOR: But the U.N. troops would have to contend with Hutu extremists and their militias - the Interhamwe - literally "those who attack together." They claimed their mission was simply to defend Rwanda from the Tutsi guerrillas. But in January, 1994, the man training them came forward with a very different story.

Col. LUC MARCHAL, UNAMIR: Yes, he was a real political leader for the militia, and he wants to give us, I mean to UNAMIR, some information. I met him in my own headquarters. It was at night. There was no electricity.

NARRATOR: In that secret meeting, the Hutu informant revealed that the militia's real mission was the extermination of the Tutsis.

Col. LUC MARCHAL: So the directive was very simple. Just kill a maximum of people.

INTERVIEWER: "People" meaning civilians?

Col. LUC MARCHAL: Yes, of course, civilians. Tutsis, of course.

NARRATOR: Later that night, the UNAMIR commanders sent an urgent message to the peacekeeping mission at the United Nations in New York. Their coded cable explained the Hutu informant's warning in horrifying detail.

CABLE: "He has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali. He suspects it's for their extermination. Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1,000 Tutsis." [www.pbs.org: Read the full cable]

IQBAL RIZA, Chief of Staff to U.N. Secretary General: It alarmed us. It alarmed us that people are being targeted, that this particular person is training people. It was alarming.

NARRATOR: The U.N. commanders in Rwanda wanted to act fast to foil the Interhamwe. In the cable to New York, UNAMIR said it planned to seize some of the militias weapons.

INTERVIEWER: When you read that the force commander wanted to go on an arms raid, how did you react?

IQBAL RIZA: We said, "Not Somalia again."

NARRATOR: This was the U.N.'s nightmare, pictures of 18 American Rangers killed in Somalia on primetime T.V. They had died after a raid like the one UNAMIR was now proposing in Rwanda. The U.N. had taken the blame and wasn't going to risk another bloody African adventure.

So late the same night, the U.N.'s bureaucrats in New York warned UNAMIR its plan to seize weapons was not what U.N. peacekeepers should be doing. The cable was sent under the name of Kofi Annan, then head of U.N. peacekeeping and now secretary general. It was signed by his colleague, Iqbal Riza, now his chief of staff. It told UNAMIR to avoid actions that might lead to the use of force and unanticipated repercussions. It said, "We cannot agree to the operation."

Col. LUC MARCHAL, UNAMIR: We knew that a lot of weapons were hidden in caches. And we were not authorized, I should say, to do our job, and that was a real frustration.

IQBAL RIZA: We did not give that information the importance and the correct interpretation that it deserved. We realized that only in hindsight. I'm not denying that.

INTERVIEWER: It was a mistake?

IQBAL RIZA: Oh, certainly. We- we-

INTERVIEWER: Was it a mistake that cost lives, do you believe?

IQBAL RIZA: Eventually, yes, three months later.

NARRATOR: Three months later, April 6, 1994. It had been a year since President Clinton dedicated the Holocaust Museum. At the Capitol, Vice President Al Gore was speaking about its continuing meaning for Americans.

Vice Pres. AL GORE: The Holocaust is not an event to be remembered just by those who survived, or just by Jews or just by gypsies. Its memorial should continue to be part of the American experience for everyone. And there is no better place for it than Washington, to remind those who make the agonizing decisions of foreign policy of the consequences of those decisions.

NARRATOR: Later that night in Africa, President Habyarimana of Rwanda was flying back to Kigali with the President of Burundi after more peace talks with the Tutsis. It was to be their last flight.

PETER JENNINGS, ABC News: ["World News Now"] In Africa today, a plane carrying the presidents of two African countries has apparently been shot down as it was coming in for a landing in the capital of Rwanda. U.N. officials say both presidents were killed.

NARRATOR: The President's plane had been shot down by missiles. Nobody knows who fired them.

In the power vacuum that followed, the Hutu extremists seized their chance. The plan the informant had warned about three months earlier now began to unfold. The militias set up roadblocks and began to look for Tutsis- men, women and children.

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO, Deputy Commander, UNAMIR: I couldn't believe it. You met men and women together at the roadblocks holding the cutlasses, or machetes as, they call them, and all of them sort of, like- they were singing war songs. And what were they looking for? Human beings to hack to death.

NARRATOR: National radio acted as a cheerleader for the slaughter. The Tutsis, it said, must become nothing but a memory.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, "The New Yorker": Following the president's death, it became almost "genocide central." It was through there that people were instructed at times, "Go out there and kill. You must do your work. People are needed over in this commune."

Sometimes they actually had disc jockeys who would direct- they would say, "So-and-So has just fled. He is said to be moving down such-and-such a street." And they would literally hunt an individual who was targeted, in the streets, and people would listen to this on the radio. It was apparently quite dramatic.

NARRATOR: Within 24 hours the U.N.'s camps had begun to shelter terrified civilians. Some fled to a school called Don Bosco, where the largest Belgian contingent was digging in. They were ordinary families running from their neighbors. The commanding officer, Captain Lemaire, had no doubts about the danger they were facing.

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE, UNAMIR: From the first hours, I knew there was a risk. We've heard a lot of explosion in the direct neighborhoods and we realized immediately that they were murdering people all around Don Bosco.

NARRATOR: Everyone who fled to the school had a tale of horror.

FLORIDA NGULINZIRA: [through interpreter] We even saw children, very small children, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds arriving at the school saying, "Mummy and Daddy have been killed. They've been killed with machetes."

NARRATOR: Some killers even infiltrated the camp, but were captured by the Belgians. Outside Don Bosco, the U.N. troops could only watch as cavalcades of killers armed with machetes, guns and grenades cruised by triumphantly.

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: They used to massacre people in one part of the commune, and afterwards they went away to find other people to massacre.

NARRATOR: But UNAMIR wasn't just protecting civilians from the killers, it was also guarding the moderate politicians who stood in their way. In secret cables, UNAMIR intelligence officers had warned the moderates, too, were in danger. This memo detailed a murder plot against a leading politician called Lando.

But when the killers came for Lando, his outnumbered U.N. guards stood aside. Trapped in his house with his family, he made a series of increasingly desperate phone calls.

NAUSICAA HABIMANA, Lando's Niece: [through interpreter] He told my mother that this was the end, that he was going to die, and he said good-bye. And when my mother put the phone down, she told us that Lando was going to die. That was all she said.

NARRATOR: Lando and his Canadian wife made one last call to U.N. headquarters, pleading with the local commander to send more troops.

Col. LUC MARCHAL, UNAMIR: He was like his wife, he was desperate. At a certain moment, I heard explosions of hand grenades, shooting of arms, and Mr. Lando said, "It's too late," and it was the last word of Mr. Lando.

NARRATOR: The bodies of Lando, his wife and four other members of their family were found in the ruins of their house. In the first few days, at least another 18 moderate leaders were murdered. Lando's Ghanaian body guards disappeared for a day, but finally turned up unharmed.

INTERVIEWER: Your men were there to protect Mr. Lando-

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: -and his family. Do you think you let him down?

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO: In a sense, Mr. Lando, if he were to be alive, or any of his relations, will feel that the U.N. let him down. But I think the force that we put there did what was expected of them.

NARRATOR: Not only did the U.N. fail to protect the politicians, some of its troops were unable to protect themselves. Ten Belgian soldiers were tricked into giving up their weapons only to be attacked by an angry mob. The soldiers were tortured and horribly mutilated before they were killed. It was all part of a strategy.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, "The New Yorker": The Rwandans who were planning a genocide, the Hutu extremists around the president, they said, "Look, if we kill some of them, they'll go away." That was in the fax that was sent to U.N. headquarters. It was predicted that they were planning to kill some Belgians. And sure enough, on the morning after the president's assassination, they killed these blue helmets.

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: My men were horrified because they thought it should have been an easy mission and they suddenly discovered it was a nightmare.

INTERVIEWER: And was your reaction immediately to think, "We must get out of Rwanda"?

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: Certainly not, because as soldiers we have to be ready to die at any moment.

NARRATOR: But in Belgium, the shocked government was planning to pull all its troops out of Rwanda. In a secret attempt to save face, its foreign ministry lobbied countries on the Security Council, asking them to vote to withdraw the whole U.N. force.

KAREL KOVANDA, Czech U.N. Ambassador, 1994: I recall getting a phone call from a colleague of mine in Prague, who got a call from the Belgium foreign minister lobbying him, or lobbying the Czech Republic through him, that we should act to pull UNAMIR out of Rwanda.

INTERVIEWER: So they were even phoning up civil servants in foreign capitals-

KAREL KOVANDA: Well, they were-

INTERVIEWER: -saying, "Let's all get out."

KAREL KOVANDA: They were- well, my sense is that they were phoning the ranking officer of every foreign service- of every foreign ministry of the 15 countries.

INTERVIEWER: Is this normal?

KAREL KOVANDA: Oh, I would say that it's highly unusual. I have never heard anything of the sort before.

NARRATOR: In Washington American officials were only too ready to listen to Belgian pleas to close UNAMIR down. After Somalia, the military was suspicious of all U.N. peacekeeping operations, and the death of the Belgians seemed to make the dangers even more obvious.

JAMES WOODS, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Dept. of Defense, 1986-94: Under the U.N., you get your throat cut. You get mutilated. You can't defend yourself. You're put in harm's way with no way of defending yourself. And this is another reason why you wouldn't want to get identified with a U.N. operation. It's just a horrible example of a U.N. operation.

NARRATOR: In New York, at the American mission to the U.N., headed by Ambassador Madeline Albright, the reaction was much the same.

INTERVIEWER: What were your instructions, or what was the attitude of your superiors at the U.S. U.N. Mission?

MICHAEL BARNETT, U.S. Mission to the U.N., 1994: The general attitude was that "We now have to close down the operation."

INTERVIEWER: Close it down?

MICHAEL BARNETT: Close it down.

INTERVIEWER: Close it down, even though that's what the Hutu extremists, the killers, had wanted you to do?

MICHAEL BARNETT: In retrospect, it's clear that that's in fact what they intended to happen. But if peacekeepers are in jeopardy and you don't have the capacity to protect them, then the Security Council must do the responsible thing, which is to withdraw the peacekeepers from harm's way.

NARRATOR: At the school of Don Bosco, the peacekeepers were still saving lives. A thousand refugees had now taken shelter here. The niece of the murdered politician, Lando, had been sent by her parents, who believed here, surely, there were enough U.N. soldiers to protect her.

NAUSICAA HABIMANA: [through interpreter] We didn't feel in danger at all because we could see that the blue berets were with us. We weren't worried at all. We felt really safe and secure.

INTERVIEWER: They thought they'd be safe with the United Nations.

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: Yes, they should be protected by the United Nations groups.

INTERVIEWER: So they came there to find safety?

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: Certainly. Yes.

NARRATOR: FRONTLINE has learned that the U.N.'s men on the ground did signal the plight of Tutsi civilians to the secretariat in New York. As early as the second day of the killings, a secret cable warned that ordinary people were being targeted simply because of their ethnic origin.

CABLE: "All UNAMIR camps have sheltered civilians terrified by the ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing and terror."

NARRATOR: But in New York, once more a crucial warning went unheeded. rather than telling the security council the violence was ethnic cleansing, the secretariat described it as a breakdown in the ceasefire, much easier to dismiss as an internal matter for Rwanda.

INTERVIEWER: Surely it wasn't very difficult to realize that this could be the start of an unfolding genocide?

IQBAL RIZA, Chief of Staff to U.N. Secretary General: No, not- well, it may not have been very difficult, and maybe we made a second mistake, but certainly, in the first few days neither the people on the ground, except for that one sentence, or we here, knew that this was a planned genocide.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, Author, "We Wish to Inform You...": It's extraordinary, at the least, that those who were charged with maintaining the Rwanda mission at the U.N. can now plead that they didn't recognize what was going on. It was murky, but this was not a top secret program. The signs were on the surface. They were on the radio. They were in the newspapers. You could buy them at any street corner. You could hear them at any rally. You didn't have to go looking.

NARRATOR: By the 11th of April, four days after the genocide began, the Red Cross was estimating that tens of thousands had already been killed in Rwanda.

At Don Bosco the killers continued to flaunt themselves in front of their prey. By April 11th, 2,000 civilians had taken refuge in the school. But with the Belgian campaign to get UNAMIR out of Rwanda close to success, everyone realized the troops might leave, and the refugees now made a remarkable request of Captain Lemaire.

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: They were afraid to be murdered by the machetes. When they heard we could leave in the following days they say, "Please don't do that. If you have to leave, please, we ask you to be shot down by your machine gun." They would rather be shot down by our machine gun than being murdered by machetes.

INTERVIEWER: Sooner a United Nations bullet than a machete?

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: That's it.

That afternoon the Belgian soldiers left Don Bosco. Their commanders had ordered them to withdraw to the airport. When the refugees realized they were being abandoned, they began to crowd around the last of the departing U.N. vehicles.

FLORIDA NGULINZIRA: [through interpreter] All of the refugees were running in front of the trucks in order to stop them leaving. And I remember hanging on to a UNAMIR truck and asking the soldier, "Are you really abandoning us? We'll all be killed. Why are you leaving?"

Lt. JEAN-NOEL LECOMTE, UNAMIR: I was obliged to fire in the air to open the path to the last vehicles because there were all these people around there, all over the vehicle.

INTERVIEWER: So you were firing into the air to clear a path-

Lt. JEAN-NOEL LECOMTE: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: -through the refugees. Was that the first time you'd fired your weapon in Rwanda?

Lt. JEAN-NOEL LECOMTE: Yes, for the first time.

NAUSICAA HABIMANA: [through interpreter] After we heard those shots in the air, we were frightened because it was as if it were a signal to show the Interhamwe that they had gone, so that they could come in and kill everyone.

INTERVIEWER: So what can you say to the parents of a young girl who put her under the protection of the United Nations only for you to abandon her?

Capt. LUC LEMAIRE: I cannot say anything because it was so, and we had no choice.

NARRATOR: As the Belgian soldiers drove away, the killers moved in. The fate of the refugees would not be known for several days.

In the first days of the genocide, the Clinton administration was focused not on the Tutsis, but on what was happening to the 255 Americans in Rwanda.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: It is a very tense situation, and I just want to assure the families of those who are there that we are doing everything we possibly can to be on top of the situation, to take all appropriate steps to try to assure the safety of our citizens there.

NARRATOR: In the first days of the killing, France, Belgium and Italy all sent troops to Rwanda, but they were under national rather than U.N. command. They'd been sent not to stop the killing, but to rescue their own citizens, like the white staff at Kigali's psychiatric hospital. But the hospital had become a makeshift refuge where Tutsis were hiding from the killers in the surrounding fields.

KATELIJNE HERMANS, Belgian Television: At a certain moment, they were shouting. We heard people crying. And I still remember now. I turned my head, and I saw tens, hundreds of people coming. They came just to ask for help. And then when they came nearer, they put themselves on their knees. They put their hands in the air. They knew there was shooting around. They told us, "There are military guys here around, and yet they are against us. They are there to kill us. So please take us away. Take us with you."

One woman started to speak and started to explain why they were afraid and what was happening to them. And she started begging us to take her and the others with us. She was speaking to me, a woman to a woman, saying, "I am afraid there are- those men, I am afraid that they will rape me."

It was very hard to say "I cannot help you." I was not talking to hundreds of people, I was talking to one woman, and that's very hard to say. But it's like that. I couldn't do anything. But they were as afraid as the white people over there. And they just said, "We will be killed. Please take us with you. Bring us to another place, but don't leave us here."

So we left. For the white people it's over, but we knew the hundreds that stayed, and we heard the shooting the moment we left. So it was clear for me that hell starts for them.

NARRATOR: Back at the airport, French soldiers were escorting their citizens to safety, along with French diplomats and the embassy dog. They did not evacuate the embassy's Tutsi staff who, were later murdered. The Americans, too, were airlifted out. [www.pbs.org: More about French actions in Rwanda]

The new Western troops were only on the ground for a few days. UNAMIR commanders say that if their governments had ordered them to stay, the massacres could have been stopped.

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO, Deputy Commander, UNAMIR: Had they been deployed, we had enough troops.

INTERVIEWER: So there was a moment? There was a moment when there were troops on the ground?

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO: There was a moment. We just missed it. It was a fleeting opportunity, and we just missed it.

INTERVIEWER: Why was it missed?

Brig. HENRY ANYIDOHO: Because there was no political will?

KATELIJNE HERMANS: The only mandate was "Evacuate white people." It could have been another mandate.

INTERVIEWER: Could have been different?

KATELIJNE HERMANS: It could have been different. But somebody has to decide that it will be different, and nobody took the decision.

NARRATOR: At the psychiatric hospital, the killers had moved in after the Belgian soldiers left. Almost all of these people were murdered.

Belgium mourned its dead soldiers. Confident other countries would soon follow its lead, the government now took the fateful decision to withdraw its troops from Rwanda. The officer who'd first reported the informant's warning of genocide three months earlier was told to lead the retreat.

Col. LUC MARCHAL: I was ashamed to execute that kind of decision. You don't react as a military, but you react just as a normal human being. And when you know that kind of action will just have a consequence, the losses of thousands and thousands of lives, it's not easy to- to live with that.

NARRATOR: By April 21, two weeks after the killing began, the Red Cross estimate was that tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands were now dead. In N.Y., with the scale of the killing becoming public, the U.N. Security Council arrived to decide the future of its mission in Rwanda. It was an historic chance to fulfill its promise "Never again."

By a bizarre coincidence, one of the rotating delegations whose turn it was to sit on the council and decide UNAMIR's future represented the killers.

CHAIRMAN: I now give the floor to the representative of Rwanda.

NARRATOR: But on this day, everybody was too polite to interrupt the public rituals and call the ambassador from Rwanda to account.

MICHAEL BARNETT, U.S. MISSION TO THE U.N., 1994: Nobody said, "Stop it." Nobody said, "Your presence here disgusts me." Nobody said, "Why don't you just get out of the room?" There was never a real moment in which they dressed him down because if you did, you would be breaking the rules of the club.

CHAIRMAN: I thank the representative of Rwanda.

NARRATOR: The Security Council voted unanimously to withdraw most of its troops from Rwanda. They decided to leave a token force of just over 200 men, who had no chance of stopping the massacre.

MICHAEL BARNETT: People in the Security Council should have been ashamed. There should have been remorse. There should have been contrition. There should have been some degree of, you know, internal contestation. But there was none of that. And I began to sort of really wonder what was it about myself, what was it about the process that could allow lots of really smart, good, responsible people to come to such decisions.

NARRATOR: Two days after the Security Council's vote came the news of what had happened to the Tutsis the U.N. troops had already abandoned at Don Bosco.

The tiny force left behind in Rwanda spent much of its time pinned down by the crossfire between the Hutus and the encroaching Tutsi rebels. The Tutsis had invaded after the genocide began.

NAUSICAA HABIMANA: [through interpreter] I heard on the radio that UNAMIR had left Rwanda, and for me they were utter swines because they began by giving us shelter, and then they left us in the hands of killers who did us much harm and who killed our families.

NARRATOR: Now that it was clear the world was giving the killers a free hand, they went to work across the whole country, from big towns to tiny hilltop villages. In Nyarubuye, several hundred Tutsis had fled to the Catholic church. But in Rwanda there were no more sanctuaries.

VALENTINA IRIBAGIZA: [through interpreter] We were pretending to be dead. They took stones and smashed the heads of the bodies. They took little children and smashed their heads together. When they found someone breathing, they pulled them out and finished them off. They killed my family. I saw them kill my papa and my brother, but I didn't see what happened to my mother. [www.pbs.org: Read more about Nyarubuye]

KAREL KOVANDA, Czech Ambassador to U.N., 1994: When you come from Central Europe, one has a sense of what holocausts are about. You recognize one when you see one.

INTERVIEWER: In your case because?

KAREL KOVANDA: A lot of my father's family perished in the Holocaust.

INTERVIEWER: And did you feel here it was happening again, or is that-

KAREL KOVANDA: Oh, yes. Very definitely. Yes, here it was happening again.

NARRATOR: But when the Security Council met privately to discuss Rwanda in this small consultation room, it was made clear that calling the killing genocide was just not in the interests of the U.N.

MICHAEL BARNETT: By mid to late April, people in the Security Council knew it was genocide, but refused to call it as such because, ultimately, one understood that if you used the term "genocide," then you might be forced to act. And when someone suggested that maybe they should call a genocide a genocide, they were quietly reminded that perhaps they should not use such language.

 

KAREL KOVANDA: I know that I personally had an important conversation with one of my superiors in Prague who at American behest suggested that they lay off.

INTERVIEWER: Lay off calling it genocide?

KAREL KOVANDA: Yeah. Lay off pushing Rwanda, in general, and calling it genocide specifically.

INTERVIEWER: So the Americans had actually talked to your government back in Prague and said, "Don't let's call it genocide."

KAREL KOVANDA: In Prague or in Washington, but they were talking to my superiors, yes.

NARRATOR: In fact, FRONTLINE has learned that a secret intelligence report by the State Department had called the killings genocide as early as the end of April. But publicly the government was still hedging and finding it difficult to defend its position that the slaughter was not a genocide.

REPORTER: [April 28, 1994] Does the State Department have a view as to whether or not what is happening could be genocide?

CHRISTINE SHELLY, State Department Spokeswoman: Well, as I think you know, the use of the term "genocide" has a very precise legal meaning, although it's not strictly a legal determination. There are other factors in there, as well. When- in looking at a situation to make a determination about that, before we begin to use that term, we have to know as much as possible about the facts of the situation and-

ALAN ELSNER, Reuters: The answers they were giving were really non-answers. They would talk in incredibly bureaucratic language. In a sense, it was almost like a caricature. If you look at it now, it looks utterly ridiculous. These were all kind of artful ways of doing nothing, which is what they were determined to do.

CHRISTINE SHELLY: This is a more complicated issue to address, and we're certainly looking into this extremely carefully right now. But I'm not able to look at all of those criteria at this moment and-

NARRATOR: By May the White House was organizing confidential daily conferences on Rwanda with officials across Washington by secure video link. In this secret world, one reason for not calling the killing genocide became disturbingly clear.

TONY MARLEY, State Department Military Adviser, 1992-95: One official even asked a question as to what possible outcome there might be on the congressional elections later that year were the administration to acknowledge that this was genocide taking place in Rwanda and be seen to do nothing about it. The concern obviously was whether it would result in a loss of votes for the party in the November elections.

INTERVIEWER: What was your reaction?

TONY MARLEY: I was stunned because I didn't see what bearing that had on whether or not genocide was, in fact, taking place in Rwanda. Partisan political vote-gathering in the U.S. had no bearing on the objective reality in Rwanda.

NARRATOR: The objective reality of what was happening in Rwanda couldn't be kept quiet forever. Rwanda's dead had begun to float downstream into the outside world. The country was literally overflowing with corpses.

In his inter-agency meetings, Tony Marley argued "Let's at least send a few thousand dollars worth of rubber rafts and boat hooks to fish the bodies out of the water."

TONY MARLEY: If we weren't going to stop the killing inside Rwanda, we could at least minimize the disease risk to those citizens of the neighboring countries that were now endangered potentially by disease, that had no involvement in the Rwandan conflict one way or the other.

INTERVIEWER: How did the military react to your idea?

TONY MARLEY: It was not acted upon. Again, there was great reluctance on the part of many defense officials to have any U.S. involvement.

RADIO BROADCAST: [subtitles] All Tutsis will perish. They will disappear from the earth.

NARRATOR: Marley also proposed the Pentagon begin jamming the Rwandan state radio that was promoting the killing.

INTERVIEWER: How did that go down?

TONY MARLEY: It was not favorably reacted upon. In fact, one lawyer from the Pentagon made the argument that that would be contrary to the US constitutional protection of freedom of the press, freedom of speech.

INTERVIEWER: So the lawyers were saying that closing down the hate radio would have been censorship?

TONY MARLEY: Correct. As I understand their position, yes.

NARRATOR: By mid-May, an estimated 500,000 had been murdered in Rwanda now numbered 500,000. It seemed there would be no end to the killing, nor to the endless Security Council debates in New York.

INTERVIEWER: Did you feel that lives were at stake in that room?

KAREL KOVANDA, Czech U.N. Ambassador, 1994: Oh, heaven- heaven knows, yes. Yes. There were lives at stake, lives which were just like sand disappearing through our hands day after day. You've got 10,000 today, 12,00 tomorrow, and if you don't do something today, then tomorrow there will be more. If you don't do something this week, then next week there will be more with, no end in sight at the time. No end in sight.

NARRATOR: But it still wasn't too late. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had somehow survived. Eight thousand had taken refuge at the Catholic seminary of Kabgui. But such havens were becoming little more than concentration camps. The victims made desperate pleas to an indifferent world.

REFUGEE: ["BBC Newsnight," May 16th, 1994] [through interpreter] They're attacking us. It's unbelievable. They come in here and take the old and the young out of the camp and kill them using knives and machetes. It defies imagination, and there's nothing we can do.

NARRATOR: Then suddenly, the U.N. seemed to have a change of heart.

UNITED STATES U.N. OFFICIAL: [Security Council meeting, May 17th, 1994] Mr. President, the cries of the victims in Rwanda have been heard calling upon the Security Council to act. The sheer magnitude of the humanitarian disaster in that tragic country demands action.

NARRATOR: Now saying it was deeply affected by the tragedy, the Security Council voted to increase its force in Rwanda to over 5,000 men with a clear mandate to protect civilians.

Sir DAVID HANNAY, British Ambassador to U.N.: The priority now must be to ensure the early deployment of the troops needed for these tasks.

NARRATOR: But the Security Council did not set a timetable for deploying the new troops, and some insiders believed it was all a sham.

INTERVIEWER: When the Security Council voted for a stronger UNAMIR, what did you think was actually going to happen?

MICHAEL BARNETT, U.S. Mission to the U.N., 1994: Nothing was going to happen. Nothing was. And that's what happened.

INTERVIEWER: Nothing.

MICHAEL BARNETT: Nothing.

INTERVIEWER: Because?

MICHAEL BARNETT: Because this was a document that looked great on paper, but didn't have really much of a chance of ever being implemented.

INTERVIEWER: Because?

MICHAEL BARNETT: Because fundamentally, member states weren't going to provide the resources to carry out that plan.

NARRATOR: If a new UNAMIR mission were to save lives, it would need more armored personnel carriers, or APCs. The U.N. had only five in Rwanda, not nearly enough to get troops around the country safely. The White House promised to lease UNAMIR 50 more, but the U.S. military, which had the job of delivering them, was still afraid of being dragged into a conflict it could not control and seemed to seize any opportunity for delay.

JAMES WOODS, Deputy Asst, Secretary of Defense, 1986-94: It became almost a joke as to the length of time and the, you know, ever-emerging details of things that had to be decided in order to get the bloody APCs on their way. And they got all bogged down into issues of the exact terms of a lease, what color, who would paint them where, what color, what kind of stenciling would go on and all of the other little details.

INTERVIEWER: I mean were people aware that while this was going on, people were dying?

JAMES WOODS: Oh, sure. Of course.

INTERVIEWER: And?

JAMES WOODS: And- well, where were the Belgians? I don't see the British Gurkha battalions, either. Where was everybody? Everybody was hiding. [www.pbs.org: Read the full interview]

NARRATOR: The Americans finally delivered the APCs, but only to neighboring Uganda, where they stayed until the killing was over. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration was still playing word games.

CHRISTINE SHELLY, State Department Spokeswoman: [June 10, 1994] We have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.

REPORTER: How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?

CHRISTINE SHELLY: That's just not a question that I'm in a position to answer.

REPORTER: Is it true that you have specific guidance not to use the word "genocide" in isolation, but always preface it with these words "acts of"?

CHRISTINE SHELLY: I have guidance which- which- to which I- which I try to use as best as I can. I'm not- I have- there are formulations that we are using that we are trying to be consistent in our use of. I don't have an absolute categorical prescription against something, but I have the definitions. I have a phraseology which has been carefully examined and arrived at to-

NARRATOR: In mid-July, the Tutsi-led guerrillas finally won the war. The killers were defeated. The Hutu genocide was over. With their hoes and machetes, the extremists had killed three times faster than the Nazis. An estimated 800,000 people had been murdered in 100 days.

Four years later, President Clinton made his pilgrimage of contrition to Rwanda.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: I have come today to pay the respects of my nation to all who suffered and all who perished in the Rwandan genocide. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed-

NARRATOR: In his speech, the president would use the word "genocide" 11 times.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name, genocide.

MICHAEL BARNETT: It was meaningless. It was hollow. It was unclear to me what he was apologizing for and for whom he was apologizing. He didn't say "I take personal responsibility for the failure of the United States, the international community to do something to stop genocide." He made, as I recall, some kind of vague reference to the failure of the international community to act and to help the Rwandans in their hour of need.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices day after day after day who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.

JAMES WOODS, Deputy Asst, Secretary of Defense, 1986-94: Well, I would say that responsibility starts at the top. And I know the president went to Rwanda and apologized and said he didn't really understand because he wasn't properly informed. This is not true. They were informed. They were adequately informed.

NARRATOR: Before his speech to government officials, President Clinton had a private audience with a few survivors of the genocide and listened silently to their horrifying stories. Afterward he presented the president of Rwanda with a plaque honoring the victims of genocide. President Clinton would spend just three and a half hours in Kigali. He never left the airport, and the engines of Air Force One never shut down.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, "The New Yorker": We talk about Rwanda as a failure of US policy- a failure to intervene, a failure to recognize what was going on, and a failure to take action to stop genocide. But if you look at the Clinton administration's approach to it throughout the entire period, what you really see is that it was actually a success of a policy not to intervene. It wasn't a failure to act. The decision was not to act. And at that we succeeded greatly.

I think that anybody who still believes that the world will not let it happen again, who believes the words "Never again," is deluding themselves dangerously.

ANNOUNCER: Investigate FRONTLINE On Line's Web report for much more on this story, including FRONTLINE's extended interviews with key observers, the documents on the impending genocide which were ignored, a chronology of U.S. actions during the 100 days of slaughter and more at www.pbs.org.

 

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