photo of gromoGhosts of Rwanda
home
analysis
interviews
timeline
video
discussion
gregory gromo alex

He headed the U.N. humanitarian assistance team in Kigali during the genocide and delivered food and supplies daily to U.N. safe houses through enemy fire. "The convoys get shot at almost every day. We kept a tally -- degrees of attack: small arms fires, small arms and rocket, small arms with heavy machine gun[s] and rockets and grenades." He talks about the life-and-death confrontations at checkpoints, the deaths of co-workers, and the brave U.N. Capt. Diagne, who smiled and joked his way through the genocidaires and saved hundreds of lives. "There were some powerful, brave things that were being done by U.N. soldiers, completely devoid of any support from New York," says Alex. "Forget it, I'm sorry -- nothing came from those people." This interview was conducted on Oct. 18, 2003.

Killing was like a drink [for them], that if you took one drink, you wanted another one and you wanted another. You wanted to become more and more intoxicated.  Sometimes people kill once, and then, to lessen the power or impact of that murder on their psyches or on their conscience, they kill again.

… You came here for the first time -- when? What was your job?

I came in January 1994. I had been until that time with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Ethiopia, the emergency prevention and preparedness group. Then I came here with UNDP as head of the emergencies unit. … When I came in, I wasn't very well accepted, one, because I was coming to do a job that was already being done by somebody else. Two, UNDP at the time was -- certainly with the resident representative at the time perceived -- as kind of claim jumpers. Anytime there was something good going on, UNDP would come in and take it over and make it all right, even though it was already right to start with. …

Where are we now?

… On our left is kind of the center residential neighborhood of the town, and certainly, back then, was where a lot of the embassies [were] and a lot of the embassy staff used to live. An exclusive area, in a way.

During the genocide, what was it like right here?

Very dead quiet. Almost any road entering into the neighborhood was blocked off with tree stumps or logs or beer cases. Generally just about every street [was] manned by small groups of mixed Interahamwe, gendarmerie, and presidential guard people that would be there watching for anybody who came in, I think also watching for anybody who might be passing through trying to make their way to the safe havens, which were the Saint Famille on the one hand and Mille Collines [hotel] on the other. …

[Were] there a lot of aid workers here in town [when you started in 1994?]

… Yes. There were a couple of problems in the country at the time, large numbers of internally displaced people that were being catered to by a variety of non-governmental organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. … There were pretty close to a million people were affected at the time, split between internally displaced and refugees. …

When you were here, you had a lot of Rwandans working for you as well?

Well, we were a pretty small unit. We had four Rwandan staff, and then we were two international staff. …

[Describe your first meeting with Callixte Mbaruishimana.]

So in 1994, when I came back, first there was evacuation on April 10. Then we came back with this fairly large high-profile team of U.N. people. … We came back on April 20. Then, during the next six or seven days, we started to lay out the plan of how, [or] if, we were going to provide assistance to the many of the people in town. I had fortunately on the morning of April 5 been to visit all of the warehouses in town with a captain from the Belgian military who was attached to UNAMIR (the United Nations peacekeeping force) at the time. … It was during that week where I met Callixte for the first time. He had the keys to all the offices and the compound itself [and] … I wanted to see my offices.

He came down and … he said [a French phrase] to me. I was still kind of new to this whole situation, so I didn't know exactly what he meant

What [did the French phrase] mean in English?

It means, "We will eliminate them all." I looked at him, somewhat puzzled. He was standing right here, at these steps. and he said [the phrase again]. … At that point, it might have changed my whole outlook on what was happening, because I had been through a couple of experiences where I was still naive in the beginning of what was going on, and I'd been in conflicts before. But this was the first time that it was something that just didn't seem to have an end in sight.

Callixte, at the time -- that's probably the first recognition I had of evil. When he said this, he was looking at me with these eyes, but these eyes were black. You know, whatever colors they had in them, they were [now] black and just dark and empty. You could look into them and you could see that behind there, there was some dark nothingness, like a cave, but an endless, bottomless cave, where all this emotion was coming out. He was looking forward, but it was almost like at the same time he was looking forward, he was seeing everything back. It was some kind of manifestation of hatred. …

Callixte -- was [he] a U.N. employee?

He was a U.N. employee. He was the one responsible for … for the computer set-ups. … My computer was set up by him, as he did for pretty much everyone in the office at the time.

You were particularly fond of a woman who worked here called Florence.

Florence, yes, she was the head of personnel at the time. … She was one that everybody liked -- well, obviously not everybody, but certainly the people who had any sense of kindness or humanity in them would find this woman just loving and extremely friendly, extremely helpful, supportive. …

And she was a Tutsi?

And she was a Tutsi.

When Callixte said. "We'll eliminate them all," did he have a list [of Tutsis and other people to kill]?

My understanding was that he did have a list. In fact, when I would meet people during the course of the genocide, Tutsis would always refer to him as the one who had the list of the people and the addresses of the Tutsis working, not just for UNDP, but for other agencies as well. So he was the one managing it. They would always caution me, "Don't even give him any information, any indication that we're alive. Just don't pass any information on to him." We could see that there were times when he would ask about people we know; we knew where they were and what their situation was, but we could never obviously convey to him.

When we were bringing beans or other foods that we were getting from the warehouses or from the World Food Program (WFP) trucks, we would bring them here for distribution to the staff. Then he would be responsible, with one of the drivers, taking a pickup and sending them out to the people that he knew where they were. Obviously it was for a fairly limited circulation or distribution, but that's how that system worked.

But why didn't they want you to convey information to him?

Oh, they were scared to death. They firmly believed that he was the one behind the hunt of getting them and eliminating them.

These are other U.N. employees?

Mostly UNDP employees that I'm talking about, because they were the ones I knew best. As time went on, I met others through my colleagues in UNICEF and WFP; we get to know the others along the way. But it was the people I knew in UNDP who were the ones that I was able to bond with during the course of the genocide in their safe havens. … You know, there are things we survive by, through humor, making light of situations. It was in that way that we were able to survive.

We were pushed by General Dallaire to work 20, 21, 22 hours a day. I mean, that man, I'm not sure he slept -- ever -- during the whole course of the genocide. I don't know if he ever slept more than an hour at a time, and there was a way about him that he expected the same from us. … I eventually did leave on June 10, after [about] 35 days straight, being pushed every day, 7 o'clock meetings and prayers in the morning, and 7 o'clock prayers in the evening, every day.

All the stuff in between, particularly in the mornings -- going to town, trying to get back by early afternoon, because by noon you came [back] to the checkpoints-- … [It] doesn't matter whether you've been there five minutes before or not; [if] you're coming back, you're interrogated. What are you doing, what did you do, who did you see -- all these kind of fairly pointed questions. Only [Senegal Capt.] Mbaye had won the confidence of people, that he could get through [the checkpoints by] smiling and laughing. I think the rest of us were always suspected of being in cahoots with the enemy. So anyway, there's this whole coming in and going out.

[We] started as early as we could in the morning -- not too early -- and we tried to finish it as early in the afternoon as possible, because by noon, they had been drinking and were intoxicated, and been smoking and were stoned; and they had either killed people and wanted to kill more, or they hadn't kill[ed], and they wanted to kill. I'm not sure which was worse. …

Killing was like a drink [for them], that if you took one drink, you wanted another one and you wanted another. You wanted to become more and more intoxicated. … Sometimes people kill once, and then, to lessen the power or impact of that murder on their psyches or on their conscience, they kill again. [So] each murder drives you to kill again. …

[What happened to Florence?]

Florence. … Here's a [Tutsi] woman [that worked in the U.N. office], harboring 10 [Rwandan] children [of] varying ages in her house. She's calling [headquarters] pretty much every day. I think she even called the BBC at some point. … [It became our mission to] go and get her and the kids and take them out [before the Hutu extremists killed them]. …

There was this kind of energy building within headquarters that, "Hey, we're going to actually be able to do something to prevent somebody being killed, [someone] who is calling about threatening rapes and threatening murders every day. I mean, people were coming. They knew where she was, and they were coming to her house saying, "We're going to come and get you tonight." It was part of this terror campaign to kill you before you're killed, and just to haunt you while you're still living, so that you imagine your death over and over again. This was the process that they used on her.

So this day, I speak with her, and I say, "Listen, [I think the RPA is] getting close [and will come save you.]" I think even the RPA had been within 100 meters of her house around this time, to get her out and the kids out. … I was on [the phone] with a guy called James Baker -- not of the U.S., but of DHA -- and while I was talking to him, [someone] came up and told me that she had been killed, and the kids had been killed, too.

I broke down. … She had become the hope that if we could save her and these kids, that maybe we accomplish something, if we did nothing else. So it wasn't just my hope, it was everybody's, and it was just shattered on this day. …

Then at prayers that evening, frankly, I just damned the Americans. Our fault or not, I'm an American, so I take responsibility, because we are all part of our country for better or worse. I just felt that we had abandoned one step more than we should have. We abandoned this woman and these kids. …

For the foreign staff [of] the U.N., in those months leading up to April, did you get a sense that something was going down -- that the peace process wasn't all it was cracked up to be?

People were still here with their families. General Dallaire was sending signals that there was a problem very close at hand. … But in those first few months of 1994, the official message was this place was safe, and it's OK to have families here. … When I was recruited [to be a U.N. humanitarian worker], I arrived in January, and it was an understanding that you can come with your family and look for a house. [You had to] be careful about where you choose [a location], and make sure you clear where you're going to live with your security officer.

But what transpired, I think, in the last week leading up to the genocide, was that people just started to feel the tension. There were reports of things happening. You wonder [if] someone being killed here is important, or people of profile were being killed, one here on one side, one here on the other side. You could see things were escalating.

[But] no one was translating what some few people were reading -- an action where the U.N. was going to evacuate ahead of time. If they had listened to the security officer, people would have been out, and it would have been a lot easier. We would have been down to essential staff. I mean, we talked about those things -- who are essential staff, who will stay and who will leave. …

Tell us about the evacuation. …

Well, we all gathered in a concentration point. ... We must have been 70 cars. … These are U.N. staff and their families, and a few others.

Foreign staff?

Foreign staff. Some people from other embassies who hadn't made it out through their own evacuation plans… were welcome, and there were a couple Rwandans. One Rwandan family in fact had a car that was in the middle of the convoy. I was driving the truck in the back, and I had put [my daughter] Theresa in one of the early cars, because I was going to be in a truck. It was higher, [and] I didn't want her up higher if people were going [to be] shoot[ing at me]. We had mixed all the Ethiopians in a car, so that they wouldn't be seen as a group. …

We'd get all the people in the cars [and] we put some of the baggage in the truck. There were some people that were supposed to have like 10 kilos of baggage, and some people brought their whole livelihoods. … It wasn't everybody that was like that, but there were some families that were traumatized, I think, by the whole event. [They] had been in places where there were people killed outside their houses, and they certainly were leaving to never come back. …

So then we took off in this big convoy. In the front were French soldiers, and in the back were Rwandese gendarmes. It took us like two and a half hours to get [to] the airport. … We had to take side streets, and [we saw a] lot of [dead] bodies on the roads and on the sides. You could see [Rwandan] people were gathering and trying to stop us.

Was there a mood among the U.N. staff there that [the] job had been accomplished, and a sense of relief, or things had gone OK?

I think that everybody was happy to be out, but basically in a daze. They had group therapy sessions, where they sat people around the table and let them exchange their experiences. They didn't really have at that time a set-up in the U.N. -- with the exception of maybe UNICEF -- [for] any trauma counseling or anything like that. This is still in the early days before this became a science that people required of their organizations to be prepared for.

It was the beginning of the end, in some ways, for international aid workers, when you look at what happened to the [International Committee of the Red Cross]. How many people did they lose? [And] they all wore red crosses; they all rode in vehicles with red crosses on. … [But the extremists] would stop these cars, and they would take out the people who were inside who were victims. Then, if any of these people were the drivers or the workers wearing the red crosses, they would kill them, too. So they would take wounded people out, kill them, and then kill the people transporting them. …

That's one of these underlying directions that the government is trying to take to downplay the role of ethnicity. But there is not that much acknowledgement of the fact. I mean, it's always referred to as the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Well, what's "moderate?" You know they weren't moderate; they were people that believed that killing people was wrong. …

Can [you] just describe leaving the [U.N.] headquarters and going out the gates and going into town [to get supplies to people]? What was that like?

[We had] prayers with the meetings held every morning at seven and every evening at seven. We call them prayers, but it's really tasking for the day and the tasking for the evening and the night and the next day.

Who would lead them?

General Dallaire [led] every single one of them, ran through them sequentially all the different levels of administration and intelligence and supply. Everything that was important for the mission, he'd run through them. … We'd have the prayers, and then the Ghanaian major would assign us a military observer team. Then we'd go in two cars. … [The military] would go in one, [the U.N. workers] would go in another. Then after a while, we got more cars and started to go by ourselves.

There were people that were always willing [to travel in the convoy], but there were people [that say,] "We're not going to go out with these guys. … We're here to do our job, [and that's it.]" But [the convoys] get shot at almost every day. We had this board -- we kept tally, and we had degrees of attack: small arms fires, small arms and rocket, small arms with heavy machine gun[s] and rockets and grenades. …

[So one particularly dramatic day], we've got two trucks of supplies, because there are about 30,000 displaced people along from Kigali to this place called Ronda. We had these freelancing journalists -- no Belgians, we made sure of that -- but a fair line of nationalities [in a convoy of cars]. As we went downtown … we started taking fire. I'm hearing them, [but] I'm not seeing them. …

… Who was firing at you?

This is the RPA firing at us at this point.

Why were they firing at you?

Well, we were an unidentified convoy moving across town and heading into deep enemy territory, [even though we had] big U.N. stickers on the sides of the cars. … But we get through and everybody's all right. We get to Ronda, which is about 20 or so kilometers from Kigali. [We] meet with some of the people there, the commander, and [he's] seeing that we've got supplies for this place. He directs us to this school where we're going to drop it off, and we drive through the market. …

So we're going through the market, and [we start hearing enemy fire] -- you know, heavy artillery, big cannons firing just over our heads, right behind [us], scared the living daylights out of us. We got to the place where we were supposed to unload [our supplies], and we got people to unload real quickly.

… [So when we went back to the checkpoint], we had been surrounded by this … mob [of angry Hutus] [who had] completely surrounded [us]. They started rocking the vehicles and making gestures with machetes. The [troops at the checkpoint] checked our IDs again, and everybody had to produce an ID to prove he wasn't a Belgian. They hated Belgians, because they were blaming the Belgians [for] shooting down the plane [that killed the presidents].

If you can imagine looking out a window and seeing all this go, [and we think], something's going to happen. The only thing you could do was get out and start a negotiation. … [So we have a] heated discussion before [the troops at the checkpoint] said, "OK, go." So we take off.

We go about maybe 200 meters, not more, and this old lady … pulled this log … in front of the convoy, and we're surrounded [by a mob] again. You got to get out again and negotiate. So I'm looking for [a particular person], because at the end of the last encounter, there'd been someone [who had been] somewhat reasonable, and [worked] to help things along. …

I had been there with the others in the team, and we had dropped off some food, but they had recognized me and said, "Hey, he's the one. He's a spy." They had associated me with coming in to gather intelligence for the RPA, and then, [as] soon as I leave, they're going to be attacked. That was the argument.

So again [we engage in] negotiations, but maybe not quite as long as the first time around -- five [or] 10 minutes -- and then they gave us someone to escort us. I gave him some money -- what do you do with money at a time like this? -- but anyway, I gave him 5,000 francs or something. Then we started coming back into town and we get to the same point, the end point of where we had been attacked before. It's like we're crossing this line, and all the firing [starts] again. I'm in the lead vehicle this time, and the vehicles behind [me] aren't going very fast. Someone in the car said, "Go faster." I said, "No, we can't go faster than the truck. We've got to keep them in sight. At least we're close together."

Just then I heard this [noise] -- a rocket flew over the cab of the [truck]. You could hear it coming and hear it go over, so it probably missed the top of the truck by three or four inches, so it was about 10 inches above my ears or my head. It just flew across the front and then hit the bank on the opposite side of the truck and exploded. Then again [we] step on it. I said, "We got to keep together. If I go too fast, someone's going to panic. … We'll make it, don't worry."…

[So] that's how a typical day was, [even though] that was one of the more dramatic days. After a while, there were people who knew they were going to be tasked to us, and just wouldn't come. I don't want to knock anybody who didn't want to go along with this. [I] acknowledge the fact that the adrenaline had become part of it. After 10 times of coming under attack, you almost kind of want it. … [But] you start to think, [does] anybody want us here? Are we doing anything? Are we making an impact? …

Who was [Mbaye Diagne], and what was he doing?

He had access to most of the areas of … the military or gendarmerie or presidential guard. He covered all the territory, knew most of the people in the command structure. But fairly early on, we could see in this back room in Amahoro Hotel, large groups of people all of a sudden appeared, and [the] next day were gone.

We began to put together that Mbaye was bringing people from all over to the headquarters, and then evacuating them or having them picked up and taken to safety elsewhere. I don't even know the numbers of the people that he saved. But a lot of people know who he is. [A] lot of people were saved by him, and not just Rwandans, but famous journalists. [I] think they were put in positions where their lives were pretty close to an end, and he stepped in and saved them.

How could he do that?

That's just the way he was. I always associate him with Cool Hand Luke, that he had this way about him. He's [a] tall guy, but he had the smile, [a] big, toothy smile. ... You could challenge him with anything or put him in a situation where things were difficult, [and he often prevailed]. He never really stayed in one place either; sometimes he would escort us and he'd go off somewhere and he'd come back. He was always on the move. But he always made whomever he was with happy. … However long of an encounter you have with him, you come away with a smile, somehow. …

But wasn't it against orders to go out and start saving people?

Yes, it was against orders, and the orders were not to intervene in the conflict. Mbaye ignored those orders, and at the same time, [his] general knew he what he was doing, never stopped him.

… I would think that the general saw him as some expression of what we were supposed to be doing. … But here's someone who stepped out of line, and [the general is] not going to discipline him, because he's doing the right thing.

He saved at least hundreds of people, and we're talking about saving hundreds of people three or four at a time. So you imagine when we talk about the 23 checkpoints, and you take even 200 people, you divide it by the maximum five -- that would mean he [would] have five people in a vehicle, which is too conspicuous, too. So he would do it in smaller numbers, so that he wouldn't draw so much attention to people. But he'd go through all these checkpoints, and at every checkpoint you have to explain yourself.

… How would he get through?

That's just the way he was. People laughed. Even they have or had some attachment to a real world where there's real laughter, even in all this gore, hatred; as long as you can have that brief glimpse of [his] smile, or laugh about something that's good, you'll grab onto it. With Mbaye, I think that's what everybody did. At all those checkpoints, they all knew him. …

[Once] it was time to leave, the plan was that we were all just going to leave at the same time. … Then Mbaye said no, [because] he had some other things to do. It turned out that he was making arrangements to go get some other people. … But he had to go to headquarters first. So we went down the hill to ICRC. … We stopped there for a couple minutes. …

So we're coming up the hill and hear something on the radio. … We heard it was [Mbaye] had, I guess, pulled up a minute after we'd gone to the bridge, the last checkpoint. A mortar had landed behind his car and shrapnel came through the back window and [hit him] in the back of his head, and apparently killed him instantly. …

This was the day that General Dallaire had gone to Nairobi to meet with some U.S. congressmen to convince them of the gravity of the situation. [So] we're stunned, and we're trying to figure out what's happening, what we can do. People are talking about going [and] getting his dress uniform. They're calling around for a body bag. But there's no body bag. Not a body bag in the whole U.N. The ICRC doesn't have any body bags that they can spare. At this time, we're starting to put together and we're saying, you know, "Here's a guy who gave his ultimate, did everything, and we don't even have a body bag to show him some respect." So we're scrambling [and] people are asking us -- we're the humanitarians, we can get some plastic sheeting, we can make something. I can't even remember [the details]. It was kind of a daze. …

We had some UNICEF plastic sheeting, and we had some tape. Mbaye's body comes, and he's a big man, tall, big feet. He's on a stretcher now. Nobody knows exactly what to do, but we're going to make a body bag. … You want to do it right. You want to … zip it, [but] you got this U.N. light blue body bag, and we're going to make and fold the edges over. We're folding them up, and the creases aren't right, because his feet are so damn big. … You don't want that for him. You want it to be, like, just laid out perfectly, so that when people look at him, they know that he was something great.

What did he mean to you? What did he represent to you? He came here wanting to be a hero, you said.

He was a hero. He was the guy that, in every movie that's ever made you have the guy that [is] the tragic hero. … [But] this one's real. This man was a hero to people he didn't know and people he did know, to people who didn't have a clue and didn't understand why he was doing it. …

[You get] a medal [for your efforts in Rwanda]. How does that sit with you?

… In some ways, maybe I deserve it. It's kind of like, if you go out looking for it, do you really deserve it? … Even in getting this, I have some guilt, because others, too, did things that didn't get recognition. So I'm happy I got it. I got my picture in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and that went to my hometown. … I got this watch from my fraternity brothers. … So I got my rewards.

I think what I probably somehow resent is that when it was all over, no one really bothered to ask what it was about. The distinguished persons that came [to Rwanda during the genocide] never talked to anybody. … They always talked to higher-level officials. I resented that a bit. …

What are they missing?

I think they're missing a human side of it. I think everything is so officious. I'm not damning the whole U.N. There [are] some very good people in it. But sometimes there's this layer of unreal feelings or perspectives, and rarely does it become one human being to another. It's [like], who cares about the human beings? I mean, we're the U.N., and those are peasants. … [I think it's] unfair to give the impression it's everybody, but it's a lot, [and] the way it certainly used to be run. [I] think it's getting better. … Those aren't the good people. It doesn't mean that good people don't exist; it just means that the bad ones do.

… [What was] the message that Dallaire was telling [BBC journalist Mark] Doyle and other reporters about reporting the extent of the atrocities and the killing in those first couple weeks?

I think they had a standing ceiling of around 30 journalists that were in Kigali at any one time. … Every now and then, they would get an opportunity to go into town. They were all reporting, and the standing instruction was -- and the reasoning behind it -- was [to not] bring too much attention to what one side is doing, [because] it may provoke the other side to do the same. I mean, there were things happening, and everybody knew about it. You take a million people -- it's just 10,000 people a day -- killed mostly by hand, in ways that you don't imagine well for people. Most think of people doing that to other people is just unimaginable.

So I guess [General Dallaire's] reasoning behind it was, if we publicize too much of this, then we risk driving the others to revenge, and we see an even greater escalation and a greater carnage than that [what] we are witnessing, which is already unbelievable.

But he was encouraging the journalists not to write about the [genocide] to much of an extent?

Right. To keep it mellow, in a way. I mean, you had to report, but keep it in such a way, don't provide too much detail. Just acknowledge that it's ongoing, and if we're going to stop it together, we all have to discipline ourselves in some way or another. That's what he was asking the journalists, which they respected.

In retrospect, those were the same weeks when policy makers in Washington, New York were saying, "We're not hearing a lot about the extent of the killings." Do you think they were looking to the media to find out what was going on?

There was enough media outcry. I mean, [certain elements of the genocide] were filmed. There was no doubt what was happening. There were people on the ground that were getting the message to policy [makers] and decision makers, who were ignoring it. People were there, and they were communicating directly to their governments, and so they knew what was happening. No one can hide the fact that they knew.

[Finally, talk just a little more about the killing of U.N. worker Florence.]

We had come here on a couple of occasions, but not very often, mainly because we knew that Florence lived up this road about 100 meters. It was our feeling that if we brought attention to her, then the risk was that we were going to have these people kill her prematurely. I don't know how prematurely death can be delivered, but we were conscious of her being there. We scoped out the situation from here, [and] realized that this was a very serious crew [that was watching her].

When we would come, groups of Interahamwe from down below would then walk up the hill, so there would be a greater number of people. You had 10 to a dozen would be here, and then another dozen or so would come up the road. … Again, in these situations, you have to gauge how they're reacting. We were starting to think that we were pretty good at doing that, gauging how [the Interahamwe] were feeling. If they were in a good mood, you know that's the time. These people were never in a good mood. My guess is that the last people they wanted to escape were Florence and the 10 kids.

Because--?

I think she had some very close relations in the military, for one. I think they saw her as, "Here is [the] bait; come and get her if you want her, but we're going to kill her and we're going to kill the kids, too."

[Was she a] symbol because she was with the U.N.?

[Yes, she was a] symbol of the U.N. Everybody knew that she was there. [The Interahamwe] knew that everybody knew where she was. … She was kind of a double prisoner. She was in a house where she couldn't escape, and she was in this confined area that she could never get out. …

She lived?

As it would go, what we had been trying to do was arrange for an armored personnel carrier to come and get her. There were debates back and forth. "Can you do this? Can you not? Where can you go beyond?" But she had become such an important part of what we were hoping to be able to do, that there was a lot more effort made in mobilizing the resources that would have possibly brought her out with the kids.

So they were one day getting closer, [and then] we put it off to the next day, another day. Then eventually, it got to the point where the day-- Well, like I said, the day before she would have been rescued, [she was killed, and] you wonder if [the Interahamwe] didn't have the intelligence. Did someone pass the message somehow that she was going to be rescued soon, so then they decided to eliminate her before that could happen? That's a possibility, too. Maybe if we hadn't been making these efforts, maybe she wouldn't have been killed. You never know.

But in the end, we didn't manage it anyway, so we failed, and she and the kids were killed.

General Dallaire -- he was told of these efforts to rescue her?

He was, but he was not in a position yet, because they didn't have the authority to do this.

From New York?

From New York or from whoever the powers may be did not allow rescue operations. It was an exchange of, "Can we go and get her?" "Well, wait one more day and we may give you permission tomorrow," and there's kind of running back and forth. Never got the permission until the day after she was killed -- to get permission to come in and find your blood on the floors, and they're all dead. …

[Talk about the Catholic priest who was turning over Tutsis to the Interahamwe out of the Catholic church, which was supposedly a safe haven for the Tutsis.]

There was something about him. I had my suspicions. Certainly the people I was talking with inside believed that, at night, he would lead the gendarmes and the Interahamwe into certain corners of the church, where certain people that they wanted to get in particular were sleeping or staying. …

On the one hand, [he was] giving the impression that he was this Catholic priest who was kind-hearted, but even the Sisters of Charity were saying, "Whatever you do, don't pass any information onto this priest. He's involved. He's the one that's telling the gendarmes we have people hidden here. There have been times that we've had these people, and the word has gotten to the priest and then these people are found and killed."…

Did you raise concerns about him at prayers?

I did raise concerns about him, and initially they were rejected.

By who?

By the general himself. He said, "There's no proof of this." But then finally word started to get back from these other sources. I think sometimes when I would present something, he'd see me as the radical position. Until we had … corroborating evidence of something, about anyone, he wasn't in a position really to accept it at face value. So there was always the effort to try to back up any information you had with other information, so that he wouldn't be making a mistake in judgement. …

Did you ever confront the priest?

Never confronted him, [but] he didn't raise these issues. It was always behind the scenes, and the people that we were helping inside the church were saying, "Don't let him know that you know, because if you do, then he's going to think it came from here, and we're going to be next." So even things that we were doing-- We were passing notes on the side, rolling up a $100 bill into a small ball, then greeting a number of people and slipping it to the person you want to greet, because money made a difference. Sometimes where people were able to use this money to a certain end to buy food, to buy their safety. There was corruption even in the genocide.

At one point, there was a transfer of people. A lot of people got out. What happened?

There was a stage, once it was believed what we were saying was true, when the other evidence started to come, where other people were talking about the priest. When in the daytime, UNAMIR would put in a [guard] stationed here, so that no one could come in and take people out. … Then quite amazingly, these people who were very brave, managed -- here and at the ICRC hospital -- to prevent armed people from coming in, saying, "Stop. You're not allowed in here. This site is protected by the U.N."

You ask yourself, well, here's one guy with no gun sitting on a wooden chair all day and all night, not sleeping, and he's able with no gun to convince people that they're not allowed in here to kill people. Yet the whole system, with guns or whatever, couldn't do anything. …

I mean, there were some powerful, brave things that were being done by U.N. soldiers, completely devoid of any support from New York. Forget it, I'm sorry. Nothing came from those people.

home · introduction · analysis · interviews · timeline · rwanda today · video
the responsibility to protect · discussion · producer's chat · links & readings · press reaction · tapes & transcripts
credits · teacher's guide · viewer's guide · privacy policy
FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted april 1, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright © antony njuguna/reuters
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

 

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS