Ghosts of Rwanda

FRONTLINE's interviews with key decision-makers in the U.N. and U.S. government, and with peacekeepers, diplomats, journalists and aid workers. These interviews offer a record of how, and why, the world collectively turned its back on the genocide in 1994 of 800,000 people in the African nation of Rwanda. They also reveal how almost all those involved in the decision to not intervene are still deeply haunted by what they did.

The White House

U.S. State Department Officials

United Nations Officials

U.N. Security Council Representatives

U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda

U.N. Development Program

U.S. Embassy Officials in Kigali

Rwandan Patriotic Front

Non-Governmental Organization Workers


The White House

anthony lake

Currently a professor at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, he was President Clinton's national security adviser from 1993 to 1997. In this interview, he discusses the "narrow calculations of national interest" that explain America's failure to halt the genocide and how it was that Rwanda never got top-level attention in the Clinton administration. "It is wrong to say nobody had any idea hell was breaking loose in Rwanda. Of course they did. But at the same time, there was very little attention to what the problem was and how to fix it politically through the U.N., etc. At least at my level. I should have reached out and said, "Tell me more." And I didn't, concentrating mostly at the time on Bosnia and Haiti, and various other issues." This interview was conducted on Dec. 15, 2003.

U.S. State Department Officials

prudence bushnell

As U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, she chaired a mid-level interagency working group that was set up to explore what could be done about the mounting slaughter. In this interview, she offers a glimpse of a risk-averse, weak-willed bureaucracy and recounts how her group was working within severely limited policy parameters, the chief one being that U.S. intervention was never an option: "The anger, the horror of that policy. I don't think there's a person involved in it who doesn't have that frustration, horror still. ... You never wanted to do it again. Once was enough." This interview was conducted on Sept. 30, 2003.

George moose

He was U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. His interview offers insight into how America had a crucial role in blocking an effective response by the world to the genocide. He discusses the U.S. decision to support a drastic reduction of U.N. peacekeeping forces and to evacuate Kigali. He also explains the rationale for rejecting General Dallaire's appeals for reinforcement and the "tortured debate" over using the word genocide. In one of the many examples of bureaucratic inertia and self-serving caution that marked America's response, Moose talks about the "truly shameful episode" where U.S. officials rejected a plan to jam the extremists' hate radio broadcasts "because of some legal nicety about international radio conventions. And then the [50 armored personnel carriers] thing… We spent so much time wrangling about who was going to pay for refurbishing them, … for transporting them. It's sort of bureaucracy at its very worst, and we couldn't break through that." This interview was conducted on Nov. 21, 2003.

John shattuck

He was U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 1993 to 1998 and is the author of Freedom on Fire: Human Rights Wars and America's Response. His interview with FRONTLINE illuminates how America's failure to intervene in the genocide was the result of bureaucratic and domestic politics and higher priorities. He says Rwanda never drew top-level attention in the Clinton administration because policy-makers were on "overload": "I discovered that Christopher was totally preoccupied with China and the Middle East, … [and the president] had to make his decision on "most favored nation" status for China. ... One of the untold stories about Rwanda is the terrible tragedy of the timing. … Had the genocide occurred a year and a half later, the response might well have been different." This interview was conducted on Dec. 16, 2003.

United Nations Officials

Boutros Boutros-ghali

He was U.N. secretary-general from January 1992 to December 1996. In this interview, he discusses how the U.S.'s new doctrine on intervention, which was issued at the peak of the genocide, had a serious impact on the world's response. Although he points out that U.N. internal politics certainly was a factor in the failure to act, he believes that discrimination existed in dealing with African crises compared to those in Western nations. And he recounts a meeting with President Clinton in May 1994 as the slaughter continued unabated. "Based on this discussion I had with him, Rwanda was a marginal problem. He said [he was] not so sure if [the United States] was ready to help to send soldiers, but he was not interested in this problem." This interview was conducted on Jan. 21, 2004.

Kofi annan

He is U.N. secretary-general and in 1994 headed the U.N.'s small office on peacekeeping operations. In this interview, he explains how Rwanda "became a victim of the Somali peacekeeping experience" and he talks about some of the controversial decisions he made during the crisis. He also discusses the reasons behind the world's failure to act, including the U.N.'s "lacking a culture of speaking out" and member states "not having the will" to intervene. As to whether the world's response to genocide will be any different next time, he is skeptical. "I really don't know. I wish I can say yes, but I am not convinced that we will see the kind of political will and the action required to stop it." Secretary-General Annan is now involved in a global effort to set a new standard for the world on humanitarian intervention. This interview conducted on Feb. 17, 2004.

United Nations Security Council

Madeleine albright

She was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the time of the genocide and later served as secretary of state in the Clinton administration. In this interview, she tells FRONTLINE that during the early weeks of the killing what was happening in Rwanda "was not clear. … For whatever reason, the system did not manage to push the information up high enough to people making decisions." She insists that, in retrospect, she did all that was possible. She wishes that she had pushed for a large humanitarian intervention, but even if she had, she believes the support wasn't there. "Nothing would have happened. … There was no way to get a large number of troops there quickly enough and to get the right mandate." This interview was conducted on Feb. 25, 2004.

Ibrahim gambari

He was Nigeria's ambassador to the U.N. and at the time of the genocide was a non-permanent member of the Security Council. In this interview, he talks about the institutional pressures of the U.N., especially for consensus on decisions, and he explains that was a main reason for his vote to drastically reduce General Dallaire's U.N. forces as the killing grew. "Why did we -- including the three African members -- vote in favor of this resolution? In our hearts, we knew that it was not the right thing to do. … But it was the least bad of all the [options] before us." This interview was conducted on Jan. 15, 2004.

Michael sheehan

He was an aide to Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.. He previously was on the staff of the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush administration and participated in the decision to send U.S. forces to Somalia in 1992 in a peacekeeping mission which ended in the deaths of 18 Americans. In this interview, he details how the Somalia tragedy had infected America's policy on Rwanda. "There was really no political will anywhere in the U.S. government to take the type of risk it would take to move forces into the middle of Central Africa, into a country no one had ever heard of … and to get itself involved in another civil war." This interview was conducted on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2003.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR)

General Romeo Dallaire

He commanded the U.N. force sent to Rwanda in 1993 to help enforce the Arusha peace accord. In this interview, he chronicles his time there,from the "gloom that came in" soon after arriving and sensing that trouble was coming, to the sudden collapse of his mission once the killing began and the moral burden of the life-and-death choices he confronted as he tried to save lives with a few ill-equipped troops. He also talks about the world's attitude toward dirt-poor African nations like Rwanda, the heroism of a few people, and the memory of how he looked straight into "evil" as he forced himself to negotiate with the genocide leaders. Finally, Dallaire describes how Rwanda will never leave him. "My soul is in those hills, my spirit with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered. … Lots of those eyes still haunt me, angry eyes, or innocent eyes. But the worst eyes that haunt me are the eyes of those people who were totally bewildered. They're looking at me with my blue beret and saying, 'What in the hell happened?'" This interview was conducted over four days in the fall of 2003.

Major Brent Beardsley

He was executive assistant to Gen. Romeo Dallaire, force commander of UNAMIR. In this interview, Beardsley details the problems facing UNAMIR from the moment they arrived, and he recounts the first hours of massacres, which showed that extermination was underway: "It started with the moderate leaders calling and then all of a sudden ... they weren't calling any more. Ordinary people were calling, 'There's killings here, killings there … -- come and save us.'" In talking about what UNAMIR confronted once everyone else had pulled out and their troops had been dramatically cut back, he says, "We could have packed up dead bodies, put them on a Herc, flown to New York, walked in the Security Council and dumped them on the floor in front of [them]. And all that would have happened was we would have been charged for illegally using a UN aircraft. They just didn't want to do anything." This interview was conducted on Nov. 15, 2003.

U.N. Development Program/Other U.N. Agencies, Kigali 1994

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.

United States Embassy, Kigali

David Rawson

He was U.S. ambassador to Rwanda from 1993 to 1996 and arrived in Kigali at a point when the Arusha peace process was faltering. After being ordered to leave Rwanda after the killing started, he joined a mid-level group of officials back in Washington who tried to deal with the crisis: "We were all working very frenetically. The problem is, we weren't able to move the bureaucracy. We weren't able to get equipment out in a timely way. … We had debates that were probably too long and improperly focused on the strategy of the U.N. activity, before we actually took a vote to have this activity. All of this had us coming up with a peacekeeping force after the genocide had wreaked its havoc." This interview was conducted on Oct. 5, 2003.

Joyce Leader

She was second-in-command at the U.S. embassy in Kigali. In this interview, she talks about the political background to the genocide and America's effort to support the Arusha peace accord. She also recounts her experience during the first 48 hours of the killing before being evacuated. And she talks about the lessons of Rwanda, in particular, the embassy's failure to see or understand the signs of what was coming. "I think the formation of the militia was something we knew about, but we just never got out and tried to really track it down. We went on what we gathered from other people without any firsthand information. When we would confront people in positions of authority, which we did, they would of course deny that any such militarization was going on." This interview was conducted on Sept. 30, 2003.

Laura lane

She was consular officer at the U.S. embassy in Kigali and served as liaison between the U.S. ambassador, the Hutu-led government forces and the Tutsi rebel force, the RPF. Although she followed State Department orders to evacuate, she had wanted to stay and try to help: "We could have made a difference, and I was so frustrated. … Nobody wanted to take the risk of American casualities. … We were the embassy community. We could have made a difference." This interview was conducted on Oct. 3 and 4, 2003.

Rwandan Patriotic Front

Paul kagame

Now the president of Rwanda, in 1994 he commanded the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Tutsi rebel force which toppled the genocidal Hutu regime and brought an end to the slaughter. In this interview, he responds to those who say that once the genocide started, the invading RPF forces were set on taking over the country and would have opposed any outside intervention designed to get the two sides back to the Arusha peace process. He also talks about the genocide and its personal impact on him. "I have lived in a world of injustice. Perhaps the only responsibility I have is to try my best that I don't get involved in what one would call injustice, because I have lived it. I know what it means." This interview was conducted on January 30, 2004.

Non-Governmental Organizations in Rwanda, 1994

Philippe gaillard

He headed the International Committee on the Red Cross mission which remained in Rwanda throughout the genocide. In this interview, he talks about the moral dilemma he and Gen. Dallaire confronted after the world had left Rwanda to its fate: What do you do in the face of evil? Gaillard -- who unlike the U.N.'s Gen. Dallaire, had the support of his Red Cross headquarters -- challenged the extremist government by getting word out about the killing of Red Cross patients. And he cultivated a relationship with the regime which he believes helped the Red Cross save an estimated 65,000 lives, "When we talk about mass saving, I think the best and the only way is to talk with the people who want to kill them." As to the issue of whether the outside understood what was happening, Gaillard is adamant: "Everybody knew every day live what was happening in this country. You could follow that every day on TV, on radio. Who moved? Nobody. Nobody." This interview was conducted on Sept. 12, 2003.

Carl wilkens

He headed up the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA) in Rwanda and was the only American who chose to stay while the rest evacuated as the killing began. In describing that day and watching the cars and trucks rolling by, he says, "This sadness just came over me. … If people in Rwanda ever needed help, now was the time. And everybody's leaving." In the weeks that followed, he recounts what he tried to do to help, including enlisting Rwanda's Hutu prime minister to stop the massacre of children in an orphanage. "There were times of real hopelessness. I basically had to say to myself, 'There's nothing I can do about that.' I could spend a lot of time in anger about why other people weren't making a difference, weren't doing it, but that wasn't going to help anything." This interview was conducted on Nov. 19, 2003.

Alison des Forges

She is a historian of African history, specializing in Rwanda, and a board member of Human Rights Watch. Less than two weeks into the killing, she met with officials in the U.S. State Department and National Security Council and lobbied for their help. "We were not asking for U.S. troops. … It was clear to us that there was no way that the U.S. was going to commit troops to Rwanda. We were looking instead for a strengthened U.N. presence and U.S. support for that." In this interview, she discusses the atmosphere of those Washington meetings, and their sole outcome -- a White House press release condemning the genocide leaders: "[The release] had relatively little effect, because it was followed by nothing any more substantial. I believe it was one of several things which influenced [the killers] to begin controlling the killing [so] that it would be less visible to the outside world. So we might not have actually done anything except drive it underground." This interview was conducted on Oct. 1, 2003.


Mark Doyle

A correspondent for the BBC, he was, for a while, the only foreign journalist in Rwanda and he broadcast live what was happening. In this interview, he talks about what he witnessed and how individual U.N. soldiers made a difference, especially the heroic Sengalese Capt. Mbaye Diagne who singlehandedly saved at least one hundred lives. In recounting the actions of Diagne and Philippe Gaillard and his Red Cross team, Doyle compares their response to that of the West's: "General Dallaire's plan to have soldiers at football stadiums to protect people -- I think it was a doable plan. He just didn't have enough soldiers. It didn't happen because they were Africans. … If hundreds of thousands of Europeans or Americans were being killed in the way that Rwandans were being killed -- do you think the world would not have intervened? I think it's because they were Africans." This interview was conducted on Dec. 12, 2003.

Fergal keane

He is a BBC correspondent and for over a decade has reported from various international crises areas. In late May and early June of 1994, as the killings in Rwanda were drawing to a close -- but as pockets of Tutsis were still being hunted down -- Keane travelled for several weeks with the advancing Tutsi RPF forces. In this powerful interview -- in essence, a testimony of moral witness to the genocide (watch the video) -- Keane talks about why, after Rwanda, it is impossible for him to ever feel the same again about societies, humanity and himself. "Nothing prepared me for what I saw in Rwanda. … I will never forget on the way in, being confronted with the image of colleagues of mine whom I knew from the townships of South Africa, and looking at their eyes. They had just come out of Rwanda. And they were shattered. And I said, 'What is this?' And one of them pulled me aside and he said, 'It's spiritual damage, it's spiritual damage.'" This interview was conducted on March 19, 2004.

Samantha power

She is the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a book on America's responses to the major genocides of the 20th century for which she won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. She currently is executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University's Kennedy School. In this interview, she discusses how those who shaped U.S. policy did know about the scale of the killing in the early weeks, but that the policy objective of the U.S. from the start was non-intervention in Rwanda. She also details the "variety of policy tools" short of U.S. intervention that America could have applied that might have diminished the killing. And finally, she discusses the lessons of Rwanda and the great failure of the Clinton administration. "No amount of Clintonian leadership may have carried U.S. troops [intervention] through the Congress; they may be right about that. But at least you want to be able to look back and say, 'We did everything short of a thing that we couldn't achieve.' Instead, they have to look back and say, 'We did nothing short of a thing that we couldn't have achieved.'" This interview was conducted on Dec. 16, 2003.

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posted april 1, 2004

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