Ghosts of Rwanda
Ghosts of Rwanda Viewer's Guide

About the Program

Rwanda was supposed to be easy. Ten years ago, when the United Nations sent peacekeepers to this small Central African nation -- with the unanimous support of its Security Council, including the U.S., its most influential member -- most of the policymakers believed it would be a straightforward mission to support the framework of peace established following the country's recent civil war. Few could imagine that, a decade later, Rwanda would be the crisis that still haunts their souls.

In "Ghosts of Rwanda," airing April 1, 2004, at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE® and the BBC mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide -- a state-sponsored, 100-day massacre in which some 800,000 Rwandans were methodically hunted down and murdered by Hutu extremists as the United States and international community refused to intervene. Through interviews with key government officials, diplomats, survivors of the slaughter and even some of the genocide's perpetrators, the two-hour documentary offers groundbreaking, eyewitness accounts of the genocide.

About This Guide

What prompted the Rwandan massacre? How could an international community that had sworn to "never again" allow genocide do so little to prevent one unfolding right before its eyes? This viewer's guide provides a brief overview of the Rwandan genocide, including the social, political, and diplomatic failures that converged to enable the mass killings.


"Rwanda will never leave me: it's in the pores of my body," says General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda. "We saw lots of them dying, and lots of those eyes still haunt me -- angry eyes, innocent eyes. They're looking at me with my blue beret, and they're saying, 'What in the hell happened?' ... And they're absolutely right: How come I failed? How come my mission failed?"

When the United Nations sent Dallaire and his peacekeeping forces to Rwanda in late 1993, the mission was viewed as a relatively straightforward attempt to support the transition of power established by the Arusha Accords in the wake of Rwanda's civil war. But a deadly political endgame remained just under the surface, with Hutu extremists feeling threatened that the Accords would diminish their power.

When an informant notified Dallaire that Hutu extremists were plotting the "extermination" of prominent Tutsis, and the assassinations of Belgian peacekeepers in order to spark the withdrawal of U.N. forces from Rwanda, the general cabled U.N. headquarters in New York for guidance on how to protect his informant. The cable also outlined Dallaire's plans to raid arms caches that the Hutu extremist militias were amassing in preparation for their planned attacks.

Dallaire received an unexpected response. In a stern cable, the U.N. peacekeeping office -- then headed by Kofi Annan -- ordered Dallaire not to intervene, saying that to do so would violate his peacekeeping mandate.

Annan now says the United Nations was afraid that if Dallaire intervened, his mission would quickly repeat the mistakes of the U.N. in Somalia, where U.S. forces intent on capturing Somali faction leader Mohammed Aideed were engaged in a bloody battle that left 18 U.S. soldiers dead and 84 wounded. (See The Politics of Humanitarianism for more on Somalia.)

"We were concerned that Dallaire and his force didn't have the capacity ... to take on that sort of responsibility," Annan tells FRONTLINE, "and that if they attempted to do it and any of the peacekeepers were killed, we may see a repeat of Somalia."

Three months later, on April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burundian President Ntaryamira were killed when Habyarimana's plane was shot down near the airport in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. It would spark a three-month slaughter in which the Presidential Guard, the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), and Hutu militia -- known as the "Interahamwe" -- would execute a carefully planned genocide of Rwanda's moderate Hutus and its Tutsis. The killing began that night, as forces went door to door, working their way down lists of those to be killed.

"I remember a soldier who shot a young mother in the road outside my land, a young mother who was running with a child in her arms," recalls Monique Mujawamariya, a human rights activist who managed to flee the country. "The mother fell. ... The soldier who had shot her shot at the baby who was crawling towards his mother. I will never forget that. I will never forget seeing a soldier's weapon pointed at a baby's head. It is the most horrible scene that I've spent all my life trying to drown."

Within 24 hours of the president's death, the moderate Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana would also be murdered, along with the Belgian peacekeepers who had been sent to protect her and her children. Just as Dallaire's informant had predicted, Belgium soon called for the withdrawal of its peacekeepers and lobbied U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to get the United States to support the full withdrawal of U.N. forces--a move that would ultimately lead to the withdrawal of most U.N. forces from Rwanda at a time when the massacre was in full force.

Within days, a full-scale evacuation of foreigners began, as the United States and the United Nations ordered its personnel to leave Rwanda. Not everyone wanted to go: Laura Lane, the consular officer at the U.S. embassy in Kigali, volunteered to remain in Rwanda and establish a safe haven at the embassy to shelter victims from the killing.

"I felt very strongly that if there is someone who is planning this kind of evil, they need to know that there is also another group; that we Americans will stand right here and stand against them," Lane says in "Ghosts of Rwanda." "[I] felt very strongly about that, because otherwise they'd think they could get away with it."

But Lane was ordered to leave the country along with the other embassy and U.N. personnel. No provision was made, however, for Rwandans employed by the United Nations or other foreign organizations: As the convoys rolled out of Rwanda, Bonaventure Niyibizi -- a Rwandan employed by the U.S. government -- wondered why he was being left behind to face the slaughter.

"I saw them leaving, I saw the flags on the vehicles -- I knew all of them," he says. "I knew all the vehicles, the people they belonged to. I think it was sad, surprising, to see that by the end of the day you are a person who has to die when other people are allowed to be alive."

The Politics of Humanitarianism

Why did the international community so quickly abandon Rwanda at a time when its presence might have stopped the genocide? Like Kofi Annan, many of the diplomats and government leaders in office at the time blame the failed Somalia mission, in which U.S. soldiers attempting to capture a Somali warlord were ambushed -- resulting in a fierce, 17-hour firefight that would leave 18 U.S. soldiers and more than 1,000 Somalis dead, 84 U.S. troops wounded, and images of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu flashed around the world.

"The Clinton administration was brought to its knees by the problem in Somalia," says Michael Sheehan, former peacekeeping advisor to the U.S. Mission at the United Nations. "Our secretary of defense was fired, our presidency was dramatically weakened, they were enormously criticized for this adventure in Somalia and now you had another situation unfolding in Rwanda. There was no democratic political operative that could advise President Clinton to virtually turn around the ships steaming out of Somalia and send them back into a new African adventure of a raging civil war in the early parts of this genocide."

Annan is more succinct. "To some extent," he says, "Rwanda became a victim of the Somali experience."

In addition, after 17 peacekeeping missions in just four years, U.S. and U.N. officials believed a stricter criteria was going to have to be implemented that limited humanitarian intervention when national interests were not at stake. In a U.S. Naval Academy commencement address given at the height of the Rwandan massacre, President Clinton affirmed this doctrine: "The entire global terrain is bloody with conflicts from Rwanda to Georgia," Clinton said. "We cannot solve every such outburst of civil strife. ... Whether we get involved in any of the world's ethnic conflicts in the end must depend upon the cumulative weight of the American interests at stake."

Civil War or Genocide?

Another factor that would play a pivotal role in preventing the international community from intervening in Rwanda was the political and diplomatic debate over whether what was occurring there was, in fact, a genocide. In the first critical days of the killings, officials say, the prevailing belief in Washington and New York was that the violence was merely a resumption of the civil war -- not a carefully planned attempt to exterminate Rwanda's Tutsi population.

"I was not realizing that there was a real genocide," says Boutros Boutros-Ghali. "Because there is a definition -- for us, genocide was the gas chamber, what happened in Germany. You need to have a sophisticated European machinery to do a real genocide. We were not realizing that with just a machete you can do a genocide. It takes time for us to understand."

But time was running out. As late as mid-May, the U.S. Department of State was still stating that it was unsure whether a "legal determination" of genocide had been made regarding Rwanda. By that time, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates, more than 500,000 Rwandans had been murdered.

On May 17, 1994 -- six weeks after the killings began -- the United Nations finally agreed to send 5,500 troops to Rwanda. The deployment was delayed, however, due to disagreements as to who would provide troops and equipment and who would pay for the mission.

Ultimately, no one would intervene and the killing would come to an end when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) reignited the civil war, overthrew the Hutu leadership, and seized control of the country. As the RPF forces captured the capital in July 1994, the extremist government and hundreds of thousands of Hutus -- many of whom had actively participated in the genocide -- fled across the border into Zaire and became beneficiaries of the outpouring of humanitarian aid from the international community initially intended for their victims.

"By the time the genocide was over, I was so angry," says Carl Wilkens, an American humanitarian aid worker who had refused to evacuate and the only American to remain in Rwanda throughout the genocide. "I was angry with our government. I was angry with people who could do something, even the simplest things, and didn't."

The Power of One

Not everyone in Rwanda stood silently by as the genocide occurred. In "Ghosts of Rwanda," viewers meet a number of individuals who defied orders and protected Tutsis from the slaughter. Wilkens, for example, sought out one of the genocide's leaders and convinced him to prevent the slaughter of children at a local orphanage. Lane, meanwhile, recounts helping some Rwandans leave the country in the early days of the genocide by including them in the U.S. evacuation convoy.

"We had a convoy of over 100 vehicles with over 600 people -- only nine Americans," she says. "If they [came] to our checkpoints and we could hide them, we did. We dubbed them Americans for the day -- we made them honorary Americans so that they could be in the convoy."

Some U.N. peacekeepers also defied orders not to intervene in the slaughter. One of the greatest heroes of the Rwandan crisis, observers say, was Capt. U.S. Diagne, a U.N. peacekeeper from Senegal, who single-handedly saved countless lives -- including the children of the murdered prime minister. Diagne was killed by mortar fire while supervising efforts to protect Rwandans from the genocide.

Gregory Alex, a former U.N. humanitarian worker, reflects on the power of individuals in the face of genocide.

"You ask yourself, 'Here's one guy with no gun sitting on a wooden chair ... and he's able with no gun to convince people that they're not allowed in here to kill people," Alex says. "And yet, the whole [international] system with guns or whatever couldn't do anything."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meanwhile, claims to have saved as many as 70,000 Rwandans simply through its continued presence in the country after the withdrawal of all other U.S. and international organizations. In particular, the ICRC's representative in Rwanda, Philippe Gaillard, recalls breaking his organization's longstanding policy of not commenting on such atrocities and alerting the world to the genocide then underway.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is a 140-year-old organization, was not active during the Armenian genocide, shut up during the Holocaust -- everyone knew what was happening with the Jews," Gaillard says. "In such circumstances, if you don't at least speak out clearly, you are participating in the genocide."


In March 1998, President Clinton visited Kigali, where he apologized to the Rwandan people and the victims of the genocide. "The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy," Clinton said. "We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide."

Those sentiments were echoed weeks later by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. In an apology to the parliament of Rwanda, Annan said, "We will not deny that, in their greatest hour of need, the world failed the people of Rwanda...."

"Ghosts of Rwanda" concludes by examining the aftermath of the genocide, the lessons learned--and not learned--by the international community, and by questioning whether the phrase "never again" has more meaning today than it did 10 years ago.

"When you are faced with the question [of] whether I think that we can avoid the Rwandas of answer is I really don't know," Annan now says. "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."


United Nations General Assembly unanimously passes the Genocide Convention, which obligates signatory states to prevent and punish perpetrators of genocide.
Revolution brings about a reversal of power in Rwanda: The Hutu majority seizes power from the Tutsi minority, which had been the favored class under Belgium colonial rule for more than a century.
Army of the Tutsi-led rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invades Rwanda and a three-year civil war ensues.
August Rwandan government and the RPF negotiate a cease-fire and the Arusha Accords are signed.
October 3 Special Forces in Somalia are engaged in a 17-hour battle with the ruling warlord. Eighteen U.S. soldiers are killed and 84 wounded, with more than 1,000 Somalis killed. U.S. and other nations' troops quickly withdrew from the U.N. mission.
October 5 Security Council authorizes Rwanda mission (UNAMIR) to assist parties in implementing the Arusha Peace Accords.
November UNAMIR forces begin to arrive in Rwanda; the first phase of deployment ends in mid-December with a total of about 2,500 troops.
January 5 Hutu militias disrupt the ceremony to install a broad-based transitional government.
January 11 UNAMIR leader Gen. Dallaire sends urgent cable to U.N. outlining Hutu plans to exterminate Tutsis and his own plan to confiscate Hutu militia arm caches. He is told to desist -- as this would exceed his peacekeeping mandate -- and to discuss the issue with the Rwandan and foreign governments.
February Series of massacres and political assassinations occur in the capital of Kigali and in Southern Rwanda, targeting Tutsis and Hutu members of opposition parties. Hutu extremists step up efforts to prepare death lists, import tens of thousands of machetes, and issue anti-Tutsi propaganda.
April 6 Rwandan President Habyarimana and the Burundian President Ntaryamira are killed when Habyarimana's plane is shot down near Kigali Airport. The killings begin that night.
April 7 Extremist Hutu forces set up roadblocks and go from house to house killing Tutsis and moderate Hutu politicians. Ten Belgian soldiers with UNAMIR, assigned to guard the moderate Hutu prime minister, are tortured and murdered. The prime minister is also murdered.
April 8 Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) forces launch a major offensive to overthrow the interim government, reigniting the civil war.
April 9-10 France, Belgium and Italy send troops to evacuate their citizens. Americans leave Rwanda by convoy to Burundi, where U.S. Marines wait. A handful of Rwandans escape with the Westerners.
April 14 One week after the murder of the 10 Belgian soldiers, Belgium begins to withdraw forces from UNAMIR and urges the U.S. to support pulling out the rest of the peacekeepers.
April 21 The U.N. Security Council votes unanimously to withdraw most of the UNAMIR troops, cutting the force from 2,500 to 270.
May 17 The U.N. finally agrees to send 5,500 troops to Rwanda; however full deployment will not be complete until September--long after the genocide is over.
Mid-May The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates 500,000 Rwandans have been killed.
Mid-July Tutsi-led RPF forces capture Kigali. The Hutu government flees to Zaire, followed by a tide of refugees. The RPF sets up an interim government of national unity in Kigali. The genocide is over. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans have been killed in 100 days.
November 8 Recognizing that serious violations of humanitarian law were committed in Rwanda, the Security Council creates the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
April 2 Colonel Theoneste Bagosora and three other alleged architects of the genocide go on trial at the ICTR; as of February 2004, their trial is still underway.


Arusha Accords: Intended to end a three-year civil war between Rwanda's Hutu government and Tutsi-led RPF rebels, the August 1993 peace agreement called for a democratically elected government with a broad-based transitional government leading to the elections. Hutu extremists feeling marginalized by the agreement orchestrated the genocide.

Genocide: The deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.

Hutu: The majority community in Rwanda, which during the colonial period had suffered as second-class citizens. With independence, Hutu gained power and privilege through the patronage of presidents Gregoire Kayibanda and Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana.

Interahamwe: Youth militia of the Hutu extremists trained by organizers to carry out the genocide.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): A global humanitarian aid organization, the ICRC estimates it saved as many as 70,000 Rwandans targeted by the genocide without the use of force or weapons.

Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR): Army of the Hutu government led by President Habyarimana. After the president's plane was shot down, the FAR joined the Presidential Guard and the interahamwe in carrying out the genocide.

Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF): Tutsi-led rebels who fought the Hutu leadership during the Rwandan civil war. While the international community refused to intervene and 800,000 Tutsis were killed, the RPF was finally successful in putting down the Hutu extremists and ending the genocide.

Tutsi: Rwanda's largest minority community, which Belgian colonials had favored as the privileged class until Hutu revolutionaries took over political leadership in the early 1960s.

Transitional Government: Ruling political body of shared Hutu and Tutsi leadership negotiated by the Arusha Accords.

UNAMIR: The United Nations peacekeeping force brought in to support the Arusha Accords' transition process. Two weeks into the genocide, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to withdraw most of the UNAMIR troops, cutting the force from 2,500 to 270.


"Ghosts of Rwanda" Web site
Due to launch immediately following the April 1 broadcast, the site will expand upon the televised report with extended interviews, timelines, analysis, a teacher's guide, and links to additional readings.

Remembering Rwanda
Remembering Rwanda is a widespread international network whose goals are to promote the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the genocide and to promote education about the genocide. Visit their Web site for information on local initiatives.

National Security Archive
The National Security Archive is a non-governmental, non-profit institution that conducts research on U.S. foreign policy and houses an archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Visit two digital briefing books on U.S. policy toward the Rwandan genocide that include dozens of formerly secret U.S. government documents.

Genocide Watch
Genocide Watch is an organization designed to coordinate the International Campaign to End Genocide, launched at the Hague in 1999. Its Web site includes a definition of genocide, an analysis of what it calls the "eight stages of genocide," and a chart detailing current threats of genocides, assassinations, and mass murders around the world.

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an independent, non-governmental organization aiming to expose human rights violations around the world and hold abusers accountable. The Web site includes detailed information searchable by region, country, and year and includes a digital version of the study "Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda."

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Web site
The official Web site of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda includes summaries of completed, ongoing, and upcoming cases against perpetrators of the genocide; diaries of case minutes and judicial decisions; and an extensive set of links to U.N. sites, research institutes and libraries, NGOs, and background on Rwanda.


Special thanks to Greg Barker, Silverbridge Productions; Alison Des Forges, senior advisor, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch; William Ferroggiaro, editor, Digital Briefing Book on Rwanda, The National Security Archive; and Nancy Soderberg, former U.S.U.N. ambassador to the U.N., for advising on this guide. This guide was made possible through a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

"Ghosts of Rwanda" is a FRONTLINE co-production with the BBC and Silverbridge Productions. The writer, producer, and director is Greg Barker. The executive producer for the BBC's Panorama is Mike Robinson. The executive producer for special projects for FRONTLINE is Michael Sullivan. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Additional support is provided by U.S. News & World Report. Additional funding for "Ghosts of Rwanda" is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

Rwanda Facts

  • Country in central Africa slightly smaller than Maryland
  • Population 7,810,056 -- the most densely populated country in Africa
  • Average life expectancy 39.33 years; only 2.7% of the country is older than 65
  • Predominant ethnic communities: 84% Hutu, 15% Tutsi; Twa 1%
  • 60% of the population is below the poverty line (2001 est.)

Excerpted from CIA-The World Factbook. All figures are 2003 estimates except as noted.

Major Peacekeeping Missions in Africa During the Genocide

Country Mission Financing Maximum Military Strength Military Fatalities
Liberia UNOMIL
9/93 - 9/97
$ 99.3 M 368 none
5/91 - 2/95
$ 175.8 M 350 3
Mozambique UNOMOZ
12/92 - 12/94
$ 486.7 M 6,979 21
3/93 - 3/95
$ 1.6 B 28,000 146
10/93 - 3/96
$ 453.9 M 5,500 25

Adapted from the United Nations Peacekeeping Web site

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posted april 1, 2004

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