Prior to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has had ethnic power struggles for some time, between the Tutsi minority (who occupied a privileged position in the colonial administration before independence) and the Hutu majority. The former Tutsi dominance of the colonial era gave way to Hutu dominance through a violent power struggle following independence from Belgium in 1962. After independence many remained fearful of a Tutsi return to power.
In 1990 the predominantly Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an assault from Uganda against the Hutu dominated government of President Juvenal Habyarimana. In February 1993, the RPF launched its largest offensive and came within 15 miles of Kigali, the Rwandan capital city. Under pressure from France, Belgium and the US, the RPF and the Rwandan government entered negotiations to end the conflict. This resulted in the Arusha Accords, signed in August of 1993. The accords established a power sharing democratic government that represented both sides and a unified army composed of both sides. As part of this agreement, a neutral UN force was to be deployed to uphold the deal.
Although there was much resistance to sending a peacekeeping force to Rwanda, the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda was created (UNAMIR). The vote to approve UNAMIR happened just days after the Somalian catastrophe. The US was insistent on rejecting any situation that might put their troops in a potentially forceful situation. Domestically, the US also had an agenda for reducing the budget for UN peacekeeping missions. In 1994, the US rejected a proposed peacekeeping contingency fund that would allow for the US to provide emergency financing for rapid peacekeeping efforts. The US was becoming more and more isolationist in its foreign policy altogether. They still owed around “$900 million in unpaid contributions to the regular UN budget and its peacekeeping expenses” (50). Congress had “refused to approve [these contributions] despite the legal obligation as a UN member state” (50). However, this is another topic that I’ll hopefully write about in another post. As a result, the US first argued to send only 100 troops for UNAMIR. 8,000 were requested, with a 5,000 troop minimum requirement. The US sent 2,500.
The international community was somewhat ignorant of Rwanda and its history. There was awareness of a history of ethnic conflict and also in neighboring Burundi. However, UNAMIR was cast off with an air of optimism. It seemed like much safer ground than Somalia. However, the UN troop deployment got off to a rocky start. By December 1993, it was clear that the forces were “totally inadequate.” No troop contributing country had been willing to supply a self-contained 800-man infantry battalion. This was considered an essential force for the capital city of Kigali. Instead two battalions were given, one from Belgium consisting of 398 men and the other from Bangladesh consisting of 370 men (of which only 266 arrived). UNAMIR was meant to have 22 armored personnel carriers and eight helicopters yet no country was willing to provide them, which meant a lack of deterrent capability, and a reserve mobile force. Engineers and logisticians were reassigned as infantry due to this lack. The carrier vehicles that were provided were completely “dilapidated”, and only five were serviceable. They often broke down and had to be towed by other carriers. This was an embarrassment. The potential for a disaster started to become much clearer and fear grew of a repeat of Somalia but with a considerably smaller military presence, and without “any possibility of reinforcement” (53).
Romeo Dallaire, the force commander of UNAMIR, in January of 1994 wrote to the DPKO detailing the growing crisis. Later in April, from his car, he witnessed two Belgian peacekeeping troops being held and beaten. He could do nothing but negotiate. He said, “I just can’t get those guys out of there. I just don’t have the forces.” In response, the DPKO told Dallaire to pressure President Habyarimana, that if violence did occur that the Security Council would take action. This was meant to convey the impression that powerful nations could bring serious repercussions upon Rwanda.
In April 1994, a plane with President Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamire of Burundi was shot down. Everyone was killed. The Hutu government initiated violence. They blamed the RPF and the Tutsis for the attack. The following day, the ten Belgian troops assigned to protect the Prime Minister of Rwanda were captured. They were ordered to lay down their weapons and not engage in combat by their commander Luc Marchal. The prime minister was then assassinated and the troops murdered and mutilated. Massacres began to spread beyond the capitol. Civilians were being killed in the open by government troops, militias and bands of Hutu civilians.
Any collapse on the Arusha Accords would result in the termination of UNAMIR, and the Rwandan government knew this. Shortly after the violence began, a senior Rwandan official spoke of a plan to kill the Belgian peacekeepers. He said, “We watch CNN too, you know,” This was referring to the Somalian crisis. He knew that if UN troops were attacked and killed, the troop-contributing countries would pull the rest of their forces out. He was correct. Five days later the Belgian government pulled its troops out of Rwanda. This was the core fighting force of UNAMIR. It effectively gutted UNAMIR of any clout. By April 27th 1994, the Security Council voted to bring the UNAMIR force down to only 270 troops. There was simply no interest in becoming involved. Bob Dole effectively portrayed this perspective saying, “I don’t think we have any national interest here. I hope we don’t get involved…the Americans (US citizens in Rwanda) are out. As far as I’m concerned, in Rwanda that ought to be the end of it” (58).
Secretary General Boutros-Ghali pushed for a major military intervention but it was unanimously rejected. The Security Council took no responsibility for the worsening situation in Rwanda and continuously denied the fact that it was genocide. At this point an estimated 200,000 people had been killed. 250,000 more people had escaped into Tanzania, the largest mass exodus of refugees ever witnessed by the UN. Eventually, on May 17th, the council reestablished UNAMIR calling it UNAMIR II and called for a force of 5,500. However, once again, no one was willing to provide these troops. Annan said,
At DPKO, we spent endless days frantically lobbying more than a hundred governments around the world for troops. I called dozens myself, and the responses were all the same. We did not receive a single serious offer. It was one of the most shocking and deeply formative experiences of my entire career, laying bare the disjuncture between the public statement of alarm and concern for the suffering of other people on the one hand, and, on the other, the unwillingness to commit any of the necessary resources to take action. The world knew the scale of the killing in Rwanda, and yet we could not get anyone, from governments across the world, to do anything serious to help (59).
The genocide eventually ended due to the victory of the RPF. They overthrew the government in July but not before 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu’s had been murdered. 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda in 100 days. A new government was established, and after this, troops were finally sent to UNAMIR II, well after the genocide and civil war was over. The lesson here, Annan says, is that the genocide and protection of citizens could have happened if there was the military capacity and political will. However, in 1994 “there was simply no culture or precedent in the international system of UN intervention in an internal conflict to use military force decisively to protect citizens” (59). Combined with the impact of Somalia, the result was inaction.