I was born after the genocide in Rwanda. April 7 1994, is a date I would never forget since I watched ‘Sometimes In April’ – a movie about what happened during the genocide – when I was just 12. I would recommend it to anyone who has not seen the movie. I remember learning about genocide in high school.
On the evening of April 6, 1994, President of Rwanda Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. The then President of Burundi was also on board. The crash left no survivors. And till today, the culprits are still unknown. Though some have blamed the Hutus’. Within hours of the incident, barricades were set up, and the Hutus blocked roads’. Senior Tutsis’ officials were being rounded up; machetes were released to the Hutus’ to slaughter the Tutsis’. A local radio station began broadcasting calls to murder the ‘cockroaches’. That is, the Tutsis’. The Hutu makes up 85% of Rwanda’s population, while the other 15% are the Tutsis’.
The massacres lasted 100 days. An estimated 800,000 Tutsis’ were killed with machetes wielded by the Hutus’. Neighbour killing neighbour. Family members were murdering their kin — more killings town by town, house by house, village by village. The death rate achieved by the Hutus’ was so rapid and higher than the Nazis.
One piece of footage from that day in Rwanda remains clear in my mind. The footage was shot from a car as it drove down a residential street lined with dead bodies, one on top of the other, all having deep machete wounds. Some persons were left to bleed in agony, sometimes for days.
The massacres happened as an outburst to the long-standing tensions between the two ethnic groups in the 1950s and 1990. Before the slaughter, Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian General responsible for the UN peacekeepers in the country at the time, saw the massacre coming. He warned of this. He recalled receiving credible reports of how the genocide was to unfold. Dallaire said he sent a message to the UN headquarters in New York, requesting to raid the weapons and prevent the genocide from happening. But the peacekeepers were under Chapter VI mandate which meant they couldn’t use arms to stop a murder, only in self-defence.
The UN in New York called Dallaire to tell him that he had no authority to protect the people. Dallaire says he stood at a runway with tears rolling down his face, watching as the ‘international community’ sent 1600 soldiers to evacuate all foreigners and abandon the Tutsis’ to certain death. The peacekeepers, on the other hand, could do nothing even if they stayed. They had no clothes, and dead bodies contaminated the country’s water, leaving no clean water in the country. The peacekeepers were also ill-equipped. All they could do was put up havens in hospitals, hotels and stadium.
The peacekeeper’s decision to stay is one of the greatest acts of moral courage in history. Romeo Dallaire is a vivid example of ethical conduct in the most gruesome situations. He was in hell. He was abandoned to face the brewing evil. The phantom of Rwanda followed him to Canada.