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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Rwandan inaction slammed

Nine years ago this month, almost 300,000 people were massacred in an organized, government-sponsored genocide aimed at the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda.

A panel of experts gathered in Carson hall yesterday and unanimously condemned the international community for its inability to react properly to the tragedy.

When the killing stopped, close to one million people lay dead. "It was the most rapid paced mass murder in the twentieth century." Said Aly Rahim '02. "It was five times faster than the pace of the Holocaust."

The group included Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and current director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, Linda Melvern, a journalist and author focused on the Rwandan genocide, government professor Alan Stam and Rahim, who wrote his senior thesis on the topic of intervention in Rwanda.

Rahim gave an overview of his thesis, after which the panel members spoke individually on the topic. The four speakers were united in their condemnation of the international community in its failure to react appropriately to the genocide.

The four continually referred to the United Nations's accurate intelligence reports that indicated a genocide was being planned. The reports were received long before the massacres began.

"I consider the lack of intervention in Rwanda to be the failure of our age," said Melvern.

Melvern highlighted the organization of the killings. "The training of the militias was aimed at killing one thousand people every 20 minutes," she said.

Axworthy's comments were particularly pertinent, as he was a member of the Canadian cabinet at the time, holding positions on the Foreign Affairs cabinet committee and the Intelligence committee. With a shaky voice he said "The depth and tragedy of what was happening in Rwanda simply did not register."

Axworthy continued, visibly saddened by his involvement in the events. He recounted the specific night when he read a report on the genocide, some time after its conclusion. "I became stunned, embarrassed and ashamed as a policy maker in a government that was somewhat responsible for this tragedy," he said.

The former Canadian Foreign Minister went on to describe the effect of the Rwandan experience on Canadian policy. He claimed that Canada's support for intervention in Kosovo, establishment of the International Criminal Court and banning of land mines were all direct results of Rwanda. Axworthy was nominated for the Nobel peace prize for his work on the Ottawa Treaty to ban anti-personnel mines.

When audience members raised the issue of the lack of media coverage in Rwanda, Melvern reacted immediately: "One of the major papers in Britain currently has a single reporter to cover the entire continent of Africa," she said. "while feature articles on gardening are being run on the front page. It's disgraceful."

The panel members finally raised the current problems regarding intervention. "Hundreds of people are being killed every week in Uganda and the Congo" Stam said. "The points of intervention are not obvious, they're not simple."

Axworthy suggested modifying the United Nations' structure. "The security council should not be responsible for internal or civil war," he said. "The lack of transparency and the interests of the permanent five get in the way. The responsibility should be shifted to the general assembly. That will give the assembly more legitimacy and make it more than just a talk-shop."

Adlit Rukomangana, a native Rwandan, attended the discussion with other members of the Vermont Center for Reparations, based out of Montpelier. Seven of Rukomangana's eight siblings were killed during the genocide. "It shows that we are trying to repair our mistakes," said Rukomanagana. "I'm impressed with the speed of the reaction, and I have a sense of hope that we're beginning to understand our responsibilities in the world."

A final comment from an audience member captured the passions involved in the tragic topic. "A black child in Rwanda is not worth the same amount as a child in Bosnia, or Europe," said Dr. Glenn Hawkes, the director of the Center for Reparations. Dr. Hawkes and Mr. Rukomangana are currently organizing trips to Rwanda in an attempt to spread education on AIDS in the country.

The discussion was held in recognition of Rahim's thesis, which argued that not only did the international community ignore the fact that a genocide was occurring, but that the United Nations' inappropriate actions beforehand actually aggravated the problem. Rahim won the Chase Peace Prize for his work.