The World Is Silent, and So Are We

20 years after the massacre in Rwanda, the international community sheds a crocodile tear while everyone knows that this genocide could have been prevented easily.

Yair Auron
Yair Auron
Traumatized audience member is helped by paramedics at ceremony marking 20 years since Rwandan genocide, April 7, 2014. Yet the world remains silent.
Traumatized audience member is helped by paramedics at ceremony marking 20 years since Rwandan genocide, April 7, 2014. Yet the world remains silent.Credit: AFP
Yair Auron
Yair Auron

Three months ago, I visited the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre, where a small, terrifying and shocking museum has been established to commemorate the genocide in Rwanda that took place in 1994. The skeletons and skulls of some of the 45,000 women, men and children who were murdered at the site are exhibited. It is easy to tell who died by gunshot and who by machete, and who was strangled to death. Hair still clings to some of the skulls.

In some ways, being at the memorial site struck me even more powerfully than my visits to the death camps in Poland. During the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide, between 800,000 and one million people were murdered − nobody knows exactly how many − most of them from the Tutsi tribe and a few of the moderate members of the Hutu tribe, or those who refused to take part in the murders. This act of genocide took place in the shortest time, using primitive methods.

It is shocking to think that 20 years after the massacre, the international community sheds a crocodile tear when it is obvious to everyone that this genocide could have been prevented easily.

Unilateral threats from the international community against tiny Rwanda would have been enough to stop the Hutu leaders from carrying out their plan. Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the United Nations forces in Rwanda, received precise intelligence about the plans for the genocide and warned his supervisors in the UN, but they rejected his claims dismissively.

During the genocide, France arranged to send troops to southwestern Rwanda in an operation code-named Turquoise with the UN Security Council’s approval. The operation’s purpose was supposedly to stop the massacres, but in reality it seemed that the French troops helped the murderous Rwandan government stay in power and continue its acts of annihilation.

The French parliamentary investigative committee that probed France’s involvement in the genocide in Rwanda reached lenient conclusions that minimized its responsibility and the scope of its war crimes.

A 2008 report published by a commission of inquiry of the Rwandan government included grave charges that the French had provided logistical, military and diplomatic assistance to the perpetrators. The report called for the prosecution of 34 high-ranking officials in the French army and administration, including former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and former President Francois Mitterand. The latter was known for his good personal relationship with the late former president of Rwanda,

Juvenal Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu tribe, who was killed in a plane crash together with Cyprien Ntaryamira, the president of the neighboring state of Burundi. The plane crash became the immediate pretext for the start of the genocide. Miterrand’s son was one of the largest arms dealers who sold weapons to Rwanda.

Bill Clinton, who was president of the United States at the time, prevented the acts that took place in Rwanda from being defined as genocide eight times during the 100 days of the massacre because such a definition would have made international intervention obligatory.

In my opinion, Clinton bears the main responsibility and guilt for failure to prevent the genocide. Clinton admitted his guilt explicitly: In a speech he gave marking the 90th birthday of President Shimon Peres, he devoted most of his time to the genocide in Rwanda (one wonders why).

Tiny Israel, too, was a partner in the world’s silence. As many as 10 years ago, a decade after the genocide in Rwanda, I made a public demand for a probe of Israel’s arms sales to Rwanda during the very time that the massacres were taking place. We have incriminating evidence that the arms (plunder from the Yom Kippur War) left from the airport in Lod for Goma, from which it was transferred directly to the murderous troops of the Rwandan army. There are photographs documenting the whereabouts of the Israeli arms in Rwanda during the massacre, some before it was used and some after.

Weapons cannot be taken out of Israel without the approval of the highest levels. It appears that the issue reached Yitzhak Rabin and Peres, and they approved the aerial shipment of the arms. The sale of arms to Rwanda was forbidden at the time by a UN resolution, which imposed an embargo on their sale, rendering such sale a war crime.

Of course, Israel was not the only country to violate the embargo, but that does not justify the crime we committed. From 2004 to 2014, more testimony accumulated that was extremely incriminating, but nothing was done and the official answers of Israeli ministers and officials were flat denials.

We cannot help but recall that just last week, Haaretz published a report proving that after an agreement was reached with the Rwandan government, Israel has been deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda and sending them there (perhaps not to their deaths) with no documentation and almost no means.

The Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, the capital, which is moving in its aesthetics and precision, has an impressive exhibit of four other acts of genocide: the Holocaust, the massacre of the Roma, the massacre of the Armenians and the genocide in Cambodia. If only Israel had a Holocaust museum that commemorated the victims of other acts of genocide as well. The world is silent, and so are we.

For 25 years, Professor Auron has been researching Israel’s attitude toward the genocide of other peoples. In November 2014, the Open University will hold an international conference marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

The skulls and bones of some of those who were slaughtered as they sought refuge inside the church, are laid out on shelves in an underground vault as a memorial to the thousands who were killed in anCredit: AP

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