Nothing has traumatized my psyche and emotions over the past nearly forty years of international travel, like the real-time observations of genocide. I have seen with my own eyes the atrocities in the Bosnia-Kosovo-Herzegovina tragedy. I experienced the killing fields of Uganda, Burundi and two episodes in Congo. I was in Nagorno Karabakh and experienced the systematic killing of 80% of its male population with almost no media coverage at all. I stood where the Turks ravaged the population of the Armenians. I have visited Cambodia and diligently observed and studied how Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge diabolically murdered everyone who did not fit their envisioned model of agrarian communism. I have visited the Jewish holocaust museums in both America and Israel, and have concluded that evil is very real, cultures are very fragile, and genocide can happen anywhere.
Witnessing the occurrence of genocide being perpetrated by the Hutus upon the Tutsis in Rwanda still plays horror movies on the wide screen of my mind. After the genocide stopped, we drove in a Volkswagen van from Kampala, Uganda, to the heart of Kigali, Rwanda. There I encountered the scenes I cannot now erase.
Out of a population of 7.3 million people—84% of whom were Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa—the official figures published by the Rwandan government estimated the number of victims of the genocide to be 1,174,000 slaughtered in 100 days, between April 6 and mid-July. That figures out to be 10,000 Tutsis or moderate Hutus murdered every day by their own neighbors; 400 every hour, 7 every minute. It is estimated that about 300,000 Tutsi, who had escaped to neighboring countries, survived the genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to a planned strategy of rape and female mutilation, became HIV-Aids infected. There were about 400,000 kids left as orphans, and nearly 85,000 of them were forced to become heads of families. The killings, on the most part, were accomplished without the use of any guns, but by hand with the use of machetes that were issued to the Hutus by their leaders, or the victims were bludgeoned to death with common gardening hoes and shovels.
It is important to see, from a cultural economics standpoint, that genocide differs from war. War, historically, is fought for tribute to be paid by the vanquished to the victor. Or wars are fought over the possession of some disputed border-land geography. But genocide takes place where there is full intention of destroying and replacing a culture. In 1994, the Hutus in Rwanda wanted to completely destroy and remove all remnants of the Tutsi culture and civilization. Their intentions were to kill every man, woman, boy, and girl who was of Tutsi blood, and every trace of Tutsi traditions, institutions, family structure and legacy, as well as all living individuals.
Once genocide has been accomplished, the aggressors assume undisputed right and sway over land (resources), labor (production), capital (business, currency, trade), education, religion, policy-making and enforcing, and the entrepreneurs are replaced by either a dictator or by a politburo.
Very little thought is given at the time of the genocide to the slaughter of the innocent civilians or any other hideous atrocities perpetrated. It is deemed imperative that the culture needs to be eradicated, and the eliminating of people is viewed as an incidental requirement. Therefore, it is impossible to enforce any standard rules or treaties of war.
The Commander and General of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi named Paul Kagame, brought a halt to the killings and gained control of the country by mid-July, 1994. By then, the facts had begun to percolate out from Kigali. The United Nations had failed miserably in fulfilling its peacekeeping assignments. The Clinton Administration and the UN actually eroded support and blocked any help from going into Rwanda to stop the aggression and genocide by the Hutus. Later, President Clinton in a Frontline television interview admitted that he regretted the decision, and later publicly stated that he believed that if he had sent 5,000 U.S. peacekeepers, more than 500,000 lives could have been saved. President Clinton has referred to the failure of the U.S. government to intervene in the genocide as one of his main foreign policy failings.
In 2000, the UN explicitly declared its reaction to Rwanda a "failure." Then Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the event, "The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret."
So, following the occurrence of genocide, how does civilization reset its clock?
John Rucyahana, the Bishop of Rwanda, admitted, “I knew that to really minister to Rwanda's needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, in the churches, and in the cities and villages throughout the country. It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young; but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable.”
In July, 1994, Tutsi leader, General Paul Kagame, was chosen vice-president of a new unity government, and Hutu leader, Pasteur Bizimungu was chosen president so that the majority Hutus would still be highly represented in the government. Bizimungu resigned in March of 2000 in a dispute over the make-up of a new cabinet, and Kagame became president. Kagame subsequently won elections in 2003 and 2010.
During the genocide, most of the governmental institutions were destroyed, including the judicial courts. Most of the judges and prosecutors had been killed. Out of 750 judges, only fifty were left alive in the country. However, there were over 130,000 suspects who had been arrested and were being held in jails for crimes related to the genocide atrocities. Between 1996 and 2000, the courts could only process 3,343 cases. It was calculated that it would take over two hundred years to conduct the trials of the suspects in prison, not including the ones who remained at large.
The UN set up the International Criminal Tribunal to prosecute the high level officials, and Rwanda established the Gacaca Courts that traditionally dealt with local conflicts and adapted them to judge the cases of the lower level leaders and the local people. Neither of the systems proved to be satisfactory.
Reconciliation and restructuring peace is a very complicated phenomenon. It has to do with more than reparations and economic matters. It also requires changes of heart and spirit and requires employing symbolic as well as practical matters. In some ways Rwanda has experienced healing; in some ways it has not. In some ways President Kagame has been given an impossible task. The last time I visited Kigali, I listened to a couple of prominent Hutu leaders who were saying, “Nothing has changed, we still have the minority Tutsis as leaders. Next time we will complete the job.”
The cultural and spiritual clock cannot be reset, and complete healing cannot take place without a veritable miracle of reconciliation. That reconciliation requires massive doses of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Otherwise, it will not last. Otherwise, temporary repression will be experienced, and ultimately another outbreak of atrocity will be repeated.
I pray often for my Rwandan friends and for President Paul Kagame. Project C.U.R.E. has been involved in the country for many years, and I believe that true reconciliation of kindness, justice, and righteousness will serve to lower or remove the walls of misunderstanding and violation that unduly separate human beings one from another.