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Warnings of Catastrophe

French, US, UN, and Belgian Documents Foreshadow the Genocide in Rwanda 1994

Key Belgian Diplomatic Cables Published in English for the First Time

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 458

Posted March 6, 2014

Edited by Michael Dobbs
For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

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IN THE NEWS

The Shroud Over Rwanda's Nightmare
By Michael Dobbs, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
By Rafael Medoff
January 10, 2014

"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
 By Linda Melvern, Gregory Stanton, et al.
January 15, 2014 (published January 21, 2014)

 


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Washington, DC, March 6, 2014 – Concerned about the possibility of "a new bloodbath" in Rwanda, the Belgium foreign ministry issued a dramatic diplomatic démarche on February 25, 1994, calling for a strengthening of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African country. According to Belgium government dispatches, the initiative failed because of opposition by the United States and the United Kingdom and resistance from the United Nations Secretariat.

New English translations of the diplomatic traffic between Brussels and New York on the eve of the Rwanda genocide are contained in the third of a series of postings co-sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The latest briefing book also includes a series of earlier warnings about the potential for mass violence in Rwanda from U.S., French, and United Nations sources, dating back to late 1990.

Today's postings form part of a detailed documentation of the international response to the genocide that killed between 500,000 and a million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsi, between April and July 1994. Future briefing books will examine events before and after the onset of the genocide, including the Arusha peace negotiations, a growing refugee crisis, the murders of Belgian peacekeepers, and the fateful decision to withdraw the bulk of the United Nations peacekeeping force, known as UNAMIR.

Text of French language version of Document 7.

Originally published in French and Flemish as part of a Belgian Senate investigation into the Rwandan tragedy in December 1997, the Belgian diplomatic cable of February 25 describes a "significant deterioration" in the security situation that "could well lead to a new bloodbath." It expresses concern about the possibility that Belgian paratroopers, known as the "Blue Berets", might become "passive witnesses to genocide in Rwanda."

Addressed to the Belgian ambassador to the United Nations, Paul Noterdaeme, the February 25 cable reflects the growing concern among senior Belgian officials over the breakdown in the Arusha peace process. It followed a sudden spate of political assassinations coinciding with the visit to Kigali of the Belgian foreign minister, Willy Claes, that threatened to torpedo attempts to install a new, national unity government.

"FONMIN Claes' Interview on His Trip to Rwanda and Burundi and on Situation in Zaire," first page of Document 10.

In his formal reply to Brussels three days later, Ambassador Noterdaeme reported that the United States and the United Kingdom were opposed to strengthening the UNAMIR mandate, and were even considering withdrawing the peacekeepers "in the event of difficulties." He added that the United Nations secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was opposed to any adjustment in the rules of engagement for UNAMIR, for both political and military reasons.

With the security situation deteriorating, and the international community unwilling to act, both the Rwandan army and the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front began preparing for renewed military confrontation, as illustrated by Documents 8 and 9.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the documents published today provide further reminders of the passivity of an international community scarred by the murders of UN peacekeepers in Somalia in October 1993. Repeated warnings of catastrophe by diplomats and intelligence analysts were either missed or ignored by senior policy-makers in Washington, New York, Paris, and elsewhere.

 


The Documents

Document 1: French version, English version
Date: October 24, 1990
From: [French ambassador to Rwanda Georges] Martres and [French military attaché] Rene Galinie.
To: French Foreign Ministry
Subject: "Assessment of the Political Situation"

Writing in the aftermath of an invasion of Rwanda by Tutsi-led rebels based in Uganda, the French ambassador warns of a political and military backlash by the country's Hutu majority. Ambassador Martres believes that any attempt to restore a Tutsi-dominated regime in Rwanda, such as existed prior to the colonial era, could lead to the "physical elimination" of the country's Tutsi minority, of between 500,000 to 700,000 people. A long-time French Africa hand, Martres frequently expressed opinions that reflected the views of Rwandan president Habyarimana.

Document 2
Date: September 23, 1992
From: Secretary of State [drafted by Rick Ehrenreich]
To: All African Diplomatic Posts
Subject: "INR/AA'S AFRICAN TRENDS - 9/18/92 (NO. 19)"

In a lengthy analysis of the situation in Rwanda, an analyst for the State Department intelligence unit (INR) predicts that Hutu chauvinists might be tempted to play the "genocide card" in response to military threats from Tutsi-led exiles. He mentions the "threat of genocidal violence" as a possible outcome of the Rwanda crisis despite the conclusion of the Arusha peace agreement.

Document 3
Date: August 11, 1993
From: United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights
Rapporteur: Bacre W. Ndiaye
Title: "Extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions [in Rwanda]"

A UN human rights official notes that Tutsis inside the country are being targeted "solely because of their membership of a certain ethnic group," which could qualify as "genocide" under the terms of the Geneva convention. The report by Bacre Ndiaye chronicles a series of massacres committed against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, apparently with Rwandan government support, in the wake of military advances by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Document 4
Date : February 14, 1994
From: [Jacques-Roger] Booh-Booh, UNAMIR, Kigali
To: [Kofi] Annan, United Nations, New York
Subject: "Letter from Foreign Minister of Belgium"

In this message, relayed to UNAMIR commander Roméo Dallaire by the UN Secretariat, Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes warns that UNAMIR may find it impossible to fulfill its mission unless it is given greater authority. He warns that the continuation of the political stalemate could result in "an irreversible explosion of violence."

Document 5
Date: February 17, 1994
From: US Embassy Kigali, (Ambassador David Rawson)
To: Secretary of State (United States)
Subject: "The Military and the Transition to Peace"

In a dispatch analyzing the mood in the Rwandan army, the U.S. ambassador to Kigali raises the possibility of a military coup, led either by Hutu nationalists or by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front. He adds, however, that "serious evidence" of a planned coup is lacking.

Document 6
Date: February 21, 1994 (cover note dated February 23, 1994)
To: [Kofi] Annan, United Nations, New York
From: [Jacques-Roger] Booh-Booh, UNAMIR, Kigali (and UNAMIR commander Roméo Dallaire)
Subject: "The Military Situation and Assessment of RGF/RPF Intentions as of 20 Feb 1994"

In an analysis of the military situation, Dallaire reports that both the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government forces (RGF) and the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front may be preparing to violate the terms of the Arusha peace agreement. He cites evidence of RPF incursions into the demilitarized zone, but leaves open the possibility of a provocation by government sympathizers "dressed as RPF." He warns that time is "running out for political discussions" and " any spark on the security side could possibly have catastrophic consequences."

Document 7: French version, English version
Date: February 25, 1994
From: Minafet (Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs Chef de cabinet Lode Willems)
To: Delbelonu [Belgian delegation to the United Nations]
Subject: [Warning of "genocide" in Rwanda]

The Belgian Foreign Ministry expresses alarm at the worsening security situation in Kigali, and warns that the failure to strengthen UNAMIR could result in a "new bloodbath." The Belgian ambassador to the United Nations replies on February 28 that both the United States and the United Kingdom are considering withdrawing the peacekeeping force from Rwanda "in the event of difficulties."

Document 8
Date: March 3, 1994
From: UNAMIR Force Commander Roméo Dallaire
To: RPF General Paul Kagame
Subject: "Letter of Protest - Deployment of RPF Troops in Demilitarized Zone and Expulsion of UNAMIR Duty Personnel from the CND" [Rwandan parliament building]

Following the upsurge in political violence in mid-February, both sides pushed ahead with plans for renewed military operations. In this message, Dallaire warns RPF commander Paul Kagame against violating the terms of the Arusha peace agreement and conducting military operations in the demilitarized zone in northern Rwanda.

Document 9
Date: March 7, 1994
From: Dallaire\UNAMIR\Kigali
To: Annan\DPKO\United Nations\New York
Subject: "Resupply of Ammunition for Government Army"

By early March, Dallaire was complaining of peace agreement violations by both sides. In this message to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York, the UNAMIR commander complains about shipments of ammunition to the Rwandan army through Kigali airport and warns that such supplies could "become an explosive issue."

Document 10
Date: March 11, 1994
From: US Embassy Brussels
To: Secretary of State (United States)
Subject: "FONMIN Claes' Interview on His Trip to Rwanda and Burundi and on Situation in Zaire"

Interviewed on his return from Rwanda, the Belgian foreign minister expresses deepening pessimism that a political solution can be found. He warns that the country appears to be heading toward "an almost structural confrontation" between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations.

 

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