Intervention in the Rwandan Genocide:
Prevention preferable, but better intervention second best
The Hutus and Tutsis were not traditionally different, and ethnicity in Rwanda only became important during Belgium colonization when the more European-looking Tutsis were chosen as the aristocracy to rule over the Hutus. After Rwanda's independence in 1961 the Hutu majority, comprising roughly 85% of the population, ruled the country. Between 1961 and the outbreak of genocide in 1994 many Tutsis fled the regime due to its discriminatory practices and anti-Tutsi policies. Even after gaining control of the country, however, Hutus had been scared of a Tutsi coup or an invasion from the Tutsi refugees in neighboring Uganda. The regime of president Habyarimana played on these fears in order to distract Rwandans from failing policies and keep their declining party in power. It was the assassination of the president that precipitated the implementation of ethnic cleansing, although not the cause; plans for such an event had been planned out by Colonel Bogasata the previous year, the assassination of the country's Hutu leader just happened to be a convenient event for his clique of extremist Hutus to exploit. In October of 1993 the UN Security Council authorized the UN Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) following a period of strife between the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the Hutu regime of Rwanda. When the government ordered assassinations were carried out in Kigali on April 6, 1994 there were about 2,500 UNIMAR peacekeepers in Rwanda. Soon after the violent outbreak Hutu government forces executed ten Belgian UNIMAR peacekeepers. On April 14 Belgium announced that it would be withdrawing its UNIMAR battalion, an action that unnerved other involved states and led the U.N. Security Council to cut the number of troops to a mere 270 the following week. Only after a month of vacillation did the UNSC vote to send 5,500 troops back into Rwanda, but it still dragged its feet and as of July only 10% of the promised force had been deployed (Economist, 1994). The RPF, meanwhile, had launched into Rwanda and by mid-July, it had ousted the genocidal regime from Rwanda. Preceding the Rwandan genocide, numerous western states made claims of their willingness to intervene in a humanitarian crisis, and this kind of rhetoric has proved counterproductive in the past by encouraging insecure regimes to act hastily. Alan Kuperman said "If the West is unwilling to deploy such robust forces in advance, it must refrain from coercive diplomacy aimed at compelling rulers to surrender power overnight. Otherwise, such rulers may feel so threatened by the prospect of losing power that they opt for genocide or ethnic cleansing instead." (Kuperman, p. 106). An example of this was the acceleration of ethnic cleansing and Albanian deportations directly following NATO's warnings to Milosevic that he and those complicit would be prosecuted for crimes against humanity; sometimes threats, especially ones unlikely to be backed by significant force, can act counterproductively by limiting the regime's choices and increasing their desperation to retain power, increasing the likelihood that they will resort to desperate measures such as ethnic cleansing. If Milosevic already believed that he would be prosecuted for war crimes, then he has less incentive to avoid measures that violate international law. In order to understand how the Rwandan Hutu regime could have been best dealt with it is important to understand the surrounding circumstances. President Habiyarimana's regime was losing popularity due in part to unsuccessful economic policy, and his small clique of Hutu extremists was desperate to cling to power. They, as well as other Hutus, were terrified of the notion that Tutsis may come back into power and implement the same kind of Hutu oppression that was experienced during its years as a Belgian colony. Many of the minority Tutsis, feeling threatened by...
Cited: The Economist. Learning from Rwanda (U.N. Peacekeeping Operations). April, 1994.
Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (New York:
Human Rights Watch/FIDH, 1999).
Kuperman, Alan J. Rwanda in Retrospect. Foreign Affairs 79, no. 1 pp. 94-118 Jan/Feb,
Report of the Independent Inquiry Into the Actions of the United Nations During the 1994
Genocide in Rwanda, 15 December 1999, accessed December 17, 1999 at
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