When Tamils in
The world’s worst genocide after WW2 occurred in
Admittedly, this has not happened in
A close comparison of the two situations shows up important similarities, both in terms of the evolving conditions in which a minority comes to be subjected to exterminatory attacks by a majority and, just as importantly, in the conduct of the world’s leading states, especially the Western democracies, in relation to the crisis.
Here are a few summary points. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 took place,
- after an internationally (United Nations) sponsored ceasefire and peace talks had led to a tentative ‘peace deal’ - on ‘power-sharing’ – had been reached between the majoritarian government and the minority group;
- as the international community continued to remain diplomatically engaged and aware of the deteriorating situation (but refusing to intervene);
- after the government had re-armed its military during the peace talks;
- after large numbers of the majority community had been organised into ‘civil militia’ against the ‘terrorism’ of the minority;
- after several decades of ethnic animosity had intensified into communal attacks and pogroms against the minority by the majority;
- after the majority had come, after independence from colonialism, to dominate the state and the armed forces;
- after decades of the international community denying there was an ‘ethnic problem’;
This article, the last in a three part series looking at the notion of ‘genocide’ and Sri Lanka – therefore examines the build up to Rwanda’s catastrophe, focussing on the role of the international community.
Not long before a million Tutsis were slaughtered in an organised attempt at extermination, there had been internationally-brokered peace talks between the Hutu government (of President Habyarimana) and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), representing the Tutsis.
After the talks the Tutsi were on the verge of a credible, internationally-backed power sharing agreement– the Arusha Accords.
That was when the ethnic crisis finally erupted into extermination.
Academic Michael Mann - whose thesis was examined in part 2 (TG375) – explains why: “the danger zone” from which ethnic conflict turns murderous is reached when two rival ethnic groups lay claim to political sovereignty over the same territory; and where both claims appear legitimate and realizable.
As with the majority Sinhala in Sri Lanka, the historical ‘grievances’ of the majority Hutu included the claim that prior to independence, the Colonial rulers had discriminated against the majority ethnic group in favour of the minority.
Moreover, like the Tamils are positioned in the mythology of the Sinhala, the Hutus considered the Tutsi to be ‘invaders’. As Colonel Bagosora, a Hutu commander: “the Tutsis never had a country of their own; they were people who came to
The Sinhalese consider the Tamils to have invaded from south
When these pogroms occurred, the attitudes of the majority rulers of both states, say between President J. R. Jayawardene of
For example, Jayawardene blamed the genocidal 1983 pogroms on the Tamils’ intolerable demand for a separate state. He freely admitted: “I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people ... if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”
President Kayibanda told the Tutsis in 1963: “some of you are causing trouble for your brothers who are living in peace in a democratic
Kayibanda also warned that if the Tutsi sought political power, their whole race would be wiped out.
Linda Melvern says of the Rwandan pogroms: “And in each case the role of propaganda and the distortion of history …were paramount” in paving the way for the violence.
Hutu- and state-controlled media were key to whipping up anti-minority sentiments amongst the majority and portraying the former as violent upstarts who should be put down before it was too late.
(Remember also how the Arusha Accords had given considerable legitimacy to Tutsi demands for power-sharing and further angered the Hutus).
Similarly, Sinhala- and state-owned media in
It is not accidental that last month, the Free Media Movement and four other media organisations said in a statement republished by the AHRC (Asian Human Rights Commission), that: “[the] language and behaviour of the Rajapakse administration's apparatchiks reminds us of Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, which laid the groundwork for genocide and large-scale violence.”
Just as importantly, as in
Nonetheless, as also in
As Linda Melvern puts it,
There is no basis for this sanguine view. Even by 1959, the United Nations was aware of genocidal tendencies – that year the General Assembly sent a special commission to
Notably, along with a refusal to countenance mass racism, international engagement with the Rwandan state involved the steady supply of military assistance and provision of economic aid. The only ‘counter-balance’ was support for the “strengthening” of human rights mechanisms.
Furthermore, in the period 1990 to 1993, there was pressure from the
A multi-cultural political opposition was constructed and sponsored by the internationally community. The Belgian government arranged for this new opposition to hold talks with the RPF of the Tutsis.
However, as the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) investigations subsequently revealed, even as such reforms were being wrestled with, in parallel, through 1990 and 1991, extremist sections of the Rwandan (i.e. Hutu) army were planning the genocide of the Tutsis.
A critical component of the genocide was the countrywide civil defence network staffed by Hutus and established with military support.
During the eighties and early nineties, tens of thousands of Sinhalese were mobilised into so-called ‘Home Guards’ and sent into Tamil areas to clear out the minority and establish colonies in the Tamils’ homeland.
And in the past three years, as the Rajapakse government has pursued a military campaign against the LTTE, Sinhala civilians are being trained and incorporated into civil-defence groups.
Although, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is said to have been ‘triggered’ by the plane crash that killed President Habyarimana, the slaughter of almost a million people in three months (almost ten thousand a day!) had been pre-planned (ironically by Habyarimana himself among others).
In other words, the organising of the death squads and distribution of weapons had been planned and carried out well before the killing started.
Every step of the Norwegian peace process in Sri Lanka produced Sinhala anger and sometimes rioting: the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, the 2002 agreement to explore federalism (note the ferocity the word alone invokes these days), the proposals for and interim administration (ISGA), the Post-Tsunami aid sharing mechanism (PTOMS), and so on.
Indeed, since independence, the numerous efforts by Tamil political leaders (long before Tamil militants emerged) to seek accommodation with the Sinhalese, were met by anger and violence.
Habyarimana provided a list of papers and names of journalists who worked for them to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution, prompting condemnation from the Association of Journalists.
Today, the Rajapakse government is recognised as one of the world’s most repressive in relation to media freedom. The military establishment’s attacks, both physical and verbal, on journalists said to be ‘betraying’ the country have been so commonplace as to become expected.
It is the international community’s conduct in the years preceding the 1994 Rwandan genocide that is of particular relevance to the Tamil question.
And it should be remembered that
In the three years that lead to the genocide,
Not even when the Director of Amnesty International in
Similarly, despite the tens of thousands of Tamils who have died in massacres, airstrikes, artillery shelling and embargoes on food and medicine, the West, including former Colonial power, Britain, continues to train, equip and share intelligence with the Sri Lankan armed forces.
While internationally sponsored negotiations were prepared in 1992 between the government and the RPF, violence against opposition parties escalated. Propaganda campaigns accused the new political parties as “fronts” for the RPF.
And as early as 1991, the RPF alleged the President’s brother-in-law – a key architect of the genocide – had planned to eliminate political opponents.
In Sri Lanka, Tamil political parties that have stood up for Tamil political rights have been denounced as ‘cat’s paws’, ‘lackeys’ or ‘fronts’ of the LTTE.
The latest to suffer this is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which has seen several of its parliamentarians, party workers and supporters assassinated by the Rajapakse government.
Linda Melvern says that concern over
But the French government, which hosted the preliminary talks, simultaneously trained up new Hutu army intelligence units to identify, infiltrate and eliminate targeted members of the RPF. Hutu militias were also trained.
Similarly, just as the
In the three years to the run up to the Accord,
In 1993, amid demonization of the minority, the Rwandan state began to distribute weapons amongst the majority. It imported vast quantities of machetes and other agricultural tools – axes, blades, knives, hoes etc. Melvern says there was one new machete for every third male in the country.
The “Interhamwe” or Youth militia was formed in 1991 and began small-scale ethnic killings shortly thereafter.
The militias were also provided with new AK-47s and grenades. By the time the 1994 genocide started, 85 tonnes of ammunition had been distributed through the country.
Post-genocide investigation showed flagrant misappropriation of funds, but there has been no explanation as to why five World Bank missions failed to question the level of military expenditure relative to the stated development goals of funds provided.
A senior defector from President Habyarimana’s party alleged massive corruption by radical sections in the military: “these oligarchs are treating the country like a private company from which maximum profits can be squeezed.”
The point here is that even in the context of peace negotiations, the international community donated or lent the money that the Rwandan – and Sri Lankan – state needed to buy vast quantities of weapons and equipment from abroad – from Western states.
Just as importantly, the Western democracies indirectly funding and directly providing weaponry, were well aware of the weapons’ potential in the context of an attempted genocide.
Indeed, the g-word was not far beneath the surface in
One Rwandan human rights group had already labelled the 1993 Bugesera massacre of 300 Tutsi as genocide. But the International Commission of Inquiry that investigated Bugesera considered the word “too politically charged” for its report (interestingly, the Commission’s press officer disagreed and the word “genocide” appeared in the title of the press release accompanying the report).
The 1993 report of the UN Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions noted that in the previous two years, some two thousand Rwandans, mostly Tutsi, had been murdered.
The UN Rapporteur was also concerned at the mass arrests of Tutsi following the first RPF attack, and the government’s use of propaganda to create a situation where all Tutsi were portrayed as complicit.
Nonetheless, the ethnic question was so sensitive that the Arusha negotiations avoided framing
Moreover, the kind of war being fought by the Sri Lankan military – mass bombardment of Tamil areas, the driving of hundreds of thousands of Tamils from their homes, the abduction and murder of thousands of civilians, etc – makes the context plain to see.
Yet, a decade after
As the above and previous articles in this series have, drawing on the academic literature on genocide, argued, Sri Lanka, like Rwanda, has most of the requisite conditions for genocide: a supremacist ideology among the ruling elite, a climate of impunity, the presence and increasing use of militias, rapid rearmament in the context of a ceasefire, mass arrests and murders of ethnic minorities, corruption, international funding without adequate supervision and government intimidation, of the media.
In other words, there is no difference between what is happening in
But in Sri Lanka, as in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994, ‘ethnic conflict’ and ‘genocide’ are the two things the international community simply will not accept (last month, for example, the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert O’ Blake, was emphatic that there was no such thing as an ethnic conflict there).
Any period of transition from war to peace is a dangerous time, especially when it involves a majoritarian state begrudgingly sharing power with a hated minority.
But the US and
As Melvern notes, UNAMIR’s mandate in Rwanda (UNAMIR) excluded protecting civilians, collecting illegal arms or taking action against armed gangs – the very things that precluded UN intervention in a vicious project which had been built p in the preceding three years. ‘Security’ of the country, moreover, meant security in the capital,
An American foreign policy specialist, Samantha Power, provides an illuminating analysis of the international and in particular, US, role in the Rwandan genocide.
Her 2001 text (“Bystanders to Genocide”) is based on a three year investigation and sixty interviews with US officials.
Samantha Power identifies three weaknesses in the international strategy that accompanied the Arusha Accords.
Firstly, whenever the negotiations were not going well, the international community threatened to pull out the UN troops. Not only was this exactly what the newly rearmed Hutu extremists wanted, such a threat only makes sense if the UN troops were there for purposes other than to protect the Tutsis.
Secondly, she says, “before and during the massacres
Thirdly, the international community was happy to accept a certain level of ethnic violence in the region. When the genocide started, “US regional specialists initially suspected that
In short, adamantly refusing to accept the ethnic basis for
The parallels with
Throughout the Norwegian peace process, the international community, refused to blame the Sri Lankan state for its role in the gradually escalating cycle of violence. They refused to accept the role of the state and the LTTE as straddling a deep ethnic faultline. They either blamed the LTTE (‘terrorists’) or “both sides” when the Sri Lankan state escalated its military campaign against the LTTE.
Just as importantly, the international community was more concerned with “the peace process” than the plight of the Tamils. Which is why over eight hundred thousand Tamils continue to remain displaced while the Sri Lankan military – in direct contradiction of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement – continues to occupy their homes, farmland, schools, places of worship, etc.
UNAMIR was even warned by an informer of a plan to exterminate the Tutsi. And that was in January 1994, 4 months before the killing began. The informer revealed the existence of plans and stockpiles of weapons for this purpose.
Major General Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UNAMIR, sent his famous “genocide” fax to UN head quarters – four months prior to the actual genocide. He cited evidence of a plan to exterminate Tutsi and requested permission to seize the weapons stockpiles as a defensive measure.
He was refused permission.
When he telephoned to protest, Dallaire was told the
On April 6, 1994, a surface-to-air missile brought down the plane carrying the Hutu President. The genocide promptly began.
Within 3 days, over 10,000 Tutsi had been massacred in the Rwandan capital.
Major General Dallaire repeatedly asked for expansion of his mandate to intervene to protect Tutsi civilians and for reinforcements for his vastly outnumbered (circa two thousand) troops.
He was refused.
Samantha Power identifies the following reasons for international failure:
 Refusal to use the term genocide, for fear of legal implications;  a foreigners first policy;  a US policy shift (encapsulated in the PD225 memo by Richard Clarke) that the US would only support intervention where US national interests were served and clear benefits arose from the intervention.
The ‘foreigners first’ policy had immediate repercussions, diverting UN resources from protecting the much larger number of Rwandans at risk. For example, Belgian troops guarding some 2,000 Rwandan Tutsi, including 400 children, who had grouped at a local school were withdrawn to help man airport where foreigners were being evacuated, even though the school was surrounded by shouting militia waiting to massacre the Tutsi.
More importantly, the foreigners being removed itself gave the green light for the genocide: 20,000 Tutsi were killed in the capital itself over the three days that the evacuation took place.
As if to reinforce the point, the
As Major General Dallaire described it: “Mass slaughter was happening, and suddenly there in
When the evacuation of Americans was complete, President and Mrs Clinton visited the people who had manned the emergency-operations room at the State Department and offered congratulations on a "job well done."
If there is an assumption that mass killings of Tamils in
However, what was critical to successful progress of the mass killing was the international community’s steadfast refusal to classify it as ‘genocide’.
As Samantha Power puts it, “even after the reality of genocide in
“American officials, for a variety of reasons, shunned the use of what became known as ‘the g-word.’ They felt that using it would have obliged the
Power cites a discussion paper on
Regarding issues that might be brought up at the next interagency working group, it states: “Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday — Genocide finding could commit [the
Linda Melvern concludes: “as permanent members of the UN security council, the US and UK could have taken action in accordance with the 1949 Convention on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of genocide, a legally binding treaty… while these states resisted even using the word genocide, this would appear to indicate they were aware that it carried some form of obligation to act.”
Samantha Power says of PDD-25 (or Presidential Policy Directive) drafted by Richard Clark at the time of the genocide: “PDD-25 did not merely circumscribe
“Before such missions could garner
(PDD-25 can be seen at http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/pdd25.htm)
Thus, in an act of arguable complicity, the
Disregarding credible evidence from the ICRC, Amnesty and other Human Rights groups, they argued that the Tutsi civilians were caught up in what was merely a civil war.
It is beyond the scope of this article to examine all of the ways in which the international community obfuscated the issue of genocide, obstructed each other’s attempts to “resolve” the problem and generally contributed to the continuation of the mass killing in
However, the above crystallises into one inescapable fact;
Given the dynamics of US (and like-minded Western) bureaucratic calculations over mass killing, Tamils in
Samantha Power quotes an official in the Bush Administration on changes in attitude since