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Amanpour: Looking back at Rwanda genocide

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN's Chief International Correspondent

skulls, helicopter
Nearly a million Tutsis and Hutu moderates were butchered by Hutu extremists.

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Survivors recount 1994 genocide in Rwanda

A decade after genocide, Rwanda is slowly recovering.
• Rwandans call for genocide justice
• Rwanda remembers genocide
• Annan apologizes for Rwanda genocide

Can genocide be prevented?

(CNN) -- With machetes, machine guns and clubs, Hutu extremists on their murderous rampage killed nearly a million people in just 100 days.

It was perhaps the fastest genocide in history, and yet the international community would not call it genocide until May 1994, a month after it started.

Lord David Hannay, former UK ambassador to the U.N., said: "It made it slightly more difficult for people who were clearing their throats and not doing anything about it, if it were called genocide. It didn't incidentally make them come forward with any more troops.

But genocide imposes a legal obligation on the world to try to stop it.

Hannay remembers those dark days of deliberation 10 years ago, and the ultimate failure to act with such catastrophic consequences.

"No one will ever understand Rwanda properly if they don't read it through the prism of Somalia." he said.

"Why did the international community not do something? Because they were traumatized by the collapse of the mission in Somalia."

Eighteen American soldiers were killed in Somalia in 1993. And when the body of one of the American dead was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, America turned tail and bolted -- and Rwanda became the first casualty.

Gen. Romeo Dallaire, former U.N. commander in Kigali, said: "The day all that started, the U.S. said not only are we not getting involved, we are not going to support anyone else getting involved."

Dallaire was commander of a small U.N. peacekeeping force already in Rwanda. Months before the genocide began he had raised the alarm in an SOS to the United Nations.

Hannay said: "It was smothered. The Security Council was never told something appalling was going to happen, so we were flying completely blind.

"If you ask me if they had known at the time, I have to honestly say no I don't think we would have done anything very effective."

Again, because of Somalia he says, not one capable country was prepared to deploy troops.

To this day, Dallaire, who suffered post traumatic stress syndrome, remains haunted by the fact that his alarm was ignored, and angry at what he calls the world's callous characterization of the Rwanda genocide.

Dallaire suffered post traumatic stress disorder.

"Rwanda was tribalism. They simplified it. Let black Africans do that and when they are finished we'll pick up some of the pieces.

"I don't think there's any justification for what happened, it was a shameful episode for collective shame."

Today in Rwanda, churches piled high with human skulls stand as permanent memorials. And in the decade since the genocide, a host of world leaders -- including current U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Bill Clinton -- have condemned their own failures.

In 1998, Clinton went to Rwanda to apologize for the million or so dead, to their families, and to the survivors for wounds Rwandans themselves say will never heal.

"All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed in this unimaginable terror," Clinton said.

"Scholars of these sorts of events say the killers, armed mostly with machetes and clubs, nonetheless did their work five times as fast as the mechanized gas chambers used by the Nazis."

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