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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Richard Clarke, Rwanda, Reparations by J. Damu

The emergence of Richard Clarke as a folk hero to some Americans for his dramatic whistleblowing against the Bush administration’s mishandling of the Al Qaeda intelligence gathering needs to be compared to his shameful role in preventing the United States from responding to the Rwanda genocide campaign, a role that has now contributed to the worldwide call that an international fund be established to pay reparations to the survivors of the Rwanda holocaust of 1994.

Rwanda, a country roughly the size of Maryland, is, along with Haiti, one of the two mostly densely populated nations on the planet. Its two most populous ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi, have longstanding grievances with one another, largely stemming from the historic vassalage imposed on the Hutus by the Tutsis and ill-conceived ideas of self-rule imposed by Belgium in the 1950s. Although Hutus and Tutsis have long been so intermarried it is difficult to visually determine who is who, since the early 1960s there have been numerous outbreaks of fighting between political and cultural organizations.

In early 1994 a peace process had been brokered between the Rwandan government and their opponents, the Patriotic Front. According to documents released just this past week by the National Security Archives in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials knew by the second day of violence that Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana had been assassinated by his own security detail in a calculated move to signal the beginning of a planned extermination of Tutsis, known supporters of the Patriotic Front and politically moderate Hutus, to the degree they were so identified.

This newly released information seems to contradict former President Clinton’s 1996 assertions that he was not fully aware of what was taking place in Rwanda.

From the first week of April until early July of 1994, more than 900,000 Rwandan Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus, 10,000 per day, were hacked to death by machete or killed by rifle fire at the hands of Hutu extremists while the post-cold war world, led by the U.S., mostly did nothing. Richard Clarke, who then oversaw peacekeeping policies for Washington’s National Security Council, formulated and promoted the do-less-than-nothing plan.

While there is more than enough blame to go around to numerous organizations and bodies - Congress, both major political parties, the Congressional Black Caucus - for not responding to the unfolding genocide in Rwanda, it was Richard Clarke more than any other single individual who promoted the concept that Rwanda held no national interest for the U.S. Therefore we would not only not respond but do all in our power to withdraw what little U.N. support already existed for the Rwandan victims.

For the clearest understanding regarding Clarke’s role toward Rwanda, we revisit Samantha Power’s article in the September 2001 Atlantic, “Bystanders to Genocide.”

From Power we learn that on April 15, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, while responding to the political reality that the U.S. had no stomach for further engagement in Africa following the humiliating withdrawal from Somalia, delivered to U.S. United Nations representative Madeline Albright one of the most forceful documents developed during the entire three-month period of genocide. The document, according to Power, was largely the work of Richard Clarke.

Christopher, by way of Clarke, wrote that he had “fully” taken into account the humanitarian dimensions: “The international community must give highest priority to full, orderly withdrawal of (U.N.) personnel as soon as possible …. We will oppose any effort at this time to preserve a presence of (U.N.) in Rwanda …. Our opposition to retaining a (U.N.) presence in Rwanda is firm. It is based on our conviction that the Security Council has an obligation to ensure the peacekeeping operations are viable, that they are capable of fulfilling their mandates and that the U.N. peacekeeping personnel are not placed or retained, knowingly, in an untenable situation.”

According to Power, Clarke later recalled that once the Belgians withdrew from Rwanda, “We were left with a rump mission, incapable of doing anything to help people. They were doing nothing to stop the killings.”

The Belgian military forces withdrew from Rwanda in the first week of genocide after 12 of them were kidnapped and executed. As Power points out, however, even the few hundred U.N. military personnel who remained, under the dedicated leadership of Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, were able to save several thousands from extermination. One Senegalese officer alone saved more than a hundred Rwandans.

The only other military force that became a counterbalance during the genocide was the Rwandan Patriotic Front headed by Paul Kagame. It had been headquartered in neighboring Uganda, and today Kagame is the president of Rwanda. From the moment the killing campaign was known to have begun, the Patriotic Front entered Rwanda from Uganda and in slightly more than three months established a new government in Kigali.

After the Security Council belatedly agreed to send some assistance to the U.N. military mission in Rwanda, Clarke informed the press that Washington was attempting to provide some safety net for Rwandan survivors. In fact, the opposite was true.

Finally, Clarke had more to say when the U.N. and Western countries began to formulate plans to aid the genocide survivors and when it became clear the Patriotic Front was physically driving the Interahamwe from the Rwandan region. He argued that U.S. and U.N. military troops not be inserted inside Rwanda to protect victims and survivors, but rather they should build camps along the Rwandan border and encourage Rwandans to walk to the camps.

It did not seem to Clarke to matter that in order for the genocide survivors to reach the camps they would have to walk through countless miles of their enemies. It is not known how many more Rwandans died attempting to reach these camps.

The final count for the Rwandan genocide is officially 937,568.

As part of the efforts to memorialize the Rwandan victims of genocide, an international conference met in Kigali, Rwanda, last week to draw attention to the issue of genocide and to discuss what to do about the Rwandan tragedy.

The conference, whose theme was “Preventing and banishing genocide forever through universal active solidarity,” recommended that the U.N. and countries that could have intervened to stop the genocide but failed to do so should pay reparations “for the material, psychological and moral losses incurred.”

Dallaire, who has since been forced to retire from the Canadian army, attended the conference and told those in attendance, “You were abandoned. You are an orphaned country.”

The reparations movement worldwide should take up the cause of Rwandan reparations and bring to justice and expose to public scrutiny those who physically and morally committed and abetted genocide in Rwanda.

J. Damu is the acting western regional representative for N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America). He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

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