Over the course of 100 days in 1994, Hutu extremists brutally massacred 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans. It was one of the worst genocides in human history, and while it happened, UN Peacekeepers impotently watched it happen, under direct orders not to interfere.
The whole world watched as we failed to stop a genocide—but that was only the tip of the iceberg. The dark, hidden secret of the Rwandan genocide, though, is that the nations of the UN did not just fail to take action. By selling weapons, and deliberately blocking international assistance, nations around the world helped Hutu extremists commit genocide.
Some did it for money, and some did it for politics—but they did it. People around the world actively helped make sure a genocide happened.
10. The White House Knew the Genocide Was Coming
Bill Clinton visited Rwanda after the genocide, before a crowd of Rwandans, he expressed his regret over not having done more. He justified his inaction, though, by telling the crowd that he “did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”
Declassified documents that were sent to the White House, though, tell a different story. The US had more than just an inkling that something bad was going to happen—they knew for a fact that the Hutus were planning the genocide before it started.
Sixteen days before the killings began, Bill Clinton was notified that the Hutus had planned a “final solution to eliminate all Tutsi.” He received regular reports on it, each one using the word “genocide” to describe their plan, and he was given details that, even in retrospect, were incredibly accurate.
The US knew exactly what was going to happen more than two weeks before it started, but they made a conscious decision not to get involved. Rwanda, they decided, had no value to American interests. “Whether we get involved in any of the world’s ethnic conflicts,” Clinton said, justifying his decision, “must depend on the cumulative weight of the American interests at stake.”
9. A French Plane Secretly Sent Weapons to the Hutus
About three months before the genocide started, UN Peacekeepers caught a French plane making a secret landing at night. The plane was making a delivery to the Hutu extremists, full of weapons and mortars that would soon be put to use in the genocide.
This was a direct violation of the Arusha Peace Accords that had ended the Rwandan Civil War. Members of the UN were forbidden to sell weapons to Rwanda—and yet the paperwork inside the plane made it clear that these weapons had been sent from all over the world, with companies in France, Belgium, Egypt, Ghana, and the United Kingdom all supplying weapons for the Hutu extremists.
The UN Force Commander, Roméo Dallaire, reported it to his superiors and demanded an explanation from the Minster of Defense of Belgium, who he believed was behind this. He warned them that violence was coming, and asked for more peacekeepers and more power to stop it. He was told, though, not to worry about it and to let the shipment go through. No additional men were sent.
Dallaire, furious, turned on one of his Belgian officers, asking how he justified working for a nation that was arming the men who might kill him. The Belgian officer replied, “Peacekeeping is peacekeeping, business is business, and the business of Belgium is arms.”
8. The UN Secretary-General Sold Weapons to the Hutus
Perhaps it should not be surprising that the UN did not react to Dallaire’s warnings. The Secretary-General of the UN at this time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had a vested interest in the Hutu militia. Just four years before, he had secretly sent them a massive shipment of weapons.
In 1990, Boutros-Ghali was the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he signed a deal with the Hutus promising to send them $26 million worth of weapons. In his first shipment alone, he sent the Hutus 60,000 kg (132,000 lb) of grenades, two million rounds of ammunition, 18,000 mortar bombs, and 4,200 assault rifles, rockets, and rocket launchers. To keep the arms sale secret, he had them labeled as “relief materials.”
Boutros-Ghali would later justify this, saying that selling weapons was part of his job and that he did not think “a few thousand guns would have changed the situation.” Boutros-Ghali, though, was more than just a passive player. He actively fought with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and convinced him to sell weapons to the Hutus.
When the shipment went through, the Rwandan ambassador sent Boutros-Ghali and letter of thanks. “The personal intervention of Boutros-Ghali,” he wrote admiringly, “was a determining factor in the conclusion of the arms contract.”