Ayear ago, Rwanda did not figure on the horizon of U.S. foreign policy; strategic
and commercial interests in the little central African country were insignificant. No State Department mandarin had made a
career out of shining at the Rwanda desk; no diplomat savored a posting to Kigali. It is questionable even whether the U.S.
ever had a "policy" toward Rwanda.
On April 6, 1994, Hutu extremists unleashed a genocide in which perhaps 800,000 people were
murdered in one hundred days. Before, during, and after the meticulously planned slaughter, actions by the U.S. government
were a highly significant factor in the unfolding of events. And the effects of those actions were almost universally malign.
The U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, David Rawson, played a key role. In the absence of higher directives,
the positions taken by this single man came to have a grossly disproportionate impact. The sympathy and support he showed
for former President Juvenal Habyarimana and his coterie of extremists was no accident. They reflect the way a num ber of
European organizations-primarily Belgian Catholic groups- played a similar game, with even more disastrous consequences.
The genocidal maniacs who ruled Rwanda chose an opportune moment to launch their "final solution."
In April, powerful individuals in the U.S. government were actively rewriting the rules of international politics. They implemented
changes that went beyond merely revising the ground rules for peacekeeping so that the dispatch of United Nations troops to
the world's trouble spots would be almost impossible. They knowingly stood by while genocide occurred. By this inaction, they
systematically began to unravel the great achievements of humanitarian law of this century--most of them gained in the period
1945-51 by men and women driven by the visceral shock of Auschwitz and Dresden. The genocide in Rwanda-one of the greatest
crimes against humanity in the second half of the twentieth century-was an ironically opportune moment for these revisionists
to stake their claim.
Rwanda is a tiny country of only 26,000 square kilometers (about the size of Maryland) but
a pre-genocide population of seven million. Known as "the land of a thousand hills," it has a balmy climate with excellent
soil. In the late 1980s, one of Africa's most promising economies began to slide, accompanied by authoritarian politics. President
Habyarimana, avowing a policy of ethnic "balance" that supposedly allotted school places and jobs according to the national
ration of 85 percent Hutu and 15 percent Tutsi, was in fact a Hutu supremacist who reserved the spoils of Rwanda's wealth
for his own family.
In 1990, Rwandan exiles in neighboring Uganda formed the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) and
invaded, plunging the country into civil war and a vicious cycle of human rights abuse. By 1992, there had been several large-scale
massacres, and political assassinations were commonplace. International investigations concluded that responsibility lay in
the president's office. But in mid-1993, it seemed as though an internationally mediated peace agreement would bring the country
back from the brink. The government, the RPF, and civil opposition parties (almost all of the latter Hutu-led) signed a set
of Ac cords in Arusha, Tanzania, that appeared to provide a model for transition to democracy.