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Fifteen years ago, in only three months almost a million Tutsis and many moderate Hutus were brutally slaughtered by the Hutu army and extremists in Rwanda.
During this time, the world watched and did nothing.
Philip Gourevitch wrote in his book on the Rwandan genocide that "the dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And while everyone knew what was going on in Rwanda, to many it didn't matter. It was in Africa.
When the genocide began on April 6, 1994, the international community simply turned away and disregarded the reports of unthinkable brutality. Western governments ignored the killings because they saw no economic and national security interests in saving poor Rwandans.
The Western media portrayed the killings as just another outburst of "tribal" violence on African soil, suggesting that nothing could be done to stop "savages" from killing each other in their "barbaric" outbursts of violence.
Under intense pressure from the United States and Britain, the United Nations Security Council demonstrated that no one was interested in the Rwandan genocide by ordering a reduction of UN troops in this small African country from 2,500 to only 270 soldiers in the midst of the slaughter.
Only six days after the reduction of the UN mission in Rwanda, the UN Security Council, again under the pressure from the US and Britain, authorized an increase of the international presence in then war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding 6,550 troops to about 24,000 UN troops already there.
As Gregory Stanton wrote in the Journal of Genocide Research, a mix of the lack of interests and (hidden) racism influenced the decisions of Western powers regarding Rwanda: Although the US and Britain were willing to commit soldiers and billions to save lives in Bosnia, where people are white, and the war was close to the interests of the European community, they were unwilling to do so in Rwanda, where people are black and country has no strategic or economic interests.
NOT ONLY that the US and Britain were not willing to intervene in Rwanda, they even prevented other countries from doing anything to stop the mass murder.
The behavior of France was even worse. Before the genocide, the French government backed the Rwandan regime and trained and armed the Hutu extremists who committed the atrocities in order to preserve the French influence in Rwanda.
When the UN finally agreed to send 5,500 additional troops, consisting of mainly African soldiers, to try to stop the killings, it asked the American government to supply armored personnel carriers for the mission. The Clinton administration agreed, but instead of lending military equipment to the UN (to which the United States owed hundreds of millions of dollars in membership fees at the time), the US government decided to lease it for $15 million.
The UN, fully dependent on its negligent members to pay for missions, did not have the money. The 5,500 additional troops never arrived in Rwanda to intervene. The genocide was stopped by the Tutsi rebel forces a few weeks later.
After the Rwandan genocide, many world leaders publicly promised (again) that they would never again delay intervention while innocent people are slaughtered around the world.
George W. Bush proclaimed "not on my watch." Yet, during his presidency, about 200,000 people have died in Darfur from fighting, diseases and starvation, while more than 2 million have been forced to flee their homes.
Apart from sending humanitarian aid, George Bush and his government, as well as other Western governments, did hardly anything else to stop the suffering in Darfur.
Since July 2007, the world powers could not even spare one helicopter for the UN/African Union mission in Darfur. Helicopters are essential for any success of the mission in the remote region the size of France.
After the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II, the world said "never again" to unspeakable mass killings. The "never again" promise, however, meant nothing during the Rwandan genocide. It does not mean anything today in Darfur.
For poor around the globe and especially in Africa, it will not mean anything tomorrow either, as we live in a world where only self-interests of powerful countries, not ethics, morals, compassion and human decency play a major role in stopping large-scale exterminations of human beings.
The writer is the author of Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia. He holds an M.Phil. degree in conflict transformation and management from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
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