Reuters, 31 March 2004: Survivors of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, sisters Henriette Mutewaraba (R) and Chantal Rutayasire (L), hug in front of the Gisozi memorial site where Henriette works as a tour guide, on March 29, 2004. Rwanda is rushing to complete a $2.5 million genocide museum in time to host next month's memorial ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the 1994 mass slaughter, organizers said on Monday. (Reuters photo by Finbarr O'Reilly)
Looking into the hearts of darkness
On 31 March 2004, just as the world was becoming inured to the daily insurgent attacks in occupied Iraq, images from the Sunni partisan stronghold of Falluja were to shock us anew.
Four American private security guards were killed by grenades that struck their vehicle near a bridge crossing the Euphrates river. A mob quickly descended upon their burnt corpses, mutilating them with shovels and picks, parading one body down the streets -- reminiscent of the 1993 scene in Mogadishu, Somalia -- and hanging two more from the bridge.
The shock I felt was not the obvious graphic horror of it all -- with news of similar attacks heard nearly every single day, it was but a matter of time for the rest of the world to witness scenes of that sort. No, my own shock was to realize that, rather than feeling vindicated in making my stand against the war in Iraq all along, I actually felt that there was unfinished business for us Americans there after all.
Joining the Hutu tribes that got here a little earlier, the Tutsis settled into this New Jersey-sized African country of fertile red clay, lush cloud forests and gorillas in the mist, back in the 1300s AD. Over the centuries, they merged as one people, sharing a common language and culture.
Then, in 1916, imperial Belgium re-divided and conquered them. The colonialists forcibly labeled each Rwandan with one ethnicity or the other, while cultivating the minority Tutsis as their proxy ruling class.
What did America and its European allies do in those hundred days? They evacuated their nationals from Rwanda, and abandoned it for good. The few aid workers and UN peacekeepers that remained were left to their own devices, saving as many people as they could at the cost of their own lives.
I am now too cynical to believe that America, or any erstwhile colonial power, can truly instill a respect for human rights outside its own borders. Short of occupation and regime change, we will never remove a corrupt, homicidal despot from his tribal fiefdom -- and even then, we have no certainty in the quality of our own example. The least we can do for the people of the proverbial third world, then, are to give them food and medicine when they need them, trade fairly with them when they are able, and to prosecute the tyrants, thieves and murderers amongst them at every opportunity, should they fail to do so for themselves.
Source: BBC online, PBS (Frontline: "The Ghosts of Rwanda"), Reuters
-- CW, 2 April 2004