Assessment of U.S. Involvement to Counter Hutu Extremists’ Plans for Tutsi Genocide in Early 1994

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which ran from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Scott Martin is a career U.S. Air Force officer who has served in a multitude of globally-focused assignments.  He studied Russian and International Affairs at Trinity University and received his Masters of Science in International Relations from Troy University.  He is currently assigned to Ft. Meade, Maryland.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of U.S. Involvement to Counter Hutu Extremists’ Plans for Tutsi Genocide in Early 1994

Date Originally Written:  May 31, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  July 29, 2019.

Summary:  The U.S. could have countered the genocide the April 1994 genocide in Rwanda. While it is very difficult to envision a scenario whereby the U.S. conducted unilateral military actions once the genocide started, the various indicators prior to that date offered the U.S. the opportunity, working through the United Nations (UN), to act to prevent the genocide before it started. 

Text:  On April 6, 2019, the world reflected on the 25th anniversary of the genocide of 800,000 Tutsi and sympathetic Hutus by Hutu extremists in Rwanda. Since then, many asked the question “Why didn’t someone stop this?” Since 1994, the U.S. expressed remorse at the genocide in Rwanda. Yet in 1994, the U.S. took pains to avoid direct involvement/action in Rwanda. Given a lack of significant geo-political or economic equities and disgusted by the failures of their humanitarian action in Somalia, the U.S. argued they had no role in Rwanda. Yet, with the U.S. taking a remorseful tone with the Rwandan Genocide, it begs the question: What if the U.S. did take action?

There is no shortage of debate on this issue. Some, such as former United Nations (UN) Ambassador Samantha Power, felt that U.S. military involvement, even on a small scale could have reduced if not halted the genocide[1]. Such actions ranged from the deployment of an Army Brigade (overseas or stateside based) to the use of the Air Force’s Commando Solo Electronic Warfare / Information Operations platform. Others, such as scholar Alan Kuperman, note that the U.S. did not have enough confirmation of genocide until April 20, by which time, most of the killing was completed[2]. Thus, the deployment of U.S. forces, in addition to not being in position to significantly impact the genocide, would place undue burdens on the U.S. military, and present America with another unnecessary U.S. humanitarian quagmire.  Subsequent analyses looked at options from the deployment of 5,000-150,000 troops, but a unilateral U.S.-led deployment, no matter the options, is always seen as unlikely, given the lack of bi-partisan political support in Washington D.C.  

Yet, the genocide did not spontaneously start in April 1994. After Rwandan independence in 1961, the long-standing differences between Hutu and Tutsi populations manifested themselves into multiple conflicts. Since 1990, conflict between displaced Tutsi (Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)) and the Hutu led-military/militia forces plagued the country. Despite international-led efforts to end the warfare, many within the Hutu-dominated government planned for actions to eliminate the Tutsi from Rwanda. The international community had indications of such plans as far back as 1992[3]. From 1990-1993, Hutu militias executed nearly 2000 Tutsi, a preview of Hutu plans[4]. By January 1994, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) received intelligence that the Hutu-led government was actively planning for a mass extermination of all known Tutsi and sympathetic elements within the country. The UNAMIR commander, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, notified the UN Security Council on 11 January of this development and asked for authorization to deal with this emerging threat[5]. 

It is in this January 1994 scenario that the U.S. could have plausibly acted to counter the genocide, leveraging the UN Security Council to modify and increase the authority and resources of UNAMIR. Instead of working to withdraw forces from Rwanda, the U.S. and the UN Security Council could have reauthorized and increased troop deployments from the 2,500 in country in early 1994[6]. While 5,000 troops (the number requested by Dallaire to aid UNAMIR in 1994) would not be enough to halt a nation-wide genocide if it kicked off, a strong international presence, combined with a public proclamation and demonstration of increasing troop deployments to maintain peace and thwart extremist actions, might have curtailed Hutu ambitions[7]. While a major strategy of the Hutu extremists was to kill several of the international peacekeepers, taking active measures to protect those forces while not redeploying them would also thwart Hutu strategy. 

In this scenario, the U.S. would have provided political and logistical support. The U.S. faced logistical challenges dealing with a land-locked country, but its airpower had the capability to use existing airfields in Rwanda and neighboring countries[8]. While Hutu extremists could target U.S. assets and personnel, they were more likely not to directly interfere with international forces. During the actual genocide, while Hutu extremists killed 10 Belgian peacekeepers, Tutsis protected by the limited number of international forces usually found themselves safe from attack[9]. Even in situations where Hutu killers greatly outnumbered international forces, the Hutu did not attack the international peacekeepers[10]. 

This is not to say that increased authorities and manpower for the UN Peacekeepers would have solved all the problems. How the UN could have dealt with the Tutsi forces looking to reenter Rwanda and defeat the Hutu forces presented a difficult long-term problem. The Hutu extremists would not have simply stopped their efforts to drum up support for Tutsi elimination. It is possible the Hutu extremists would look to target UN forces and logistics, especially if it was an American asset, in a repeat of Somalia. Even by offering American equipment and indirect support, domestic political support would be tenuous at best and U.S. President William Clinton’s opponents would use those actions against him, with Clinton’s party still suffering historic losses in the 1994 midterm elections. It is possible that the Hutu and Tutsi would try to wait out the UN forces, coming to a “peaceful” government, only to hold their fire until after the peacekeepers are sent home. 

Yet, acting through the UN Peacekeepers before April might have stopped the genocide and all the ills that followed. While Paul Kagame may never come to power and Rwanda’s economic and social resurgence would have taken a different path, there may have been hundreds of thousands of Rwandans still alive to make their mark in improving the life of the nation. Additionally, the Hutu extremists may not have been so active in spreading their ethnic hatreds beyond their borders. The Congo Wars of the late 1990s/early 2000s have their genesis in the Hutu extremists who fled into the refugee camps[11]. If there is no mass displacement of those extremists into Democratic Republic of Congo, perhaps Africa avoids a brutal conflict and over 5 million lives are saved[12]. Perhaps assisting the UNAMIR with U.S. support/logistics might not have been a popular move in 1994, but if executed, the U.S. may not have to look back in 2019 to say “We should have done something.” 


Endnotes:

[1] Power, Samantha (2001, September). Bystanders to Genocide. The Atlantic. retrieved 15 Mar 2019 from (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/09/bystanders-to-genocide/304571/. 

[2] Kuperman, Alan J (2000, January/February). Rwanda in Retrospective. Foreign Affairs (Vol 79, no.1) 101. 

[3] Stanton, Gregory H. (2004, June). Could the Rwandan Genocide have been Prevented? Journal of Genocide Research. 6(2). 212

[4] Ibid 

[5] Ibid

[6] Rauch, J. (2001) Now is the Time to Tell the Truth about Rwanda, National Journal, 33(16) retrieved 14 Mar 2019 from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=asn&AN=4417527&site=ehost-live

[7] Wertheim, Stephen. (2010). A Solution from Hell: The United States and the Rise of Humanitarian Interventionism, 1991-2003. Journal of Genocide Research, 12(3-4), 155. 

[8] Stanley, George (2006) Genocide, Airpower and Intervention, 71. 

[9] Power, Samantha (2001, September). Bystanders to Genocide. The Atlantic. retrieved 15 Mar 2019 from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/09/bystanders-to-genocide/304571/.

[10] Ibid

[11] Beswick, Danielle (2014). The Risks African Military Capacity Building: Lessons from Rwanda. African Affairs, 113/451, 219. 

[12] Reid, Stuart A (Jan/Feb 2018). Congo’s Slide into Chaos. How a State Fails. Foreign Affairs, 97/1. 97. 

Assessment Papers Mass Killings Rwanda Scott Martin Small Wars Journal Writing Contest

Assessment of Opération Turquoise: The Paradoxical French-led Humanitarian Military Intervention During the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

Ross Conroy is a researcher and program designer for Komaza Kenya, a social enterprise focused on poverty reduction through sustainable timber production.  Ross also serves as Public Relations advisor for Sudan Facts, a start-up which intends to build investigative journalistic capacity in Sudan.  Ross studied Political Science at the University of New Hampshire, and wrote his capstone on the French military intervention during the Rwandan Genocide.  He spent most of his senior year in Rwanda doing field and archival research to supplement this study.  Ross later attained his Master’s degree in African Studies from Stanford University, where he focused on politics in Central Africa and continued his research on French involvement during the 1994 Genocide.  Ross can be found on Twitter @rossconroy or at rconroy7@outlook.com.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Opération Turquoise: The Paradoxical French-led Humanitarian Military Intervention During the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

Date Originally Written:  February 12, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  May 14, 2018.

Summary:   In response to escalating genocidal violence in Rwanda in April 1994, France launched Opération Turquoise for ostensibly humanitarian purposes.  However, much evidence has implicated this mission, and France, in the genocide and subsequent violence.  By examining archives, interviewing genocide survivors, and compiling testimonies of French soldiers, a more clear, and far more sinister, picture of Opération Turquoise emerges.

Text:  The French-led Opération Turquoise, mobilized by the United Nations (UN) Security Council through Resolution 929, was controversial from its genesis.  The debate leading up to the final vote on the resolution was riddled with arguments about France’s true intentions.  Having been the main sponsors of the Hutu regime that was now organizing and perpetrating genocide against the Tutsi minority, an abrupt change in France’s policy was viewed with suspicion.  Publicly, France argued that violence in Rwanda had escalated to the point that it necessitated international intervention on humanitarian grounds.  The wording of the resolution seemed to confirm this, stating that the mission was “aimed at contributing, in an impartial way, to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk in Rwanda[1].”  However, due to concerns over France’s intentions, and the proposed departure from the Chapter VI mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and UNAMIR II, five countries abstained from the final vote[2].  Rather than supplying and funding the existing UNAMIR mission, France wanted a Chapter VII mandate over which they had near complete jurisdiction.  When the mission was eventually condoned by the Security Council, France mobilized their force and, as some countries had feared, used it to promote their interests.  Rather than protecting Tutsis from the genocidal regime, Opération Turquoise was co-opted to allow the perpetrators to continue their campaign of violence and eventually escape the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) advance by fleeing into neighboring Zaire[3].  The results of this would prove disastrous.

The origins of Opération Turquoise were rooted in the close ties between then French President François Mitterrand and his Rwandan counterpart Juvénal Habyarimana.  The Technical Military Assistance Agreement signed between the two countries after Habyarimana came to power in the 1970s solidified this relationship by formally incorporating Rwanda into the linguistic and cultural sphere of la francophonie and promising economic aid and military protection[4].  Following this agreement, military aid was passed for decades to the Rwandan army and its militias directly through the Quai D’Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  These same weapons were later put to use exterminating the Tutsi minority.

In October 1990, Rwanda was invaded by Rwandese rebels from Uganda who wanted a return to their country of origin.  Due to xenophobic policies of the Rwandan regime, these Rwandese rebels had long been denied this opportunity.  The French, fearing an incursion from what they saw as ‘the anglophone bloc,’ rushed to the aid of their francophone ally.  The rhetoric of French politicians at the time indicated that the Fashoda Syndrome, the inherent French fear of francophone influence being supplanted by anglophone influence, motivated France to support the Rwandan regime, and solidified ties between the two countries further[5].

After the assassination of President Habyarimana in April 1994, it quickly became clear that the violence engulfing Rwanda was of an unspeakable magnitude; a genocide was unfolding.  Despite this, France declined to act, not wishing to aid the RPF in the fight against their erstwhile ally, the Rwandan regime.  As it became clear that the Rwandan government was failing in its fight against the RPF, France chose to intervene under the guise of a much-needed humanitarian mission.  The UN had little choice, given the dearth of alternatives, and accepted the French offer of assistance.

The French originally conceived the mission as a means to halt the advance of the RPF militarily and assist the government of Rwanda in retaking the capital, Kigali[6].  However, it soon became evident that this position was untenable as the evidence of genocide mounted.  The goal of Opération Turquoise was thus altered to aid the Rwandan government forces in fleeing the country to Zaire, with the intention to preserve the government and its hierarchy intact to pursue future power-sharing agreements[7].  It was a final, frantic attempt to avoid losing influence in the region, and one that would have devastating consequences.

In the process of assisting the genocidal regime, France often neglected to protect the Tutsi whom they were charged with safeguarding.  There is irrefutable evidence that the French demonstrated gross negligence of their mandate by abandoning thousands to die in various locations around the country, most notably at Bisesero[8][9].  Indeed, numerous reports cite French soldiers trading sexual favors for food and medical supplies, raping, and even killing Rwandan citizens[10].  The French further neglected to disarm Rwandan troops and militias whom they escorted to Zaire, and in some cases supplied them with food, weapons, and vehicles[11].  These same Rwandan forces would later profiteer in the Zairean refugee camps, syphoning humanitarian aid intended for victims of genocide.  As the refugee camps were often not the internationally required 50 miles from the border of Rwanda, the ex-Rwandan Armed Forces and militias were able to use the camps as bases and launch a devastating and deadly insurgency back into Rwanda, killing thousands[12].  In response to the insurgency, and renewed killings of Tutsi in Zaire, the new RPF-led Rwandan government invaded Zaire, setting in motion the Congo Wars, the most deadly series of conflicts worldwide since the two World Wars.  Years of suffering, disease, and death can be traced back to the decision made by the French to escort the génocidaires to Zaire and continue to supply and support them in a vain attempt to cling to their influence in the region.

Ultimately, Opération Turquoise failed on two fronts: It failed to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of the former Rwandan regime and also failed to uphold its mandate to protect victims of genocide.  Although it is impossible to establish a direct causal relationship between violence in the Great Lakes Region following Opération Turquoise and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, there is ample evidence that Opération Turquoise exacerbated the humanitarian situation.  Opération Turquoise, conceived as a humanitarian mission, thus paradoxically contributed to one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Endnotes:

Note: Some names have been changed to protect the identities of interview subjects. 

[1] United Nations Security Council (SC), Resolution 929. (1994, June 22). Opération Turquoise. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N94/260/27/PDF/N9426027.pdf?OpenElement

[2] Schweigman, D. (2001). The Authority of the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter: Legal Limits and the Role of the International Court of Justice. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

[3] Twenty Years after Genocide France and Rwanda Give Different Versions of History. (2014, April 11) Retrieved February 28, 2016 from http://www.english.rfi.fr/africa/20140410-twenty-years-after-genocide-france-and-rwanda-give-different-versions-history

[4] Totten, S, and Sherman, M. (2005). Genocide at the Millennium. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

[5] Simon, M. (1998) Operation Assurance: The Greatest Intervention That Never Happened. The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. Retrieved April 12, 2016 from http://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/123.

[6] Melvern, L. (2009). A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide. London: Zed.

[7] Mukasarasi, J. (2016, April 17). Personal Interview.

[8] Assemblée Nationale. (1998, December 15). Rapport d’information de MM. Pierre Brana et Bernard Cazeneuve, déposé en application de l’article 145 du Règlement par la mission d’information de la commission de la Défense, sur les opérations militaires menées par la France, d’autres pays et l’ONU au Rwanda entre 1990 et 1994. Paris: French National Assembly.

[9] De Vulpian, L & Prungnaud, T. Silence Turquoise. Paris: France. Don Quichotte.

[10] Mvuyekure, A. (2016, April 16). Personal Interview.

[11] Des Forges, A. (1999). Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch.

[12] Gribbin, R. (2005). In the Aftermath of Genocide: The U.S. Role in Rwanda. Lincoln, NE: IUniverse.

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