A. Nicot – Assignment 8: Rwanda

I’ve been repeatedly exposed the Rwandan genocide. In my IB school I saw the “Ghosts of Rwanda” documentary twice, and again here at Elon, where I also met Carl Wilkens, who was involved in the documentary and was one of the few whites to remain in Rwanda after the events picked up – he has now dedicated his life to educating people on the incident. And now the book Emergency Sex has dealt with it substantially.

The ethnic differences between Tutsi and Hutu caused a certain amount of discontent from one side to the other.

The U.N. is vividly criticized for not taking action to prevent the disaster, by Wilkens, by his documentary, by many writers and politicians, and by the authors of Emergency Sex. The refusal to allow U.N. troops to interfere in any way with the genocide is seen of course as the major failing. So many wonder, could the U.N. have helped in the end? Could they have actually prevented or lessened the effects of the event?

This is what we in the history field call “counterfactual,” that is, “against fact.” We cannot know what might have happened, only what has happened, and even though it is possible to predict and imagine with some accuracy what might have been, for such matters I would say it is largely inadvisable. I don’t think the genocide could have been averted necessarily, if a more forceful and direct intervention had occurred through the U.N. or any of the states involved, any number of things could have happened.

For example, let us imagine the U.N. interfered in the matter from the beginning, and managed somehow to properly deploy troops to secure regions and cities from Hutu attacks on Tutsis. The Hutus constituted over 80% of the country’s ethnic makeup. They were angry, they were riled up, they were ready to visit violence upon their opponents. Could not the U.N. troops have escalated the genocide into a civil war involving U.N. troops and French involvement considering they had a de facto protectorate over Rwanda? Any number of similar situations could have occurred, any number of factors contributed to the real outcome of the Rwandan genocide, and a similar amount would contribute to any alternative conclusion.

The real issue with Rwanda is that it shows the U.N. is fundamentally incapable of fulfilling its role independently of the nations that control it. The fact, alone, that the transport of the armored vehicles was greatly hindered by the American government (which had pledged its non-interference in the Rwandan matter), and that France’s economic interests in the region were not bound by U.N. restrictions on arm shipments, show that it simply can’t act militarily. The “Blue Helmet” U.N. troops are drawn from national governments, and are deployed when the organization can decide when and where to deploy them. The lack of any possible unilateral action renders the U.N. ineffective in these matters, but this does not mean that it should. Matters of internal security are the domain of the state affected and other states with specific interests in the region, that are justifiable, not an extra-national organization whose primary purpose is diplomatic, not military.

Barker, Greg. Ghosts of Rwanda. PBS. 1 Apr. 2004. Television.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.

This entry was posted in Assignment 8, Assignments. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.