By John Stackhouse Published on Saturday, July 8, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

Canada’s Stephen Lewis launched a stinging rebuke against U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Roman Catholic Church yesterday after the United States and the Vatican played down a report that condemns their role — along with France, Belgium and the Anglican Church — in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Saying the West chose to ignore “one of the great calamities of our age,” Mr. Lewis, who helped write the report, singled out Ms. Albright for what he called a determined effort to stop any international attempt to end the genocide in its early days. Ms. Albright was then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Personally speaking, I don’t know how Madeleine Albright lives with it,” he told a news conference at the UN.

“They made a decision to do nothing,” he said later in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “Madeleine Albright single-handedly prevented the Security Council from beefing up the mission in Rwanda.”

He called the Clinton administration’s actions in the spring of 1994 “an almost incomprehensible scar of shame on American foreign policy.” Ms. Albright’s own history as a refugee in war-torn Europe, he said, “makes it all the more inexplicable to me.”

Mr. Lewis was releasing the most significant report yet on the genocide, which he and a panel of six eminent persons prepared for the Organization of African Unity. It was immediately played down by U.S., French and Catholic officials.

They suggested that they were no more responsible than the rest of the world that stood by and did little as the killing escalated.

“The Vatican had no role in the genocide and therefore is in no position to apologize,” said Gilio Brunelli, director of overseas operations for the Catholic-run agency Development and Peace.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Clinton administration and Ms. Albright had already expressed remorse for the administration’s inaction although he added it wants to learn from history.

“We did not act quickly enough after the killings began and we did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name, genocide,” Mr. Boucher said. “President Clinton pointed out we cannot change the past, but we can and must do everything in our power to help build the future.”

A French Foreign Ministry official told the Associated Press his government would consider the OAU report. “We agree to look truth in the face and to draw lessons from this genocide.”

Mr. Lewis said the Vatican and France were complicit in the rise of the Hutu extremists in Rwanda, and owed the country the same apology the Anglican Church has issued for its failure to stop the killing.

Although he singled out France for its special support to the genocidaires, he also said the United States could no longer hide behind a veil of ignorance — the most common defence given by the Clinton administration. Ms. Albright ignored early warnings of the genocide and then intentionally blocked hopes for greater UN intervention, Mr. Lewis said.

When the killing blew wide open, he alleged, the Clinton administration went on to block a last-ditch UN plan to get armoured vehicles to the region, a move that could have saved thousands of lives.

In the interview, Mr. Lewis, a former deputy executive director of UNICEF (the UN Children’s Fund), said he was fed up with the West’s efforts to consign the genocide to history.

“I don’t have any compunction about identifying France or the United States, or identifying Clinton or Albright or (the late French president François) Mitterrand,” he said testily. “Because of their inaction, 800,000 people died, most of them unnecessarily. I’ve reached a stage of life, I’m 62 now, that I no longer see the need for compunction, and the entire panel felt this way, to put up with this sort of inaction.”

The report points out that the UN Security Council did not approve a stronger mission to Rwanda until May 17, six weeks after the daily killing of tens of thousands of people began. Citing procedural delays, the Pentagon then blocked a UN request to lease 50 armoured personnel carriers that Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, then head of the UN mission in Rwanda, said were needed to save thousands of lives.

When the war ended in July with a Tutsi-led force capturing the Rwandan capital, Kigali, no additional UN forces or vehicles had reached the country. By then, three-quarters of the registered Tutsi population had been killed.

“Today it seems barely possible to believe,” the report says. “The international community actually chose to abandon the Tutsi of Rwanda at the very moment when they were being exterminated.”

Mr. Clinton has apologized for his government’s failure to respond more quickly to the crisis. So did Ms. Albright, who visited Rwanda in 1997, soon after she became secretary of state, and publicly expressed remorse for her government’s and the UN’s failure to do more.

Mr. Brunelli said the Vatican issued a condemnation of the killings on May 3, 1994, at the height of the genocide. “The Pope was among the first people to say something very wrong is taking place in Rwanda,” Mr. Brunelli said, adding that only some priests and bishops were openly supportive of the Hutu extremists while others risked their lives to smuggle Tutsis and moderate Hutus out of Kigali.

“When you talk of the position of the church in Rwanda, you have to think of the church being made up of oppressors, victims and heroes,” Mr. Brunelli said. He argued that it is unreasonable to expect the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda to apologize so soon after the genocide when Japan has yet to apologize for its role in the Second World War.

“To me it seems a little bit unrealistic for this process of healing, which took 40 or 50 years in other parts of the world, to occur so quickly in Rwanda.”

The controversial report, titled Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, was two years in the making and covers similar ground to previous reports by the UN and several governments but stands out in its strident criticism of the Western powers and its call for significant reparations to Rwanda.

“The report is sufficiently strong in its views that it’s not likely to die an instant death,” Mr. Lewis said.

The report lays heavy blame for the killings on Mr. Mitterrand and the French government for giving aid and military support to the Hutu officials and militias who planned and carried out much of the genocide, and then for helping them flee an invading Tutsi force. France has refused to apologize for its role in the tragedy.

France is condemned for supporting the genocidaires and subsequently leading them into exile in what was then eastern Zaire, where they enjoyed the protection of UN refugee camps and of the government of the late Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko. The report accuses the United States of giving “tacit approval” to Mr. Mobutu, a long-time ally, to protect the fleeing killers from a Tutsi-led force that eventually took power in Kigali, where it still rules by military force.

For their part, U.S. officials continue to say they were not aware of the extensive planning that occurred before the genocide, or of its extent until it was well under way. At the time, the United States was also haunted by its own disastrous military intervention in Somalia the year before.

“That’s just no excuse,” Mr. Lewis said.

The report cites intelligence reports and official communications to show senior U.S. officials were aware of the risks and the killings once they started.

Detailing the history of Rwanda leading up to the genocide, the report highlights a series of ethnic slaughters that were ignored by the Catholic and Anglican churches and by most Western diplomats in the region, despite alarming reports issued by respected international human-rights groups. The report says most Western governments were aware of detailed death lists drawn up by Hutu extremists as well as the growing hatemongering on Rwandan radio stations.

“With some heroic exceptions, church leaders played a conspicuously scandalous role in these months, at best remaining silent or explicitly neutral,” the report says. In addition to reparations, the report calls for a sharp increase in resources for the judicial process, both inside the country and at a UN war crimes tribunal in Tanzania.



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