By L Dillner Published 8 October 1994

Doctors, schoolteachers, and priests were directly involved in carrying out massacres in Rwanda, says the first substantive report on the killings, published last week by a respected human rights organisation. The 422 page report, by African Rights, contains interviews with eye witnesses of the genocide that took place during April and May this year (see personal view on p963).

African Rights documents how, after President Juvenal Habyarimana was assassinated on 6 April, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were murdered by their Hutu neighbours. The report states that, far from being a sudden act of tribal violence, the genocide was orchestrated by the government and ignored by the international community. The United Nations, it says, failed to take a “moral lead” in stopping the killing.

Most people were killed in massacres that took place in hospitals, schools, and churches across the country. Their killers used hand grenades, guns, machetes, and masus (big clubs studded with nails). In almost every massacre investigated by African Rights, survivors told of militia returning the next morning to kill the wounded. Tens of thousands of people who escaped massacres were subsequently shot or killed with machetes on the road or as they hid in bushes.

“Nothing, not even a previous visit to Somalia, prepared me for the situation in Rwanda,” said Rakiya Omaar, the author of the report. “There were men made to kill their own brothers, mothers who were forced to kill their infant sons. I can understand how ordinary people who were literally forced to take part in this genocidal frenzy could do what they did, but I cannot understand the people who carried it out.”

There were no places of safety for Tutsis and moderate Hutus, who were dragged out of hospital beds and Red Cross ambulances and killed. Medecins sans Fronteires, a medical charity, pulled out of the University Hospital in Kigali after its patients kept disappearing. According to the testimony of Dr Claude-Emil Rwagaconza, a Rwandan, some doctors colluded with the government forces and militia, forcing patients out of the hospital to their deaths. “The extremist doctors were also asking patients for their identity cards before treating them,” he said. “They refused to treat sick Tutsis. Also, many people were coming to the hospital to hide. The extremist doctors prevented many of these people from hiding in the hospital.”

An attack on a hospital in Kibeho was assisted by a doctor, who was seen directing the militia into the hospital and disconnecting the power supply so that the lights went out. Some of the most horrific massacres occurred in maternity clinics, where people gathered in the belief that no one would kill mothers and newborn babies. When people from African Rights visited the maternity clinic in the parish of Rukara they saw the bodies of many tiny babies and heard eye witness accounts of massacres of young children by militia who murdered with machetes.

“There have been many massacres in the world, but what sets Rwanda apart is that they happened in such a short space of time and they were so intimate,” said Ms Omaar. “Doctors have sometimes participated in human rights abuses, but here it was so apparent.”

Andrew Carney, of Physicians for Human Rights spent two weeks taking testimonies from over 100 people in Rwanda. “People were operating in an ethical vacuum,” he said. “The head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s human rights commission said that he wasn’t surprised that doctors put politics before ethics. But he did find it surprising that priests stood by during the killings.”

The report is published at a time when the UN’s response to Rwanda is being criticised as being in disarray. “The greatest lesson here is that all the signs were apparent to the international community but that there was a failure of leadership,” said Ms Omaar. “If there had been consistent, eloquent statements from leaders condemning the killers and making it clear that there was nowhere on earth that they could hide then the confidence of the genocidal regime would have been lost and hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved.”

There are concerns that the UN has so far failed to launch a comprehensive inquiry into human rights abuses. Its rapporteur for human rights in Rwanda resigned publicly last month, complaining of inaction. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has also come under attack from aid agencies for reporting from its office in Geneva that the new government forces – the Rwandan Patriotic Front – have been systematically murdering Hutus. The allegations, although discredited by the rest of the UN, including the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, are likely to deter refugees from returning home.

“Our perspective is that unless there is significant movement on the issue of human rights and the instigators of genocide are brought to justice, refugees will not have the confidence to return home,” said Ian Bray of Oxfam. “The UN has requested 147 peace monitors in Rwanda – one for each commune – but so far only 26 are in place. Monitors are urgently needed in every commune to tell the people that the world is watching.”


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