Rwanda genocide, Gaza killings and the hypocrisy of United States

Skulls of some of those who were slaughtered as they sought refuge in a church during the 1994 genocide. [AP Photo]

April 7, 2024, marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. The genocide was a shocking moment in history.

In a few months, between April and July 1994, close to a million people were murdered. The genocide was primarily committed by civilians against civilians, even though the background forces at play were more senior.

At the end of the genocide, as with the Holocaust that had taken place 50 years earlier, the world declared that such a calamitous event would “never again” occur (even though, sadly yet ironically, it was taking place for the second time within the same century).

Bill Clinton, who was President of the United States at the time, apologised four years after the genocide, expressing regret that America had not acted quickly to bring an end to the killing, opting instead, along with the European countries, to evacuate its citizens and watch from a distance. It seems that Clinton’s apology was taken to heart, as he is presently in Kigali, taking part in the 30th anniversary commemoration.

Today, however, the words of President Clinton ring hollow as we witness an ongoing genocide in Palestine. "Never again" has turned into yet again, and patterns are repeating themselves. In fact, this time it is much worse: Whilst the Rwandan genocide ran for roughly 100 days, the situation in Palestine has continued for over 100 days, with no certain end in sight.

The behaviour of the powers that be during the worst of genocide and the subsequent changing of tune down the line is what should concern us as world citizens. In the case of Rwanda, for instance, the United States was found to have covertly supported the genocide by arming the Ugandan government, which in turn armed the exiled Rwandan Patriotic Front that initiated the onslaught on the Hutu majority nearly four years prior to the genocide. Today, with regard to the situation in Palestine, it is the United States government that provides arms and monetary aid to Israel with its right hand, even as it provides humanitarian assistance to Palestine with its left.

A world where declarations of peace are hollow veneers through which the greatest powers throw stones and then hide their hands is a world of nothing more than despair. It is evident, even as we sit in the eye of the genocidal storm in Palestine and commemorate the regrettable genocide of Rwanda, that the United States will apologise years from now for its part in the current situation. But of what use are these apologies after the fact, whilst during the fact those that had the power to stop these hellish conditions were in fact the ones fueling them?

Over a decade ago, while working at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda – the court that prosecuted the more high-profile perpetrators of the genocide, I was struck by how much psychological damage had actually been done on both the Hutu and Tutsi. Those of Rwandan heritage who worked with us in Arusha expressed trepidation and unease even as they took part in the process of seeking justice.

As well, they expressed distrust of each other. Whilst the international community sat back and watched the events of the genocide unfold or, even worse, tacitly encouraged and funded it, the lives and livelihoods of real people were affected, entire families were wiped out, and futures forever changed.

Scholastique Mukasonga, a celebrated Rwandese refugee and author, lends words to the great change that took place within the community. Through her writing, she tells tales of families, including her own, that were one day held together and then overnight separated, leaving devastating emotional wounds that are yet to be fully repaired. It is heinous to sit back and watch the same thing happen in Palestine, or with any other community in the future for that matter. It would be encouraging to see the international community hold the instigators responsible, as South Africa has done, rather than cowering in fear of the consequences of such action.

-Ms Gitahi is an international lawyer