SURVIVING TUTSIS TELL THE STORY OF MASSACRES BY HUTU MILITIAS Government-Instigated Massacres Have All the Hallmarks of Genocide, Says a UN Human Rights Report Series: COVER STORY

By Robert M. Press, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 1, 1994 | Go to article overview

SURVIVING TUTSIS TELL THE STORY OF MASSACRES BY HUTU MILITIAS Government-Instigated Massacres Have All the Hallmarks of Genocide, Says a UN Human Rights Report Series: COVER STORY


Robert M. Press, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


MANUEL is one of the Tutsi who survived the genocide in Rwanda.

He sits on the grass in a hillside camp of plastic-covered huts of twigs and grass. The French military guards this camp at Nyarushishi, eight miles from Cyangugu in southwestern Rwanda, because its Tutsi occupants are still in danger.

Whenever people wander too far from the camp to gather firewood, they risk being killed by Hutus still in the area. Not long ago, French soldiers stopped some Hutus heading to the camp with axes.

The harrowing tales of Manuel and other Tutsi survivors of massacres makes the impact of what has happened in Rwanda over the past four months more apparent.

Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda have lived together for several centuries. But in recent years Rwandan politicians in the majority-Hutu government have fanned ethnic differences to forestall sharing power with the minority Tutsis.

In 1990, Tutsi rebels attacked the government from neighboring Uganda to win a greater share of power in the government and a right for Tutsi refugees who had fled earlier massacres to come home again.

When Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash April 6 this year, the Hutu militants, in what the United Nations calls a "pre-planned" series of attacks, began annihilating Tutsis and moderate Hutus opposed to the government.

Ironically, today it is the 2 million mostly Hutu refugees who have drawn world attention to the Rwandan crisis; many of them, though not involved in the killings, fled the country for fear of retribution by the Tutsis.

Indeed, on July 22, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali pointed to "a new kind of genocide" of Hutu refugees being killed "by hunger, thirst, by disease...."

Massive relief will be needed for a long time to keep as many of the refugees as possible alive. Large numbers have already died of cholera and other causes.

The plight of the Rwandan Hutu refugees has shifted world attention away from the issue of genocide against the Tutsi. But genocide will also be an issue for a long time, a permanent historical fact in Rwanda, as a new Tutsi government seeks to rebuild the nation and offer assurances to Hutus that it is safe to come home.

At least 500,000 and as many as 1 million Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, but also Hutu moderates, were killed by Hutus, according to a June 28 report by the UN's Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Rene Degni-Segui. The "systematic massacres" soon went beyond political opposition figures, he says. "Whole families are exterminated - grandparents, parents, and children. No one escapes, not even newborn babies." He concludes it is "genocide," a "holocaust."

One frustrated relief worker says she is glad to see the world responding to the needs of the Hutu refugees. But she asks: Where was the world when Tutsis were being slaughtered?

The US military, which, after a week's hesitation, plunged into the international rescue operation for Hutu refugees in Goma, Zaire, stayed home during the killings in Rwanda. Only the French came, though not for two months - by which time most of the killing was over. And the French presence has been a controversial one, given the previous French support for the Rwandan Hutu military. Call for prosecution

Some UN officials are calling for war-crimes trials. So is Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights. One UN official, who asked not to be named, says he fears the world will shove the issue under the carpet to concentrate on humanitarian relief for the survivors.

"The world let it {genocide} happen again," says one international analyst, asking not to be identified. Unless action is taken quickly, "the chances of the killers being arrested are fairly slim," says another analyst anonymously. But some action should be taken to show that, as in Germany, "society is guilty," the second analyst adds. …

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