Clinton decries slow response
to massacre of Rwandan Tutsis
Kigali, Rwanda - Four years ago, when Rwanda suddenly became awash in blood, Clinton administration officials resisted appeals for intervention and spent weeks debating whether the mass killings carried out by Hutu extremists should properly be called "genocide."
Wednesday morning, President Clinton came here and acknowledged that the answer should have been simple.
In just 90 days, more than a half-million people died in what Clinton called the most rapid "slaughter in this blood-filled century." It was a tragedy, he added, for which the "international community" must share blame.
"We did not act quickly enough after the killing began," Clinton said. "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide."
Clinton's acknowledgement, during an emotional three-hour stop at Kigali's airport, came shortly after he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton listened to a cascade of painful recollections from people who survived the campaign by the Hutu-extremist government that then ruled Rwanda to exterminate the country's Tutsi minority.
There was the Catholic relief worker who suffered the murder of her parents and four siblings, witnessed the rape of a friend by 10 soldiers and saved herself by hiding for several days at the home of a neighbor. There was the priest who said he sometimes feels guilty about being alive when so many family and friends perished.
And there was Venuste Karasira, who told Clinton that when the killing began on April 6, 1994, he joined some 4,000 people who fled to a local college, confident that U.N. peacekeeping soldiers there would protect them. When those troops left, he was one of just 400 people left alive after a gun-and machete rampage.
I lost my right hand," Karasira said. "We died because we were left by the United Nations soldiers."
Clinton said that a lack of information lay behind the world's slow response to the killings. "All over the world, there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror," he said.
Lack of Political Will
But some audience members said Clinton was letting himself off too easily. "The information was there" about the killings, said Janet Fleischman, an Africa specialist with the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. "What was lacking was the political will. And there is still a question of whether there will be political will in the future."
Fleischman said, however, that "the president obviously deserves credit for going to Rwanda and speaking directly about the genocide."
Human rights activists, as well as the several hundred Rwandans gathered in an airport conference room to hear Clinton, applauded his assessment of the origins of the Rwandan genocide. It resulted, Clinton said, not from old tribal antagonisms but from Hutu leaders' incitement of their followers to violence.
President Clinton looks at a sculpture presented to him Wednesday in Kigali, Rwanda. The piece is a symbol of the campaign by Hutu extremists to exterminate the nation's Tutsis.
Des Moines Register
Thursday, March 26, 1998, Page 11A