The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide; Rwanda: Death, Despair, and Defiance, revised edition; Rwanda Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers; Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century

In This Review

The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide

By Girard Prunier
Columbia University Press, 1995
389 pp. $29.95

Rwanda: Death, Despair, and Defiance, revised edition

African Rights, 1995
1,201 pp. $40.00

Rwanda Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers

African Rights, 1995
255 pp. $40.00

Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century

By Alain Destexhe
New York University Press, 1995
102 pp. $19.95

These books lay bare the grisly events and complex causes of the orchestrated slaughter of Rwanda’s Tutsis, which took place over the three-month period beginning April 6, 1994. All broadly concur on the fundamental dynamic of and responsibility for the genocide and the urgent need to bring its perpetrators to justice. Prunier, a French political analyst, has produced the most thorough treatment of the background to the massacres, which left an estimated 800,000 dead and led 30 percent of Rwanda’s population to flee to neighboring states. He presents his balanced and painstaking research with clarity and skill, and he shows how the ideological, political, and economic components of Rwanda’s human time bomb slowly assembled, and how an elite group of extremists within the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government, who feared that power might slip from their hands, detonated the bomb. A former consultant to the Mitterrand government, Prunier is particularly well informed on the shameful role of the French in helping create the conditions that led to the 1994 explosion.

The two reports by African Rights, a London-based human rights group, go prefecture by prefecture and institution by institution, presenting eyewitness accounts of the genocide, including the systematic elimination of moderate Hutu opponents of Juvenal Habyarimana’s autocratic regime. Administrative and military personnel commanded thousands of Hutu peasants to participate in the massacres, and driven by fear, the power of Rwanda’s authoritarian traditions, and sometimes greed, thousands did. Harder to explain -- although Prunier and African Rights try -- is the willing participation of many educated Hutu, including teachers, doctors, priests, and nuns. The reports name hundreds of alleged killers and the higher authorities who commanded them.

Destexhe, a former secretary general of the French charity Medecins sans Frontieres, has a narrower focus. He argues that because the Rwandan massacres fully fit the accepted definition of genocide, the United Nations and the countries that were in a position to intervene, notably the United States, Belgium, and France, grossly violated international law. After standing on the sidelines while the holocaust proceeded, these countries rushed to provide humanitarian aid for the perpetrators as they retreated before the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, herding their hapless peasant accomplices before them into refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania in preparation for a military comeback. While compassion provided a fig leaf for the immorality of realpolitik, the author says, Africa and the world saw ‘Never Again!’ exposed as a slogan, not a promise.

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