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Did the world learn a lesson in Rwanda?

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Apr 25, 2014 - 12:46 PM |
Laurentian University political science professor Bruno Charbonneau was part of an April 24 panel discussion on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Laurentian University political science professor Bruno Charbonneau was part of an April 24 panel discussion on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Laurentian professor says lessons learned aren't being acted upon

Laurentian University political science professor Bruno Charbonneau, who participated in an April 24 panel discussion at Cambrian College on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, said it is hard to say if the world learned a lesson from the tragedy.

At the time of the slaughter, there was a United Nations mission in the country led by Canadian Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, Charbonneau said. Dallaire is now a member of the Canadian Senate.

He wrote a book about his experience, “Shake Hands with the Devil,” in which he details his fight to protect people from slaughter and the debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder he was left with.


Instead of bringing in troops to stop the killing, as Dallaire repeatedly demanded, the United Nations essentially pulled out and allowed the genocide to happen, Charbonneau said.

He speculated the U.S. didn't want to get involved in another African conflict after failing in Somalia the year before. The French were a different case, having supported the genocidal regime, Charbonneau said.

After the genocide, the United Nations strengthened its rules surrounding its duty to protect people against such events, but Charbonneau points out there's currently genocide in several parts of the world, including in his view the Central African Republic and Syria, and not much is being done to stop it.

“Did we learn something from Rwanda?” he said. “Well, we did learn quite a few things. But did we act upon that knowledge?

“That's another question. I think that the way that the system works, another genocide like Rwanda is definitely possible.”

He said the genocide has its roots in the Belgian occupation of the country after the First World War.

The occupiers reinforced divisions between the Hutus and the Tutsis to solidify their rule.

“Starting in the 1960s, there's all sorts of tensions between these communities,” he said.

In the 1990s, Rwanda was under the control of an “extremist” Hutu-dominated government that was at war with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group of Tutsi refugees who were attempting to take back Rwanda.

It was in this tinderbox environment that, starting April 7, 1994, Tutsis were slaughtered — often using machetes — by the Rwandan army, the national police, government-backed militias and the Hutu civilian population.

The genocide came to an end after 100 days when the RPF seized control of the country. The RPF's leader, Paul Kagame, is currently the country's president.
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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