In 1992, the US recognized the independence of Bosnia a mostly Muslim country with a Serb minority. Claiming protection for this minority, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic attacked Sarajevo using snipers to shoot down civilians including over 3,500 children. They proceeded to round up Muslims and orchestrate mass killings. The Serbs also terrorized Muslim families by using rape as a weapon against women and girls. They destroyed Mosques and historic architecture. Despite these actions the world community remained Silent. President Clinton’s NATO ultimatum imposed a cease-fire in Sarajevo, but the worst genocidal activities were yet to come. In, Srebrencia, a supposed Safe Haven, U.N. peacekeepers stood by helplessly as nearly 8,000 men and boys between the ages of twelve and sixty were slaughtered. Activities like this were being repeated all around Bosnia evidenced later in mass graves. On August 30, 1995, finally an effective military intervention was launched. And in October a peace accord was declared. By that time, over 200,000 Muslim civilians had been systematically executed, 20,000 were missing and 2,000,000 had become refugees. They have still not recovered.
I went to two Genocide Memorials this week, the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Belgian Memorial. The first floor of the Kigali Memorial was a walk through the history of Rwanda leading up to the 1994 genocide, and a detailed accounting of what happened during and after the three months of incessant killing. It seems before you can kill a whole race of people, you must get a certain amount of support. The tactics are ones we’ve seen repeated over and over again throughout history: demoralizing cartoons, hate radio, lies designed to incite fear. Then there was a campaign to differentiate between “them” and “us”. In Nazi Germany Jews were forced to wear yellow stars. Here in Rwanda the label on your identity card could mean life or death.
Upstairs on the second floor of the Memorial were walls dedicated to telling the stories of genocide around the world. Inscribed on a glass plaque was the question so many are asking: What did the world mean after the Holocaust when it said “never again”?
The Belgian Memorial was set up in a similar fashion. This once school house was the site of the murder of 10 Belgian UN soldiers. The room where they were killed is preserved as a Memorial and features a plaque to honor those who died and a chalkboard covered in words from their family members. The subsequent rooms are filled with placards that educate about genocide awareness and prevention. One poster lists the sites of known genocide: North America 1492-, South America 1500-, Australia 1824, South Africa 1902, Armenia 1915-1918, Manchuria 1930, Holocaust in Europe 1933-1945, Pakistan 1971, Uganda 1971-1979, Cambodia 1975, Iraq 1980-1988, Former Yugoslavia 1991-1999, Rwanda 1994
Unfortunately they will have to remake this document to include the latest example of what happens when the world remains silent- Darfur.
Darfur is an area in Western Sudan that has remained largely undeveloped and neglected by the central government. There are six million people who live there, a little over half of which are black Africans. The rest are Arab. In 2003, two loosely allied groups began a rebellion in Darfur calling for the rectification of social and economic grievances. Fearing other regions would rise up, the government decided to exterminate the black Africans of Darfur.
They enlisted an Arab militia known as Janjaweed to implement this policy of genocide. On the website for The United Human Rights Council they describe the actions of the Janjaweed. “They are armed by the government and sent into various African villages where they proceed to kill civilians of all ages, burn down houses, destroy crops and livestock, carry out mass executions, target vital infrastructure, and commit wide-scale rape. Reports coming out of the region speak regularly of such brutal acts as men being chained together and thrown into burning huts, women being raped in front of their loved ones, and children being kidnapped from their families.” Over 400,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced.
You can end your silence now by going to protectdarfur.org, darfurgenocide.org, savedarfur.org, africaaction.org, sudandivestment.org, or anca.org
The two major ethnic groups in Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi, intermarried, shared customs and language, and were in many cases impossible to tell apart. There is actually no proof to confirm ethnic diversity and some believe physical distinctions resulted from the contrasting eating habits of different classes. The rulers were made up mostly of the Tutsi minority, but Hutu also ruled. When the German colonialists and missionaries arrived in 1897 they decided the Tutsi were a superior race and made all Hutu inferior. At the end of World War I Belgium took over Rwanda and solidified the racial divide. Skull and other measurements were taken and identity cards were issued. During World War II Rwanda became a UN trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. Property was taken from the Tutsi and redistributed. Hutu began to have more power.
Following independence in 1962, the Hutu seized power. There was violence against Tutsi and 200,000 fled to neighboring countries. Discrimination and brutality against Tutsi continued and those who left remained in exile. Many joined together under Paul Kagame to form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They put pressure on the Hutu President Habyalimana to sign an agreement that would formalize power sharing and give those in exile the right to return. Hutu extremists were against this accord and began making plans for the extermination of all Tutsi. On his way back from a peace meeting with Tutsi rebels, Habyalimana’s plane was shot down. The killing of Tutsi civilians began almost immediately. The efficiency with which large numbers of Hutu convened with arms and lists of Tutsi suggests long term planning.
The head of UN mission in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire, argued that with a just small addition of troupes he could get the area under control. Instead the UN ignored his pleas and pulled all but 250 of his men out. What followed was 100 days of mass killing. The RPF eventually took control but over 800,000 were dead by then.
In 1962 Pol Pot who had become the leader of the Cambodia Communist Party was forced to retreat to the jungle to escape the wrath of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leader of Cambodia. In the jungle, Pol Pot formed an armed resistance movement that became known as the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) and waged a guerrilla war against Sihanouk’s government. In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was ousted due to a U.S. backed right military coup. Sihanouk then retaliated by joining with Pol Pot to oppose Cambodia’s new military government. That same year, the U.S. invaded Cambodia to expel the North Vietnamese from their border, but instead drove them deeper into Cambodia where they also joined up with Pol Pot.
From 1969-1973 the U.S. bombed North Vietnamese sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia killing innocent civilians. As a result, peasants fled to the capital, Phnom Penh. These events led to the economic and military destabilization of Cambodia. Pol Pot took advantage of this opportunity and seized control of Cambodia. Once in power, he began a radical experiment to “purify” his society of capitalism, Western culture, religion, and relationship and form a Communist society of extreme peasantry. The educated, wealthy, and religious were executed immediately along with their families. Those not killed were forced into slave labor working fields for 18 hours a day and dying from malnutrition and disease. The Vietnamese, Chinese, and Cham Muslims were specifically targeted along with other smaller ethnic groups. In the end, 2,000,000 were dead.
In January 1933 Hitler came to power. During his rise, he blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I and all the hardships that followed. He also spoke of Germans with blond hair and blue eyes being the Master Race and rightful rulers of society. Hitler passed laws removing Jews from schools, jobs, and even from benches where non-Jews sat. Anti-Semitic slurs began appearing in newspapers, posters, movies, and radio. By 1938, Hitler had expanded the Nazi Reich into Austria. After Kristallnacht, a night of burned synagogues, mass arrests of Jews, and 90 Jews killed, Austrian and German Jews attempted to flee. However, most Western countries maintained strict immigration quotas and showed little interest in receiving large groups of Jews.
The war began in 1939 as Germany invaded Poland and forced the Jews into ghettos where tens of thousands died a slow death from hunger and disease. Hitler soon ordered the opening of concentration camp Auschwitz. Meanwhile, he invaded Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France. In 1941, Hitler went into the Soviet Union and killed all those Jews living together in tiny villages. Auschwitz II was under construction. It would hold four large gas chambers used for mass extermination. The Germans were already gassing Jews in the back of trucks in Russia.
The year 1942 marked the beginning of mass murder on a scale unprecedented in all of human history known as The Final Solution. Over two million Jews already in Poland were sent to be gassed. Although the Nazis attempted to keep the death camps a secret, reports filtered out. Definitely unconcealed were the mass shootings throughout Russia which the New York Times reported had already killed over 1,000,000 Jews. The Jews in America finally responded by holding a rally at Madison Square Garden. Seven months after that the U.S. Congress held hearings concerning the U.S. State Department’s inaction. In 1944, a Jewish inmate who escaped Auschwitz gave a report to the Papal Nuncio in Slovakia which was forwarded to the Vatican. Thus far, Pope Plus XII had not issued a public condemnation of the Nazis. He chose to remain silent. The tide of war had turned against Hitler, but the gassings increased.
On April 30, 1945 Hitler committed suicide. By now most of Europe’s Jews had been killed. Four million were gassed and Two million were shot or died in ghettos. Six million unnecessary deaths.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
There is also a time for silence and a time not to be silent.