The Rwanda "Genocide Fax": What We Know Now

tags: genocide, Rwanda, Michael Dobbs




Washington, DC, January 9, 2014 – Twenty years ago this week, the commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Rwanda (UNAMIR) wrote a "Most Immediate" cable to his superiors in New York that has come to be known as the "Genocide Fax." Dated January 11 but received in New York at 6:45 p.m. on January 10, the fax from General Romeo Dallaire cited information from "a top-level trainer" for a pro-regime militia group known as the Interahamwe, and warned of an "anti-Tutsi extermination" plot.

Three months after this warning, Interahamwe members took the lead in the 100-day genocide of at least half a million members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority, along with tens of thousands of "moderate" Hutus. The massacres took place against the backdrop of a war that pitted the Hutu-dominated regime against Tutsi-led insurgents who had invaded the country from neighboring Uganda.

Over time, the "genocide fax" became a symbol of the failure of the international community to prevent mass killing in Rwanda. In reply to the fax, U.N. officials rejected Dallaire's request for authority to raid suspected arms caches, and instructed him instead to consult with government leaders tied to the Interahamwe. It was one of several turning points when the United Nations, backed by the United States and other powers, failed to take action that might have prevented the genocide.

Thanks to new documents, including evidence submitted to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), it is now possible to piece together a much fuller account of the man who inspired the "genocide fax" and how and why UN officials and other decision-makers responded, or failed to respond, to his warnings. For example, the documents posted today include the never-before-published statement given to tribunal investigators in 2003 by the widow of the "genocide fax" informant.

Today's e-book and op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Dobbs are the first publications of a joint "#Rwanda20yrs" project co-sponsored by the National Security Archive (at George Washington University) and the Center for the Prevention of Genocide of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.



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