Jean de Dieu, 11, was curled up, a ball of flesh and blood, the look in his eyes was a glance from nowhere . . . without vision; Marie-Ange, aged nine, was propped up against a tree trunk . . . her legs apart, and she was covered in excrement, sperm and blood . . . in her mouth was a penis, cut with a machete, that of her father . . . nearby in a ditch with stinking water were four bodies, cut up, piled up, their parents and older brothers.
Sights like this - recorded by an observer with Médecins sans Frontières - were common in Rwanda in April and May 1994, when Hutu extremists butchered up to a million people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates who were seen as 'sell-outs'. The small United Nations force under Major-General Roméo Dallaire and the gallant contingent of the International Committee of the Red Cross under Philippe Gaillard had to confront them over and over again. This was one of the few real genocides of modern times. Apart from the Armenian massacres and the Holocaust, Pol Pot killed around two million people in Cambodia and the German administration of South West Africa killed 90 per cent of the Herero people in the early years of the last century. Part of the horror of Rwanda is that we think of genocide as belonging to an age we had left behind.
LRB 21 June 2001 | PDF Download