A People Betrayed Summary By Linda Melvern

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A People Betrayed is an eye-opening book that documents the international community's tragic failure to intervene in one of the most horrifying and devastating events since the Holocaust.

The UN and its Security Council had selfish, racist motivations that drove them to dither and deny assistance to those suffering from three months of brutal murder resulting in an unfathomable estimated one million civilian deaths.

This masterful and detailed book examines this unthinkable event from a variety of angles, highlighting how our society must never let it happen again.

A People Betrayed

Book Name: A People Betrayed (The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide)

Author(s): Linda Melvern

Rating: 4.5/5

Reading Time: 27 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Linda Melvern is the author of "A People Betrayed", an award-winning investigative book on the Rwandan genocide.

She has over 25 years of experience as a journalist, working previously on the renowned Sunday Times Insight Team.

Along with this archival expertise, she has provided support for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in terms of official documentation.

This makes her an important source of information and historical record for contemporary understanding of the genocide.

Why Did the World Do Nothing? An In-Depth Analysis of the Causes and Consequences of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

1994 Rwandan Genocide

A People Betrayed provides an unsettling look at how the United Nations aided and abetted the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Despite warnings from European countries, the United States, and the UN itself that ethnic cleansing was in the works, an inexplicable obsession on the part of a French president led to his government protecting those responsible for this horrendous massacre.

Rwanda had been suffering under an extreme right-wing ethnonationalist leadership for some time, and when violence did finally erupt it quickly spiraled out of control.

Roving death squads affiliated with this government committed atrocities beyond belief – murdering millions of innocent people in gruesome ways.

This book will show you how colonial powers first sparked division between different ethnic groups in Rwanda which ultimately led to this tragedy as well as analyzing how radio propaganda incited Rwandans into a frenzy of bloodshed.

The Colonial Narrative of European Superiority Lead to Ethnic Division and Oppression in Rwanda

The racial classification of Hutu and Tutsi, widely known today, was calcified by European colonial practices.

This began when German Count Gustav Adolf von Goetzen arrived in 1894 to the domain that had been handed to Germany at the Berlin Conference ten years prior.

Europeans were amazed by Rwandan culture, and began searching for explanations as to why such complex social order would be present in Africa without outside influence.

As a result, they developed the theory that the Tutsi people, who were tall and thin with angular features, had migrated from the Horn of Africa and had taken control over the “inferior” Hutus who were generally shorter with rounder faces.

This idea was strengthened when Belgian colonizers implemented a census in 1933 which classified each individual based on their physical appearance; providing them with different rights based on ethnicity – with only Tutsi having access to education, administrative training and government jobs.

This fuelled an emerging Hutu nationalism, which led to a manifesto in 1957 calling for their emancipation.

The overwhelming support for this document showed how heavily influenced Rwandan society was by European persuasions about race relations; creating a divide between people who until recently hadn’t known one existed.

The King’s Death in 1959 Set the Stage for Rwanda to Become a Militarized Police State and Plunge into Decades of Violent Unrest


The death of King Rudahigwa in 1959 marked a significant turning point in Rwanda’s history.

With his death, the monarchy was abolished and replaced with a militarized police state.

This shift caused deep mistrust and division between the formerly unified Rwandan people and ultimately set the stage for the impending civil war.

The new military rule imposed by Belgium had a profound effect on everyday life in Rwanda, normalizing curfews, military checkpoints and identity checks, which lasted until 1975 when Hutu majority governments began taking power.

These governments enforced oppressive measures against Tutsi citizens, limiting their access to education and public office and even compiling files on them – sending a clear message that they were not welcome.

These actions culminated in 1963 with the worst atrocity since the Holocaust – thousands of Tutsi were slaughtered primarily with farming tools such as machetes and hoes.

This violence sparked an exodus of over a million refugees fleeing the country desperately seeking safety outside its borders but also leading to organizations forming in opposition to Hutu nationalism like the Rwandan Patriotic Front that sought an armed revolution from their neighboring Uganda.

Rwandan Security Forces Believe They Can Kill with Impunity After Plans for a Tutsi Invasion are Foiled

The civil war that engulfed Rwanda in the early 1990s had devastating consequences for the country.

Thousands of people were displaced, health and education services deteriorated, and the economy took a severe hit.

At the same time, the Rwandan government was taking advantage of the instability to equip its paramilitary killing squads, such as Interahamwe.

This far-right Hutu nationalist organization had been receiving training from the Rwandan army on how to carry out massacres quickly and efficiently.

The regime’s cover was soon blown when it orchestrated a heinous massacre in Bugesera in February 1992 which resulted in 3000 deaths.

Evidence regarding this massacre would later be documented by human rights groups but no one was brought to justice; this convinced members of the security forces that they could continue committing atrocities with impunity.

How President Habyarimana’s Government Prepared the Ground for Genocide in Rwanda

Genocide in Rwanda

The 1993 Arusha Accords were celebrated by delegates from five African countries, the United States, France, and Belgium for ending a civil war that had afflicted Rwanda for 13 months.

The Accords would bring constitutional reform to Rwanda and allow refugees to return home, but most importantly they would merge the RPF and Rwandan armies.

A UN peacekeeping force was sent to observe proceedings as a first step of implementation.

However, President Habyarimana and his cohort had no intention of fulfilling these Accords.

In December 1991, at a meeting with 100 military officers “the enemy” was described as not just the RPF but anyone who disagreed with the party; Colonel Théoneste Bagosora is said to have been the inspiration behind this ideology.

To send an even clearer message of intent, in late 1993 Habyarimana bought massive arms deals (with a French company) totaling $12 million worth of grenades, bombs and weapons as well as tons of hoes and machetes that went straight into private companies – amounting to $4.6 million being indiscriminately spent on agricultural tools without any ploughs around to use them on.

Arms were distributed throughout the country resulting in 50,000 found by UN inspectors in one small town alone.

To incite mass Tutsi extermination further Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) station was launched in 1993 broadcasting songs laced with racism messages against Tutsis and openly reading out names encouraging death threats toward them on air before they were carted off by Interahamwe paramilitary units – making it clear all along that there never was any intentions to implement real change or peaceful resolutions with the Arusha Accords despite its celebratory nature among international delegates..

The UN’s Negligence Led to a Looming Catastrophe in Rwanda

When UN Secretary General Roméo Dallaire arrived in Kigali in October 1993, he was already aware of the worrying trajectory of the situation and the potential for genocide.

Members of UN Security Council, however, were so preoccupied with other disputes around the world that they failed to understand the severity of what was going on in Rwanda.

Months later, in February 1994, Dallaire had his knowledge confirmed by intelligence reports and more direly warned UN headquarters: “The situation is deteriorating significantly and all our resources are used to the full.” Still, no action was taken.

Meanwhile, Tutsi faced increasing violence from Hutu Power and weapons were being circulated throughout Downtown Kigali.

All seemed lost when Dallaire attended an April 6th Security Council meeting hoping to gain their attention and support – but once again his warnings fell on deaf ears as conflicts elsewhere distracted their attention from Rwanda.

Sadly for Dallaire – and for so many others – death swooped down shortly after this meeting when Arusha became a moot point and truly terrible tragedy began befalling Rwanda.

The Brutal Aftermath of the Assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana

Assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana

When President Habyarimana of Rwanda was assassinated on April 6, 1994, it triggered a wave of violence and terror across the country.

Immediately after his death was announced by RTLM, Hutu Power began calling for revenge on Tutsi as well as all perceived opponents and UN peacekeepers from Belgium.

Massacres against Tutsi began in cities like Kigali and spread to other areas – many times even checkpoints were erected where those who appeared distinguishable from the Hutu majority were murdered in broad daylight.

Moderate Hutu politicians and their families were not spared either, with many of them targeted in their homes as well.

Ten Belgian peacekeepers were also savagely hacked to death with machetes while they tried to protect civilians.

The result of this genocide was devastating.

One million people are estimated to have perished by Hutu extremists; nearly 70 percent of which occurred in the first four days after President Habyarimana’s assassination.

When the UN failed to take action due to lack of permission or resources from its member states, this opened the door for General Bagosora to form an interim government led by a party loyalist – thus leading to even more mass killings and suffering that could have been prevented if international help had arrived earlier.

The Ignominious Moment the UN Abandoned Rwanda in its Hour of Need

As the genocidal violence against the Tutsi people in Rwanda engulfed the country, the United Nations abandoned them to fend for themselves.

Despite pleas from General Dallaire, the commander of UN peacekeepers on the ground, no reinforcements were sent.

Instead, with Belgian forces set to withdraw their troops and further pressure mounting on other member states, a decision was made to pull out completely.

This left only a small force of monitoring peacekeepers in country as civilians continued to be slaughtered at an alarming rate.

As this happened, RTLM radio was actively broadcasting target lists of Tutsi Rwandans with their addresses and places of work, urging people to arm themselves and join in with extermination efforts.

This situation only changed when RPF fighters descended on Kigali on April 12th – placing further pressure on governmental forces that had been attempting to spread violence throughout Rwanda.

It’s an ignominious moment for sure that the UN turned its back on these suffering people but it also serves as a warning so that similar atrocities are never repeated elsewhere in the world again.

UN Stalled Response to Rwandan Genocide Highlights Need for Stronger U.N. Action in Humanitarian Crises

After weeks of horrific and devastating violence during the Rwandan genocide, media attention finally brought the issue to light.

On April 25, a British Oxfam official reported that 500,000 people had already been killed in just 18 days – a shocking statistic that could not be ignored any longer.

Despite this grim reality, the UN Security Council was still unwilling to use the word “genocide” and accept legal liability for themselves.

Humanitarian Crises

While world leaders debated semantics, the killing continued at an alarming rate and support for Rwanda’s government from France was uncovered – this included $13 million passed through a French bank and weapons delivered by French companies or the French government (although it has always denied this).

Finally on May 4th, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appeared on an American news program and called what was happening in Rwanda a genocide.

This firmly placed international pressure on the UN Security Council to take action.

As a result they ended up approving a relief force known as UNAMIR II with limited troops – but it took more than a month for reinforcements to arrive in Rwanda.

The French Intervention in Rwanda was Too Little, Too Late

As the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gained the upper hand in its bid to take control of Rwanda, France decided to intervene to protect its allies – namely, the génocidaires of the Rwandan government.

On June 15, French President François Mitterrand launched Opération Turquoise, which was quickly met with criticism by both the French press and UNAMIR commander General Roméo Dallaire.

Unsurprisingly, RPF officials opposed Opération Turquoise too – they feared that it would save the Rwandan government instead of saving threatened populations.

Meanwhile, in Kigali, members of Hutu Power celebrated what they thought would be a French victory.

As troops from France crossed into Rwanda, however, they were greeted with stories of massacres that contradicted what their leaders had told them about who was truly carrying out violence against whom.

It soon became clear that the purpose of Operation Turquoise was not necessarily to protect those fleeing violence but to provide refuge for the génocidaires where they wouldn’t be arrested.

Despite creating a so-called “safe zone” in the south of Rwanda, French forces still failed to effectively prevent violence or contain the RPF who kept advancing in their fight for control.

In the end, it was up to the RPF solely defeat Hutu forces and end genocide without international help— which eventually led to their victory on July 4.

But even as this took place months later than it should have been helped by other nations when fighting first started in April, France’s intervention undeniably scarred an already chaotic conflict from being solved with any real success – allowing génocidaires retain power despite all odds stacking up against them .

The Controversial Role of Outside Nations in the Rwandan Genocide

The Rwandan Genocide was an horrific event, and the consequences of it are still being felt in Rwanda and throughout the world today.

While many people focus on the actions of the génocidaires—the individuals responsible for carrying out this tragic genocide—it’s important to remember that blame for the genocide lies not only with them, but with the international community.

Despite having enough evidence to intervene and prevent much of the tragedy from occurring, many countries within the international community—such as France, United States, and United Kingdom—did nothing.

In fact, their inaction can be seen as actively supporting the genocide by enabling its continuation in some way or another.

This included lobbying against the new Rwandan government in all international bodies, providing training to special forces associated with perpetrating violence, failing to respond to reports or reports presented to them, and even attempting to block assistance being provided by other organizations.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is one step of many taken towards breaking down this unhealthy culture of silence surrounding genocides and holding those responsible accountable for their role in perpetuating it.

Wrap Up

The final summary of the book, “A People Betrayed,” is that a genocide of one million people could have been prevented had the international community heeded the ample evidence of what was happening in Rwanda in 1994.

The violence that was unleashed was not your typical civil war; instead it was a planned extermination of a certain minority ethnic group.

For this reason, it officially classifies as a genocide and had more attention been paid to the signs before and after it began, many lives could have been saved.

Therefore, this book serves as an important reminder that we must pay close attention to any potential indication of genocide and act on them swiftly and with conviction.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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