If you think acknowledging America’s awful history of slavery, genocide, and discrimination necessitates that you don’t love America, then guess what? You don’t love America! Because those things did, in fact, actually happen. So to call someone out for discussing them is less a sign that they don’t love America than a sign that you only love some vague, nonexistent fantasy version of America, and find the real thing detestable.
We like to think of historical people as trapped in the morals of their times, but history is filled with well-researched, articulate debates on the moral harms of slavery or Indian genocide—in societies that decided in favor of them anyway. The fact that we talk a lot about racism or sexism today can’t be taken as evidence that we’re effectively dealing with them.
The story of a Catholic priest, Father Bernard Kinvi, who protected Muslim civilians in Central African Republic from extremist Christian militias during the country’s reciprocal genocide, from late 2013 into early 2014, in its ongoing conflict:
At one point, 1,500 Muslims were living under the protection of a man whose only sources of power were his faith and the black cassock with a large red cross on the chest that he wears as a member of the Camillian order.
From mid-January to April, Kinvi barely slept, terrified that if he closed his eyes the militia would fulfill their threats to murder all the Muslims in the mission. But bit-by-bit, lorry load by lorry load, the priest started to get the Muslims out of the area and over the border into Cameroon.
In contrast, French “peacekeepers” literally stood and watched Muslims being hacked to death in front of them by Christian extremists. Actual rescue missions, as in Rwanda in 1994, had to be staged by African peacekeepers.
Ten years from now, everyone is going to be asking why the world did nothing there. And there will be no good explanations or excuses.
I realize there’s a long history of pretty undeserving and warmongering people winning the the Nobel Peace Prize but I’m pretty sure we’d really be redefining the word “Peace” entirely if the prize were given to Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, as has been hilariously/disturbingly proposed by his Minister of Information, according to Darfuri media outlet Radio Dabanga.
According to the Sudanese Minister of Information, President Omar Al Bashir is a man of peace who should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war between Khartoum and the southern Sudanese rebels in 2005.
“President Al Bashir is being threatened with an ICC [International Criminal Court] arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur,” Information Minister Ahmed Bilal told James Butty of VOA News in an interview published today, “instead of being praised and encouraged for his efforts.”
Bilal said that Khartoum cares little about the ICC. “Let me tell you one thing: Our president is a man of peace. He stopped the longest war in Africa. Instead of giving him Nobel [Peace] Prize, he’s being called before the ICC. Instead praising him or encouraging him and saying that he’s doing good things to his neighbors, you are raising this talk of ICC problems.
You can read the VOA News interview with Minister Bilal here.
In addition to Bashir’s genocide in Darfur, he is a past sponsor of global Sunni Islamic terrorism (including al Qaeda during the 1990s before their relocation to Afghanistan) and was a main instigating force and perpetuator of the Sudanese Civil War in the south, which he eventually ended under immense international pressure and UN involvement. Not exactly a shining force for world peace.
President Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the International Criminal Court for his activities in Darfur and has refused to face prosecution, unlike the president of nearby Kenya (who is currently standing trial on less serious charges for post-election violence). He is gearing up to campaign for yet another term as president after 25 years of rule. Fortunately, I doubt even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is planning to consider Bashir any time soon … or ever.
It is the 20th anniversary right now of the start of the Rwandan Genocide. In Yugoslavia, in the same time span, there were many massacres and ethnic purges occurring as well, as the country continued to disintegrate over the the 1990s. (Next year will be the anniversary of the worst European massacre in postwar history.) There have been a number of compelling and important perspectives and accounts surfacing now, two decades later, from both episodes.
In Rwanda, there was very little outside intervention until the very end, when it was already over. In Bosnia and the wider Yugoslav conflict, there was some intervention off and on by outside powers to try to halt the violence, but it was generally too little too late. Certainly much of the external narrative focuses on those who failed to stand up — inside and outside the countries — to protect the innocent civilians. I think that’s important and justified, in that we should not forget and must do better. But it’s also important to remember and honor those who did intervene in these crises, at great personal risk — because their stories are the ones that remind us we could have and should have helped.
Here are two accounts I’ve read this week that I wanted to highlight. I’ve pulled just one paragraph from each, to encourage you to read the full articles.
Background: As the cowardly UN Security Council voted to start pulling hundreds of peacekeepers out of Rwanda during the genocide, a Ghanaian general decided on his own (for which he would be scolded by his president later) that he would not withdraw his last 454 troops from the country. They were young, inexperienced, and barely armed. The militias had already brazenly executed Belgian peacekeeping troops with impunity. And still the Ghanaians stayed. They are credited with saving as many as 30,000 lives, often simply by refusing to move out of the way and talking and talking until the militiamen left in frustration. There were only 5 casualties.
Excerpt from “Ghana peacekeepers remember Rwanda’s genocide” by Chris Stein for Al Jazeera:
The colonel demanded that they call their commanders, going back and forth with the leaders of the assembled mob for hours. The militiamen would threaten him with grenades, going so far as to pull out their pins in front of his face. [Col.] Yaache would pick the pins up off the ground and put them back in the grenades himself.
“I Found the Man Who Saved My Family From a Balkan Death Camp” by Kenan Trebinčević for Slate.
I realized that Pero never had the power to stop the massacres. Yet he’d carry our murdered citizens on his conscience. I could never forget: He saved my family. I decided he was a noble man trapped in a depravity he didn’t ask for. While I was a bilingual world traveler nearly able to move on, history held him hostage, keeping him from rest. I wondered for the first time if he’d suffered more than I did.
The fighting in South Sudan is somewhat reduced, in large part because of a massive Ugandan Army operation on behalf of the South Sudan government, but it’s still going on.
Meanwhile, human rights workers are already undertaking the awful task of trying to assemble and count the bodies from hundreds of different massacres in December. In those incidents, entire groups of civilians — ranging in size from a dozen to well over a hundred — were cut down by rampaging soldiers from the divided army after it split suddenly along ethnic lines at the end of last year. In the past 3 weeks alone, one man and a few helpers have recovered 2,000 bodies.
Warning: This post contains descriptions of extreme violence.
The situation in Central African Republic has descended into total chaos and horrific violence that firsthand observers are comparing to scenes from the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 (although — not that this is any consolation — the rate of killing is nowhere near as high).
Over a hundred people in the capital were killed or wounded in the last four days, according to the Red Cross.
Antoine Mbao Bogo, head of the CAR’s Red Cross, said that a total of 35 bodies had been recovered from the streets in many areas of the city over the last three days and eight more bodies had been found on Friday morning.
He said the victims were from both the Muslim and Christian communities.
“A few weeks ago people were dying more from gun wounds… but now it is mostly from things like knives. Sometimes they burn the corpses,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme.
Human Rights Watch is claiming that French troops stood by and did nothing as two Muslim men were hacked to death and mutilated at the entrance of the Christian refugee camp at the capital airport in Central African Republic. The French Defense Ministry has yet to comment. The French troops say their mandate is limited to disarming the Muslim militias and does not include intervening when the Christian militias begin attacking.
Technically, this may even be correct, given the comments by the French Defense Minister back in December:
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the goal of the French military mission in the Central African Republic was to provide “a minimum of security to allow for a humanitarian intervention to be put in place”.
So, they are interpreting their mandate largely as a political security operation to pave the way for somebody else’s human security operation, which has yet to materialize. That’s not a particularly brave act. French peacekeeping troops, regardless of their orders, can and should act to protect civilians being killed in front of them — as a Dutch court ruled last year on their spineless peacekeepers in Bosnia in the 1995 Srebenica massacre. It’s a moral obligation to get involved when you’re an armed soldier seeing people commit murder in front of your very eyes.
Here’s another account also by Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies for Human Rights Watch — one of the most vocal eyewitnesses offering news from the ground — published in The Independent:
Last Wednesday, immediately after the Séléka fled the Muslim neighbourhood of PK13 in Bangui, hundreds of anti-balaka fighters arrived, chasing away the remaining inhabitants, who fled to the relative safety of Rwandan peacekeepers at the scene. All around us, homes were being systematically looted and dismantled in an atmosphere of euphoric destruction. The main mosque was dismantled by a crowd of machete-wielding fighters who told us: “We do not want any more Muslims in our country. We will finish them all off. This country belongs to the Christians.”
I pleaded with the anti-balaka fighters to leave the PK13 residents alone, but they showed no sign of mercy, telling me: “You get them out of here, or they will all be dead by morning. We will take our revenge.”
The death records of the Bangui morgue read like a chapter from Dante’s Inferno: page after page of people tortured, lynched, shot, or burnt to death. The smell of rotting corpses is overwhelming, as when people die in such numbers, it is impossible to bury them immediately. On really bad days, no names are recorded, just the numbers of dead. In the 15 minutes we managed to remain amid the stench and horror, two more bodies arrived: a Muslim hacked to death with machetes, and a Christian shot dead by the Séléka.
The controversial “peacekeeping” troops from neighboring Chad continue to get into increasingly violent clashes with Christian militias and civilians as they evacuate their own citizens — and, unfortunately, the Séléka leaders who launched the waves of attacks in the first place.
In contrast, some of the other regional peacekeepers seem to be taking a more aggressive role in intervening between armed groups and unarmed civilian targets. For the Rwandan troops, who are by and large commanded by Tutsi officers who witnessed the 1994 anti-Tutsi genocide firsthand, this is deeply affecting.
A commander of the Rwandan troops told me that their intervention in the Central African Republic crisis is deeply personal for him and his troops: “What we see here reminds us of what we experienced in Rwanda in 1994,” he told me, “and we are absolutely determined not to let 1994 happen again.”
But they are utterly unprepared and under-equipped to cope with the scale of the unfolding violence. As in the Rwandan Genocide, it’s extremely hard for a small foreign peacekeeping force to stop autonomous, decentralized bands of machete-wielding irregulars and armed “civilians” who aren’t taking orders from anyone and have been whipped into a murderous frenzy.
Even the fresh UN troops from the EU probably won’t help as they’ve been tasked primarily with aiding the existing French protection details on the Christian camps in the capital. With the tables turned on the Muslim population, the Christians — while still at risk — aren’t the most vulnerable right now. The United Nations mission also remains in dire need of emergency funds.