The Leaders of Genocide
University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
I think that leaders think they can get away with genocide because, first of all, they think that there are no courts to judge them. It’s the phenomenon of impunity. They believe that there will be no judgment; that, after all, they are the law. They are gods, if you will. In Rwanda, for instance, there was no tribunal to judge them. There was no international court. Why would they expect one to be created? We didn’t create the International Tribunal for Rwanda until after that genocide. So, you know, there was nothing there to deter them at the time it was being committed. So, the expectation of impunity is one thing. The second thing is the leaders are convinced of the righteousness of their cause. They believe that what they’re doing is the best for their country. They honestly believe, or maybe dishonestly believe, that they are rescuing their country from some kind of a terrible threat. In the case of Rwanda, they believed that the Tutsis were eventually going to kill them, because they looked next door in Burundi and they said, “Well, in the history of Burundi, there have been genocides against the Hutus again and again and again.” And in 1993, just the year before, there had indeed been a coup against an elected Hutu president, in which that president had been murdered by Tutsi military officers. That coup was then followed by a double genocide in which over 100,000 people had died. And so those Hutu leaders in Rwanda looked next door to Burundi, which is a twin country—the same ethnic groups—and said, “Well, if we’re going to save our skins, if we’re going to save ourselves from the Tutsis, we better kill all of these Tutsis.” And so they saw themselves as rescuing their country from a threat. They saw themselves as righteous in this case. They dehumanized the Tutsis, of course, in order to do this. They claimed that they were cockroaches. They had to do this, because it’s a natural human tendency to not want to commit murder. And so they had to do this process of dehumanization. This dehumanization, of course, also had to be spread to the populace through all sorts of propaganda. They used a huge radio station in Kigali, the Radio Mille Collines, to spread this propaganda all across the country, and in fact even to give orders about the killing. And they used all sorts of print media and everything else to spread the propaganda about the Tutsis. It was racism at its extreme. I think that those phenomena—and then, finally, and I think this is unfortunately very, very universal, there is ethnocentrism. Human beings belong to ethnic groups because we’re brought up speaking a particular language, speaking and growing up with particular cultures. It’s very easy to start thinking, if you have a racist leader, that our culture is the only one, or that the other cultures are somehow inferior or a threat to us, or somehow should be blamed for our ills. And when that sort of thing happens, when a Hitler comes along, that ethnocentrism can turn into violent genocidal racism.
Ethnocentrism, unfortunately, is universally human. We are all brought up in a particular culture, speaking a particular language. And it’s very easy for people in particular cultures to be led sometimes by a leader, a racist leader, into believing that their culture is the best or the only culture, and that other cultures are a threat to them or should be the scapegoat for their ills. And when that happens, when Hitler comes along or when a Pol Pot comes along, it can lead to genocide.