- An Oral and Documentary History of the Darfur Genocide, and: We Cannot Forget: Interviews with Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda
Despite all the good intentions and finely wrought promises of “never again!” in the aftermath of the Holocaust, genocide remains a scourge that won't go away. This terrible fact is supported by evidence demonstrating the large number of genocides that have occurred since the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, the best known of which took place in Cambodia, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, although there were many others. Hundreds of books have been written about the Rwandan Genocide and although far fewer have been written about the atrocities in Darfur, there are still plenty to choose from.
While only deniers contest that what transpired in Rwanda was clearly a case of genocide, the arguments over how to classify violence in Darfur have been more complex and uncertain. Some have deemed the conflict to be ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity, while others assert it was clearly genocide. Interestingly, while the United States government deemed it genocide, the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (COI) asserted that it was a case of crimes against humanity. Just as critics of the US position claim that power politics were at the heart of the decision to call Darfur genocide, critics of the COI decision claim that a different set of political interests drove the COI's position. In addition to this ongoing geopolitical debate over the appropriateness of applying the “G” word to the Darfuri case, scholars remain entrenched on different sides of this debate.
Making a powerful case for identifying and raising awareness about genocide are two new books by Samuel Totten: We Cannot Forget: Interviews with Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda (co-edited with Rafiki Ubaldo) and An Oral and Documentary History of the Darfur Genocide. These masterful works combine oral history with scholarly analysis and official documents to challenge naysayers’ arguments. Both collections use interview data to effectively demonstrate that the human turmoil that took place in Rwanda and Sudan was motivated by an overarching theme of genocidal intent, perhaps the most useful concept for distinguishing genocide from war crimes.
The interviews in We Cannot Forget add greatly to our understanding of events and perceptions surrounding the horrific, 100-day genocide in Rwanda, which resulted in 500,000 to 1 million deaths. As relatively few Rwandan survivor testimonies make it into this type of literature, Totten and Ubaldo address a significant lacuna. Existing testimonies tend to be from geographically limited parts of Rwanda and do not provide in-depth accounts about the survivors’ experiences before and after the genocide.1
Though We Cannot Forget focuses only on the stories of the survivors and not the perpetrators, the text presents detailed interviews with a diverse pool of individuals covering events in the years leading up to, during, and following the genocide, with the [End Page 265] goal of demonstrating the coordinated and vicious nature of the killings. Indeed, interviewees relate how they received instructions from church leaders, community leaders, and the military to travel to certain locations where they would be “protected” after Rwandan President Habyarimana’s airplane was shot down on 6 April 1994. Such instructions were used to dupe Tutsi into gathering in large numbers so they could be slaughtered.
A critique that is often made of the narrow, legalistic approach to genocide is that it forces the international community to be reactive versus proactive. This is because many international and national leaders argue that genocide can only be ascertained when clear intent is established. Thus, even when horrific violence is clearly taking place, such leaders may argue that it’s due to civil war...