THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Kampala, Uganda) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 25, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE WILSON, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL; AND JOHN SHATTUCK, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR
Nile Conference Center Kampala, Uganda
MR. MCCURRY: Joe Wilson, the Senior Director at the National Security Council for African Affairs, will start and turn it over to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, John Shattuck. And they'll both give you some historical context for the President's visit tomorrow and tell you a little bit about some of the President's initiative. Again, this information is embargoed until 12:00 noon Kigali time, 5:00 a.m. Eastern.
MR. WILSON: I didn't realize we were going to be on camera. Let me just sort of get my hair squared away here. (Laughter.) My name is Joe Wilson. I'm the Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. And what I'd like to do now is just kind of suggest to you one of the reasons -- or the reasons that we're going to Rwanda. As Assistant Secretary Rice mentioned earlier, we were interested in doing this trip to show a new Africa, an Africa that is dynamic, an Africa that is on the move, an Africa that is evolving politically and engaging in serious economic reform to make it a more attractive investment partner for us and for other potential investors on the road to lifting its economies and participating fully in the global community and the global economy of the 21st century.
Now, clearly, it would have been naive and pollyanna-ish to come to this continent and ignore the very serious conflicts that are going on and have gone on in a number of countries. In recent years there has been no country more afflicted with terrible conflict than Rwanda in the 1994 genocide.
The President will travel there briefly tomorrow. He will address -- he will meet first of all with survivors of genocide, victims of the genocide, and learn from them some of their experiences and how they deal with reconstructing their lives in the aftermath of the terrible events in 1994.
After that, he will address some remarks -- he will make some remarks. He will commemorate the genocide and show our -- well, commemorate, basically, memorialize our concerns about the victims of genocide in that setting.
He will be only at the airport, and then we will fly back. And he will then attend the summit in Entebbe with some of the regional leaders, at which a number of different subjects will be discussed, including regional security and the whole question of -- the breakdown of regional security and how you deal with situations of conflict, cycles of violence and cycles of impunity such as have taken place in the Great Lakes region in the last several years.
Q Can you describe what the situation is in Rwanda now, how things have progressed since '94?
MR. WILSON: I'll tell you what, if I could, let me ask John Shattuck to come up, and he will give you the specific Rwandan story, and then we'll take questions after that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: The President's trip to Kigali tomorrow will be a major event insofar as the crisis for human rights that swept Rwanda four years ago was in many ways the worst genocide that we have seen since the Second World War. This is an event that the President feels very deeply about, and over a period of several years has committed increasing amounts of American support to assure that we do not have a recurrence of this horrible event.
Let me just begin by describing my own experience in August of 1994 as I made, as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the first overland trip between Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. What I saw was fields that were growing their crops but a land that was completely empty. It was the eeriest feeling that I've had as Assistant Secretary of State in this job, which has taken me to many, many difficult places, including the killing fields of Bosnia as well.
What we saw were crops that were growing. They had been planted by hands that had been cut down. As many as a million people lost their lives in what is widely regarded, and which is now being looked at very closely by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, as a planned event, where there were responsible leaders -- or rather irresponsible leaders who were caught in this process of committing this mass murder on as many as a million people.
My first trip to Rwanda I was met by the Justice Minister of Rwanda on the same tarmac that President Clinton will be speaking on tomorrow in a broken-down vehicle, which in many ways symbolized the justice crisis in Rwanda, but it was also very symbolic that the minister felt strongly that he should engage with the United States to try to begin the process of addressing this horror. And it was out of the conversations that we had that much was done later to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The President will address all of these issues in his speech and will also be talking about a number of the new commitments that the United States will be making to address this issue, as well as later consulting with regional leaders about steps that we can take together to prevent the recurrence of genocide.
I'd like to cover briefly seven particular aspects of the United States' initiatives. First, we are announcing a justice initiative for the Great Lakes, covering Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There can be no peace without justice, is the underlying premise for this. And the reconstruction of court systems, the training of judges and prosecutors, the effort to reestablish a basic infrastructure of justice is a central element of trying to address the ongoing legacy of the genocide that occurred. That is a $30 million commitment that will be announced.
Second, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which the United States helped to establish and to which we have been the largest contributor, now has 22 of the top genocidists in custody. It has several who are widely regarded, and the indictments against them indicate that they were the planners of this genocide. Trials are beginning -- three are underway at the moment. And the United States has contributed approximately $31 million to that enterprise, which we consider to be a central element of bringing justice to Rwanda.
Third is the human rights field operation for Rwanda, which is a U.N. monitoring organization which provides early warning for any new outbreaks of killings, has played, I think, a critical role during the course of the last two years in providing some significant elements of stability. It's an early warning mechanism; the United States has contributed about $4 million to that activity.
Fifth, we will be announcing the reinvigoration and re-establishment of the U.N. Arms Flow Commission, to stop the flow of illegal arms into the region -- one of the major contributing factors to the genocide at the outset.
Sixth, we are working with regional leaders to bar access to genocidists, to any of the countries in the region and, of course, countries outside of the region as well. Those who have led the genocide that swept Rwanda must not be given shelter in the region, and that is going to be a major initiative of the discussions that will take place tomorrow.
Seventh, the First Lady will be announcing tomorrow the creation of a $10 million conflict resolution fund to help NGOs, human rights nongovernmental organizations from throughout the region, to address the crisis of conflict and to seek means of putting people together in ways to head off conflict in the future.
These are among the ongoing and new initiatives that the United States is engaged in. The President in his speech I think will symbolize the commitment that the United States and regional governments working with us, as well as the rest of the international community, has to prevent the recurrence of this horror that swept Rwanda in 1994.
Q What's the situation on the ground in Rwanda now, and when Mike McCurry says that the President is going to meet with some of the organizers or planners of any memorial at the airport, what will that be like?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Well, the President will meet with a number of the survivors of the genocide who will tell him about the horrors of their experience. The situation on the ground, within the Kigali area, is certainly quite stable. I and many other U.S. officials have traveled throughout Rwanda. But certainly there is an ongoing problem of cross-border efforts to reinstate the genocide, sometimes being carried out by the Ex-FAR and Interhamwe, who originated the process in the very beginning. And that has caused a great deal of conflict in the northwest part of Rwanda.
Q At the risk of wallowing further in an unpleasant past, is the President going to acknowledge any regret for not having acted sooner in Rwanda?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Well, I think the President will repeat the same basic point that Secretary Albright made in December, which is that the international community and regional leaders certainly share responsibility in both preventing the recurrence and also looking back and learning lessons from what happened in '94. But I think the emphasis, of course, is going to be on what we can do to prevent this from happening again.
Q When did the U.S. government start to officially refer to it as genocide?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Well, this was as the genocide was ongoing. I can't give you a precise date, but sometime in the June or July period of 1994. Certainly, we should have -- and I think there's no question that everyone now looks back and says, we should have seen more closely what was occurring and called it at that point.
But this is precisely why the early warning systems that I've been describing -- the human rights field operations, the work of the criminal tribunal, which is defining these acts of genocide -- all of these I think strengthen the prospect of recognizing these horrors and addressing them in time before they get as terrible as they did in Rwanda.
MR. WILSON: Let me just add to what Wolf had to say, that very clearly when you've got -- or Wolf's question -- when you've got up to 800,000 or a million people dying in the most horrible circumstances, the world needs to learn a lesson from that. It is perfectly appropriate -- in fact, I believe a wonderful thing that the President is doing -- to go there and pay his respects to the victims of genocide. It is also I think in our interests, which we're trying to do with the Great Lakes justice initiative, to begin to deal with the cycles of impunity and the cycles of violence to ensure that we get into place a mechanism that minimizes the possibility of this going on again in the future.
Q If I could follow on James's question, you said the international community bears responsibility for not doing more in 1994. But isn't it precisely the United States that also bears responsibility? We in the United Nations opposed efforts at that time to get a peacekeeping force together or do something more forceful.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Again, the focus of this trip and the efforts that are underway is to learn from the past, to address the cycle of impunity, to stop genocide from occurring. And it is that forward-looking aspect of the President's message that I urge you to focus on.
But the President will also be very candid, I think, as Secretary Albright herself was. We need -- in order to build the kind of partnership, international partnership to address this we need to understand precisely what the circumstances were.
Q There have been some killings yesterday and two Spanish nuns are kidnapped right now. Does it worry you that this is happening just before the trip of the President? Do you see any connection?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Well, I certainly don't see any connection, but it always worries us when there are these kinds of terrible human rights abuses. I don't know precisely the circumstance that you're referring to, but we have been very quick to both condemn and to build an international network to both address through justice and to look at through monitoring in the field precisely what's going on.
Q Can I follow on that? Obviously, the situation is such that you fear this kind of sweep of genocide could start again. We are not at a point where you would describe it as irreversible.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Well, I think these processes are never irreversible, but they can be reversed and they can be stopped and they can be -- the cycle of impunity can be ended. I think the experience that the international community, the United States, and many other governments have had with the last several years, I think is that we have learned to put into place some of the instruments of prevention, some of the methods of bringing to justice those who are responsible in order to deter future events, and to strengthen the civil society, which is why the initiative announced by the First Lady tomorrow is so important, which can prevent in its own way the recurrence of these kinds of horrors.
Q I've read somewhere that the President isn't even leaving the airport. I mean, is he scared to leave it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: There is no major security problem. I think the issue is the logistics and the ongoing travel and the very, very limited amount of facility that's available to accommodate a Presidential trip that's as big as you all know it is.
MR. WILSON: Let me just add to that. The purpose of going to Rwanda is to pay our respects to the victims of the genocide. The purpose is to ensure that the appropriate amount of attention is paid to the heinous events of 1994. That purpose will be served by the President stopping in Kigali in the midst of what is arguably, as we're all finding out, a very busy 11 days hitting six countries.
Q Is it accurate that this was a last-minute decision to put this in, just in the last couple of weeks?
MR. WILSON: No, that is not accurate. It was always under consideration; it just took a while to get the decision made. You can understand that when we planned this trip, we originally were looking at going later in the year. We had to go earlier, we had to sort of telescope all our planning, and it took a little bit longer to get the decisions made -- the on-the-ground logistical approvals to make this happen.
Q If I could go back to Wolf's question, sir, at the risk of challenging your far better memory, it's my recollection the White House in 1994 was quite reluctant to call what was happening in Rwanda a genocide. I'm not sure that I heard the State Department do so. Does calling it a genocide trigger something at an international level, at a U.N. level?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Let's look at the institution that we led the building of, which is the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, whose jurisdiction is to try cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The United States was in the lead in helping to create that as early as early August, late July '94. Certainly, that was the period of time that my trip, that I just described, took place.
Certainly, what is an act of genocide or what is genocide needs legal definition, but it also needs to be recognized as an event which can be addressed so that it doesn't recur. That was why we created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and that's why we -- certainly, when that jurisdiction was being established -- wanted to make sure that it would have full responsibility for investigating acts of genocide. And we're not the ultimate judges of what is or is not genocide -- that is for the International Criminal Tribunal. But we wanted to make sure that that jurisdiction was as clear-cut and straightforward as also the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which we were also in the lead for creating -- and I might add, the International Criminal Court, which is now under consideration by the world community.
Q It was sometime after you began those efforts that the tribunal was created, however -- am I correct on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Yes, the tribunal was finally created by the Security Council in the fall of '94. The fall of '94, it took -- basically the initial debates in the Security Council were, I believe, in October or November of '94, but the statute had to be drafted, the process of putting the whole institution together had to be considered before it was actually taken to the U.N. But certainly our work in this -- and I'm not trying to say that we were way ahead of everyone else, but we certainly committed to establishing this kind of an international tribunal with that jurisdiction early on.
Q It surprised me that you say you didn't hear from this act of violence on the eve of the President's visit to Rwanda. You haven't checked what the situation is in Rwanda before the President goes there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: Well, we're certainly aware of what's going on in Rwanda. I'm sorry. The particular case that you've just cited --
Q It happened yesterday.
MR. WILSON: Yes, we received reports on the situation on an -- all the situations of everywhere we're going on an ongoing basis. We have received those reports. As you know, we've been en route. We have the State Department in Washington. We have people at the White House in Washington. We have people here, on the ground, who are looking at all of this.
We are confident that the trip can go forward tomorrow. It will go forward. We will pay our respects to the victims of genocide. We will unveil and talk about the seven items that Assistant Secretary Shattuck mentioned, which I think, we'll also do as Secretary Albright did -- we will acknowledge that the international community, of which we and other African nations are a part, were tardy in their responses. I think that you can see from both the tribunals that the Assistant Secretary mentioned, as well as the additional steps we're planning on taking, that we are working towards seeing what we can do to make sure that these sorts of things don't occur again in the future as they have in the past.