Aussie soldiers reflect on the Rwandan Genocide
Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing 2020
Paperback 303pp $29.99
Reviewer: Roger Buxton, December 2020
Subtitled ‘Aussie soldiers reflect on the Rwandan Genocide’, and written by a soldier who was there, this is a reprint of the 2010 book about the experiences of the Australian contingents that served under the United Nations in Rwanda in 1994-1995.
The Arusha Peace Agreement, which ended the (suspended) civil war in Rwanda was signed in August 1993 and in October the UN Security Council resolved to establish a United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR1) to assist in the implementation of the Arusha Peace Agreement. On the night of 6/7 April 1994, the aircraft carrying the president of Rwanda, Major General Habyarimana crashed – or was shot down – while attempting to land at Kigali airport, and the president was killed. Habyarimana was a moderate Hutu, the majority tribal group in Rwanda, who was prepared to allow Tutsi refugees to return to Rwanda and to establish a multi-ethnic government. However many Hutus were not prepared to live in harmony with the Tutsi minority and had been preparing to resist implementing the Arusha Accords. With the death of the president, a massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus began immediately and about one million were killed.
The soldiers of UNAMIR1, restricted by their rules of engagement and small numbers, were powerless in the face of the genocide. Once the killing began the largely Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) swept down from the border area with Uganda, routed the Rwandese Government Forces (RGF), captured Kigali and pushed much of the RGF and many Hutu extremists – now fleeing for their lives - across the borders into Zaire and Tanzania. The genocide lasted only a few weeks and in May 1994 UNAMIR2 was established by the United Nations to contribute to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk in Rwanda. Again, the rules of engagement were very restrictive, allowing the Blue Berets to open fire only if fired upon.
In late 1994 a second contingent of Australian Defence Force personnel was sent to Rwanda under UNAMIR2. This second contingent consisted of a medical, logistical and a protection support force. The author, Kevin ‘Irish’ O’Halloran was a sergeant of the protection support force - 4 Platoon Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.
The displaced persons camps in Rwanda, run by non-government organizations, contained thousands of Hutus, many of whom had taken part in the 1993 genocide, and the victorious RPA was anxious to disperse these refugees back to their villages before they became a serious threat to the new government. Emptying the camps was initially undertaken by the United Nations, but this proved too slow for the RPA which decided to do the job itself. At the Kibeho Displaced Persons Camp a seven-member Australian medical team and their protection support force were obliged to watch as, on 22 April 1995, three battalions of the RPA shot, bayonetted, mortared and killed with machetes some 4,000 refugees. Forbidden to intervene as women and children were murdered in front of them, they risked their lives under fire rescuing and treating the wounded.
The recollections of the Australians who served in Rwanda show, with brutal clarity, the difficulties under which they operated, the horror of the massacre, and the courage and discipline with which they maintained the rules of engagement. Kevin O’Halloran includes a history of Rwanda and the Tutsi-Hutu conflict, and there are also maps and 28 pages of colour photographs, many taken at the Kibeho camp during the massacre. Written 15 years after the massacre to help the veterans’ healing process, Pure Massacre shows the United Nations at its worst, and is still worth reading.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.