They gathered in a clearing on a mountain ridge and applauded their liberators with what little strength they had. The soldiers knew that genocide had been taking place here, or at least many had heard the rumours, but still they seemed little prepared for what they would find.
Many of the 400 survivors bore the signs of their ordeal in their flesh. Some of their injuries were so horrific that even the battle-hardened soldiers could not look at them without flinching. The odour of rotting flesh mingled with that of decomposing bodies wafted on the cool alpine air. Angry soldiers shouted into their radios about mass graves and "beaucoup cadavres''.
Local peasants smiled sinister knowing smiles at the victims. Their only regret seemed to be they did not finish what they had started.''
This recollection does not come from the memoirs of a soldier or newsman who stumbled into the killing fields near Auschwitz or Dachau, or any of the other places whose names have become synonomous with mass murder, and whose existence has been recalled and mourned this week.
The scene is from a far more recent horror - one that world leaders seem, at best, mildly indifferent to.
The description is of Rwanda, and taken from an entry in my own notebook made on 30 June 1994 in the Bisesero mountains in the west of the country. It describes the moment when a group of French soldiers, urged on by journalists, liberated a group of Tutsi civilians who had been hunted for months by Hutu extremists.
In the end just over 1,000 people - less than a quarter of the 5,000 Tutsis who sought refuge in the mountains - were saved by the French action in the Bisesero. Hundreds of thousands of others throughout Rwanda were not so fortunate.
In just 10 weeks up to 1 million people, between 6 and 11 per cent of Rwanda's population, most of them Tutsis, were hunted down and killed. Using fragmentation grenades, machetes, clubs and rifles, the Hutus matched the efficiency of the Nazis' industrialised method of genocide.
During memorial services at Auschwitz this week, world leaders have shown themselves capable of paroxysms of pain and condemnation of the Holocaust while barely raising a whimper about Rwanda or lifting a finger to make sure that what happened there doesnot repeat itself. "Never again'' obviously does not apply to Rwanda.
Appeals for international troops to enter the refugee camps of Zaire, Burundi and Tanzania - the shelter from which the exiled extremists are planning a comeback to finish killing Tutsis in Rwanda - have been rejected by the West. Hundreds of millions ofdollars of aid and food supplies continue to pour into the camps, fattening the killers. So far, justice for the dead is little more than a pledge by the international community.
At the end of the Second World War it took the victorious Allied powers just five months to set up the Nuremburg trials; within a year, 22 major Nazis were tried. Now, almost 10 months since the slaughter in Rwanda, not only are UN officials dragging their feet over the question of war crimes trials, but many world leaders have chosen to ignore what happened. The international tribunal charged with prosecuting war crimes in Rwanda has only just started its work, and still faces funding problems.
The UN Emergency Office for Rwanda last week organised a seminar for the heads of international relief organisations working inside the country. The purpose of the three-day course was to inform the international humanitarian workers not only what constitutes genocide, but, unbelievably, to remind them that genocide took place in Rwanda.
"Perhaps its seems completely unnecessary, but there was the overwhelming feeling that people still did not recognise what took place in Rwanda as a genocide. Either they read about it and didn't understand, or they didn't read about it and did not care,'' said Charles Petrie, the UN official who organised the seminiar.
Unlike the Holocaust, the killing in Rwanda was covered extensively in daily newspapers. Pictures of the horror filled evening newscasts around the globe. There was not the luxury of saying, as the world did more than half a century ago, that "we did notknow".
For two-and-a-half months Hutu extremists were able to commit genocide live on television and in front of UN "peacekeepers'' without the international community doing anything more than arranging for Europeans to be evacuated and producing a few SecurityCouncil resolutions calling for an end to the violence. Rwandan extremists turned their country into a charnel house, completely unimpeded.
In the end, the international response was to open vast pipelines of humanitarian aid, mostly to the benefit of the exiled and militarily defeated regime that planned the genocide, and which shows no remorse. n The result is that Rwanda is being treated as just another relief operation, and the root causes of what led to the conflict are being ignored. A relief official told me at the start of the refugee crisis last July that to treat the killers even-handedly in the name of "humanitarian neutrality'' was the moral equivalent of feeding the survivors of Auschwitz alongside the camp guards.
The impact of failing to make the distinction between killers and executioners in Rwanda today would be no different than if we had failed to make that distinction in Europe 50 years ago. One can also argue that because Germany was made to accept, acknowlege and show remorse for what happened, the threat of fascism in Europe receded.
By continuing to treat just the humanitarian symptoms of the Rwandan crisis without addressing the political causes, and closing our eyes to the agenda of those in the refugee camps, not only do we in the West risk being accused by history of being an accomplice to genocide, but we also allow our altruism to be hijacked by those bent on continuing the conflict.
If humanitarian neutrality means we cannot distinguish between someone who killed and someone who is threatened, that neutrality is not just dangerous, it is not neutrality at all. What it is, however, is a sign that the lessons of Auschwitz - which the world seems so keen to remember - have been truly lost.
There are no abandoned death camps in Rwanda. Instead dozens of churches are filled with the decomposing bodies of Tutsi men, women and children left unburied where they died. For a disbelieving world and to those who, like the Holocaust revisionists, want to deny the genocide, the churches stand as rotting monuments to the dead.
As a Jew who lost relatives in the Shoah, I find that the lip service being paid to the victims of the Holocaust and the condemnation of what Auschwitz represents is little more than empty rhetoric. It will remain empty as long as the most recent attemptat genocide goes unpunished and the reality of what happened in Rwanda is ignored.Reuse content