Listen: The Few Who Stayed: Defying Genocide in Rwanda

The Few Who Stayed: Defying Genocide in Rwanda,” an American RadioWorks documentary produced in cooperation with the PBS program FRONTLINE, profiles individuals that resisted the forces of genocide and presents their haunting stories.

In April 1994, the central African nation of Rwanda exploded in violence. Over the course of 100 days, some 800,000 people died at the hands of Rwandan government troops and militia gangs. Virtually all of the victims belonged to the ethnic Tutsi minority. The killers were from the majority Hutu.


2004 Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Award, bronze in Best Documentary category


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DEBORAH AMOS: From Minnesota Public Radio, this is an American RadioWorks report, The Few Who Stayed-- Defying Genocide in Rwanda. I'm Deborah Amos.

CLAUDINE: They took us to the pit and hit us with clubs or machetes so we would fall into the hole.

DEBORAH AMOS: 10 years ago in Rwanda, ethnic Hutus slaughtered 800,000 Tutsis. The world looked away.

PRUDENCE BUSHNEL: We are a nation in whose capital a Holocaust museum has been constructed with the words "never again." And yet it happened again.

DEBORAH AMOS: Some Rwandans and some Westerners chose to resist the genocide.

CARL WILKENS: They had threatened us, next time your white man comes out, we're going to kill him. We know he's keeping people there.

DAMAS GISIMBA: Even if an animal comes to you for protection, you give it sanctuary.

DEBORAH AMOS: In the coming hour, The Few Who Stayed-- Defying Genocide in Rwanda, produced by American RadioWorks in cooperation with this PBS program FRONTLINE. First, this news update.

You're listening to The Few Who Stayed-- Defying Genocide in Rwanda, an American RadioWorks documentary produced in cooperation with this PBS program FRONTLINE. I'm Deborah Amos.

In April 1994, the Central African nation of Rwanda exploded in violence. Over the course of 100 days, some 800,000 people died at the hands of Rwandan government troops and militia gangs. Virtually all of the victims belonged to the ethnic Tutsi minority. The killers were from the majority Hutu.

10 years later, the genocide is remembered as a story of neighbors killing neighbors, and the slaughter of innocents, while the rest of the world looked away. But there are other stories. Some Rwandans, Hutu, and Tutsi resisted the forces of genocide. They included an orphanage director named Damas Gisimba and a tiny core of UN soldiers and Western aid workers risked their lives to end the killing and relieve the suffering.

One was an American missionary named Carl Wilkens. Stephen Smith and Michael Montgomery of American RadioWorks produced a report on The Few Who Stayed.

CARL WILKENS: My name is Carl Wilkens. I was the director of the Adventist Development Relief Agency in Rwanda. Moved there in the spring of 1990. Our youngest was a year old. And Mindy was probably around five at that point.


INTERPRETER: My name is Damas Gisimba, and I'm the director of Gisimba Memorial Association in Kigali. We have an orphanage here, and we also take care of kids in Nyamirambo neighborhood who have troubled families.

CARL WILKENS: Before the genocide began, we had heard rumors about pickup trucks load of machetes coming into Nyamirambo and some of the other townships. So you knew something was brewing.


INTERPRETER: There are many signs of trouble ahead. Militia groups aligned with the Hutu hardliners and the government were bragging how they would kill anyone who supported rebel Tutsi army. Although I'm a Hutu, they said I was a Tutsi sympathizer because I didn't agree with their Hutu power ideology.

SPEAKER: Here is the CBC News.

SPEAKER: Belgians and minority Tutsi tribespeople appear to be the objects of a killing spree in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

DAMAS GISIMBA (INTERPRETED): The evening of April 6, I was at home.

SPEAKER: This latest violence began on Wednesday night after the president of Rwanda died in a plane crash.

DAMAS GISIMBA (INTERPRETED): As soon as the news broke that the presidential plane had been shot down, I immediately left for the orphanage to calm the children.


INTERPRETER: My name is Alphonse Kalisa. I was one of the orphans at Gisimba. That night, we had a lot of gunfire. There had been rumors going around that if anything bad happens, the Hutus would start slaughtering us Tutsis.

SPEAKER: What are you hearing? What are you seeing?

SPEAKER: We're seeing people running for their lives, houses being grenaded, people being shot. Some of them are being butchered by machetes.

SPEAKER: This is April 7, and we're watching TV in the hall. And we were woken up at about 5:15, 5:20 by a lot of gunfire and stuff.

DAMAS GISIMBA (INTERPRETED): Government soldiers and militias went door to door in our neighborhood. They called for the Hutus to, come out and start your work. The job has begun. And all of a sudden, our neighbors who had lived with us for many years, started killing people all around us.

RAKIYA OMAAR: My name is Rakiya Omaar. I'm the director of the human rights organization, African Rights. I myself was here in Kigali, and in Rwanda, they referred to Tutsis as cockroaches. They were not human beings. And this is very important to understand, I think very close parallels with what happened in Hitler's Germany.

Do not worry. You're not killing human beings like you. You are killing some vermin that belongs under your shoe. You're killing cockroaches.


INTERPRETER: There were so many people coming to the orphanage to hide, looking for safety. 300 or 400 people. Damas had heard that the militia were going to attack the orphanage because of all the people coming in.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: This is Michael Montgomery. The violence that erupted on the morning of April 7 was not random. Army troops and militias were moving through the streets of Kigali, erecting barricades and attacking homes. Rwanda had seen violence before, including occasional massacres of the Tutsi population.

Six months earlier, the United Nations had sent a small peacekeeping force to help implement a power sharing agreement between the Hutu-dominated government and Tutsi rebel forces. The commander of the UN force was a Canadian general, Roméo Dallaire. His military assistant was Major Brent Beardsley. Beardsley says he knew right away that this time, the violence was different. Something horrible was unfolding.

BRENT BEARDSLEY: I took calls at a rate of about 100 an hour. And it started with the moderate people, moderate leaders calling, and then all of a sudden, they started dropping off the net. They weren't calling anymore.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Across town, the four diplomats assigned to the United States embassy were trapped in their homes. Joyce Leader thought a coup might be in progress. A series of rapid fire phone calls informed leader that moderate members of the government living in her neighborhood were being targeted. Among them was Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who lived next door to Leader.

JOYCE LEADER: At about 8:30 in the morning, she called and asked if she could come and hide in my house.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: The prime minister was a moderate Hutu who supported sharing power with the Tutsi rebels. She was despised by Hutu extremists who opposed any peace accord. At first, Leader told the prime minister to come to her house, but then she changed her mind after shots were fired nearby. Minutes later, Rwandan soldiers stormed Leader's front gate.

JOYCE LEADER: They came looking for the prime minister. They were really on a rampage. I was probably lucky that they came so early in the day because at least they weren't drunk yet. They finally left, and about another half hour later, we actually heard a scream and a shot and realized that it was the prime minister who had been found and killed.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: The militia also grabbed 10 Belgian peacekeepers protecting the prime minister. The events of April 7 caught the United Nations and Western powers off guard, but there had been warnings. Three months earlier in January, General Dallaire had sent word from Rwanda to UN headquarters in New York that Hutu extremists might be planning to exterminate all Tutsis in Kigali and target Belgian peacekeepers.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: I was warning that there would be significant killings and massacres that would destabilize the whole political process and that in fact, we would ultimately not have a mandate anymore, because it would be totally destroyed by the extremists' actions.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Dallaire's communication warning of the impending carnage later became known as the genocide fax. But Dallaire says he didn't use the term genocide.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: To me, genocide equated to Holocaust. And we had been so informed of the scale of the Holocaust, the whole nature of that operation being so huge and so inhuman. So I couldn't even grasp genocide.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: General Dallaire had proposed launching raids to capture the militia's weapons. This request was rejected. UN headquarters ordered Dallaire not to take offensive action and to stick to his mandate. The extremists accelerated their plans.


CARL WILKENS: We were on the radio in our house, and they were telling us over the radio there's people out front in the front yard being killed right now. Please try to get help to us. I tried to get in touch with local authorities, and there was no way.

I tried the UN soldiers. There was no way. And all of a sudden, I look up, and there in the doorway are kids just frozen, listening to this horror play out over the radio.


Two lots over was a large house owned by a Tutsi businessman. I think he was a banker. As the killing began on this first day, as the sun came up, they had chucked their two littler kids over the fence to a little house next door. And their teenage son had burrowed under a pile of refuse in the back yard by the chicken coop.

And mom and dad barricaded themselves in the house. And for three hours at least, there was this banging on the metal doors hammering and banging and gunfire. And eventually, after so many hours, they found and murdered our neighbors. Draped her body over the fence.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: At midday on April 7, General Dallaire approached the Rwandan army headquarters in the center of Kigali.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: And at the gate, as we went by, I saw two soldiers in a Belgian uniform lying on the ground about 50 odd meters inside the camp.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: The men on the ground were part of his Belgian contingent captured earlier in the day. Their lives were clearly at risk. But general Dallaire says he was bound by his peacekeeping mandate not to use force.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: And so your whole life is dependent maybe on those nanoseconds of taking that right decisions because it's life and death of people. I was already saying, I can't get those guys out of there. I just don't have the forces. And so I was already conscious that to do anything for them and for the others, I had to negotiate.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Dallaire continued inside the army barracks and pressed Rwandan commanders for a return to the peace process. His negotiations failed. Hours later, he was shown the bodies of his troops.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: The morgue was a little shack. And there was a 25-watt bulb at best. And there in the corner was this pile of potato bags, just look like a pile of potato bags, big, huge potato bags. And as we got closer, we saw that there were bodies.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Two officials in Washington, murdered peacekeepers raised the specter of Somalia. There, just six months earlier, 18 American soldiers on a UN mission were killed, and their bodies dragged through the streets of the capital Mogadishu. President Clinton withdrew US forces from Somalia and vowed to limit future peacekeeping operations.

The Hutu extremists in Rwanda also drew lessons from Somalia. They knew the UN would back down if attacked, so they blockaded General Dallaire's troops and widened their attacks. The few journalists in Kigali reported on what they saw.

LINDSEY HILSUM: I went out into one of the suburbs and went to a house, and there were the bodies of four women piled up outside. They'd been hacked to death with machetes, and flies were buzzing above.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Ethnic violence was not new in Rwanda. The Tutsi minority at the time, about 10% of the population, was once favored by colonial rulers and was seen by some as the country's aristocrats. But after independence in the early 1960s, the Hutu majority assumed power and took revenge.

Tutsis suffered decades of repression, and many fled to neighboring countries. In 1990, a rebel force dominated by exiled Tutsis invaded Rwanda, triggering a war. The rebels said they wanted to end Hutu domination. Hutu extremists rallied around the government. Their ideology, known as Hutu power, said Tutsis had no place in Rwanda. They established militias. One was called the Interahamwe.


MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Semana, who asked that his real name not be used, is a 33-year-old carpenter. He says the Interahamwe militia stormed into his neighborhood two days after the Rwandan president's death. They were armed with knives, machetes, and assault rifles.

SEMANA: As soon as they started killing, I joined them because if you did not join them, they would kill you or beat you severely. Soon after, they ordered us to set up checkpoints. They said anyone without an ID or with a Tutsi mark on the ID should be killed immediately.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Some Tutsis fled to the forest and mountains. Some sought shelter in the kinds of public buildings they felt might offer protection-- churches, schools, hospitals. Just half a mile from where Semana was hunting Tutsis, Pie Mugabo and his family fled to Damas Gisimba's orphanage.


DAMAS GISIMBA (INTERPRETED): In this room, Pie Mugabo and his wife and three others were hiding.


INTERPRETER: My family and I live next door to Gisimba. So we came here. Gisimba told me that because I was such a well-known opponent of the government, I would be especially wanted. So he said it would be best for me and my family to hide in the orphanage infirmary.

During the day, the four women hid in the closet and we two men in this toilet room. I had to crouch a bit not to be seen through the window. Imagine, we stayed in this place for three months.


INTERPRETER: I knew I was taking a huge risk hiding them. If Mugabo and his family were caught here, the militia would have killed us all. But I had been talking to my children for so long about the need for unity between Hutus and Tutsis. I couldn't change my mission now.

DEBORAH AMOS: Coming up, facing evil to aid the innocent.

RAKIYA OMAAR: There were just so many roadblocks manned by drunken militia, men who were waving machetes. Their hands were so stained with blood.

DEBORAH AMOS: I'm Deborah Amos. You're listening to The Few Who Stayed from American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio. Our program continues in just a moment from NPR, National Public Radio. This is The Few Who Stayed, a documentary from American RadioWorks, marking the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. I'm Deborah Amos.

The widespread killing began April 7, 1994. Within hours, the Clinton administration closed the US embassy in Rwanda and urged all US citizens to evacuate. As producer Stephen Smith reports, the Western exodus helped clear the way for Hutu soldiers and militias to accelerate the killing.

STEPHEN SMITH: French and Belgian commandos flew into Kigali airport just days after the killings started. Their job was not to quell the violence, but to evacuate Westerners.

SPEAKER: Hundreds of foreigners managed to escape from Rwanda in the past 12 hours. Thousands more are waiting for the first opportunity.

STEPHEN SMITH: The job of getting Americans out of Rwanda fell to embassy officer Laura Lane.

LAURA LANE: And I remember calling all the Americans and saying, OK, here's your evacuation point. Here's what you need to move to. And I remember making the call to Carl, and he said, Laura, there's people here. They're depending on me. I can't go.

CARL WILKENS: Right there in front of me was our house girl who's a Tutsi. She had worked for us for several years. I knew as soon as we left, she would be slaughtered.

There's a young man who was our night watchman, a Tutsi. He'd be slaughtered. And there was no way that the convoys were letting anybody take any Rwandans with them.

LAURA LANE: When we were talking with the State Department, we were being told that his church was ordering him to leave. I know he had family back in the States. But he was following his heart.

STEPHEN SMITH: Laura lane also had a place in her heart for Tutsi friends and colleagues. She urged Washington to keep the embassy open as a safe haven.

LAURA LANE: I think we had enough people that would have manned that embassy. We were seen as a neutral force. And I think we could have made a great difference in maybe saving a few more lives. If only there had been more governments standing up, saying, this is not right. This insanity has to stop.

STEPHEN SMITH: But the State Department said no. Meanwhile, American missionary Carl Wilkens packed up his wife Theresa and their three children to send them in the US convoy leaving Rwanda.

CARL WILKENS: And at the time my family was evacuating, we lived on a dirt road. And I watched my family drive away down the road. I walked back up to the gate, closed it and locked it. But as I went back up there, and I knelt down on the floor with our house-girl and with our night watchman, and we prayed for the safety of my family. It was a pretty empty feeling.

STEPHEN SMITH: Riding in the same convoy with the Wilkens' family was US diplomat Joyce Leader.

JOYCE LEADER: As we drove out of Kigali, we had to drive down a long hill. And there were people standing on either side of the road, watching us leave. It's my recollection that I saw some instruments like machetes in their hands. And I remember thinking, well, they're just waiting for us to get out of here before they go on about their gruesome business.

STEPHEN SMITH: Within another three days, some 50,000 to 80,000 Rwandans were dead Kigali was piled with so many corpses that genocide leaders dispatched convicts from the city prison to dump the bodies in garbage pits.

Government-sanctioned radio stations in Rwanda had long been pushing Hutu power propaganda and sowing ethnic hatred. Now radio became a lethal weapon in the genocide. Announcers proclaimed the Hutu majority a superior race to the minority Tutsis. They called the Tutsis "inyenzi," cockroaches, who deserved to be exterminated.

Rakiya Omaar of African Rights says when Westerners pulled out of Rwanda, the planners of the genocide saw the way was clear.

RAKIYA OMAAR: The propaganda of the genocidaire is that God and the world had abandoned the Tutsis. This was a very, very recurrent theme that, hey, you can kill the Tutsis because look, the world has turned its back on them. God doesn't want them. Nobody wants them.

STEPHEN SMITH: Just down the Hill from Damas Gisimba's orphanage, trucks were hauling victims to a mass grave.

DAMAS GISIMBA (INTERPRETED): This is the place. There was a huge pit here being dug for a neighborhood latrine. When the genocide started, the government used the pit for bodies.


INTERPRETER: My name is Claudine. They took us to the pit near Gisimba's place. They made us stand on a plank over the pit and hit us with clubs or machetes so we would fall into the hole. When it was my turn, they told me to pull off my rosary.

They said, you have no God now. I had a baby on my back, but they said to leave it. It's better you die with the baby. They started clubbing my legs, and I found myself in the pit. Somehow, a dead body rolled over on top and hid me.


INTERPRETER: A boy came out later to tell me there were people calling out from the pit. I told them to stay quiet, and we would come get them out at night.

CLAUDINE (INTERPRETED): The pit was full of maggots because they had been dumping bodies there for some time. They threw us into that pit in the morning, and we stayed until 10:00 at night. Finally, the mass came with ropes to pull us out.

DAMAS GISIMBA (INTERPRETED): Around midnight, we pulled two women out of the pit. One had a baby on her back, but it was dead. It suffocated. We brought the women to stay with us at the orphanage.

CARL WILKENS (RECORDING): If anybody else is listening to this tape, it is not for you. It is not for your ears.

CARL WILKENS: When I finally came to the point of accepting that I could die there, I wanted to hopefully, if I could, leave something behind. And so I started making tapes to Theresa.


CARL WILKENS: I wrote her name and my parents' address in Spokane, Washington on each one of those tapes, thinking even if this house eventually gets looted or something, maybe somehow or another the tape would find its way to her.

CARL WILKENS (RECORDING): Where they're digging in their foxholes and stuff there. And not far from the Mille Collines. Yeah, guess I didn't talk much about Sunday's mean gun battle. Man, I just laid on my mattress in the hallway, holding the Bible on my chest.

Good copy. Go ahead.

SPEAKER: The church has clearly indicated its decision that you leave Kigali. We wish you were safely with your family. How-- copy? Over.

CARL WILKENS (RECORDING): Brought the animals all inside the monkeys tied up to our sink in our bathroom. He doesn't like this very well. We lost electricity and water last night. I don't know if it'll come back or not today.

CARL WILKENS: Our neighborhood people already knew that there were two Tutsis in the house. They had seen them. They had threatened us. You know, next time your white man comes out, we're going to kill him. We know he's keeping people there. For three weeks, we didn't leave our house.

STEPHEN SMITH: Everywhere in Kigali, people were rummaging for food.


INTERPRETER: The children went so long without eating meat. And we had about 600 guinea pigs in the orphanage for the children to play with. So during the genocide, we ate them. I told the children it was goat.


INTERPRETER: There were Hutu and Tutsi children here. Damas told us how to live without prejudice. He said we were all children of God, and God will punish anyone who created division among his children. Damas said anyone who disagreed should leave.


INTERPRETER: There was one Hutu girl who had made no effort to understand what I was saying about unity. She had learned to hate Tutsis from her parents. We kept a close eye on her.


INTERPRETER: One evening, that girl refused to give a blanket to a Tutsi child, and Damas punished her in front of everyone else. He took away her mattress and spanked her 80 times.

STEPHEN SMITH: While many Tutsis were trapped, some managed to get their story to the outside world. Monique Mujawamariya was a Rwandan human rights activist. For days, she eluded death squads in Kigali. Then with the help of friends, she escaped to the United States. She wanted to mobilize Western action on Rwanda.


INTERPRETER: It is something that I've lived with for a long time. During all the visits I made in America, I would meet people who were very touched by what was going on, but who were not ready to invest any of their political capital.

STEPHEN SMITH: Monique spoke with US diplomats, members of Congress, the media. She even talked with President Clinton's national security advisor, Anthony Lake.


INTERPRETER: Anthony Lake, I think he was affected by what was happening in Rwanda. But as a politician, he was not ready to do anything. He didn't want to. But he was unhappy about what was going on.

ANTHONY LAKE: I was moved and terrified for her by her story of barely escaping.

STEPHEN SMITH: Anthony Lake remembers Monique's plea for help, along with those of other human rights groups. He also remembers hearing few concrete ideas about what should be done.

ANTHONY LAKE: And I remember at the end saying, what can we do? What they said was broadcast the names of the people who are responsible for this, and it may deter them. And I asked for the names, and it was on the airwaves very quickly.

STEPHEN SMITH: But broadcasting the names of Hutu extremists did not stop the killings.

SPEAKER: In New York, the Security Council is meeting in closed session to discuss what to do with its mission in Rwanda. Fewer than 1,700 peacekeeping--

STEPHEN SMITH: As Monique was lobbying for action to stop the slaughter, the UN Security Council was reviewing its peacekeeping mission. With some UN soldiers dead, others under fire, and their mandate shredded, the view from the council was that the Rwanda mission was over. So on April 21, the UN voted unanimously to cut its peacekeeping troops in Rwanda to a token force of 270. By now, some 200,000 people were dead, murdered in the space of three weeks. The tiny remaining UN force felt abandoned.

BRENT BEARDSLEY: It was almost to the point where you want to get on the phone and just yell into it, is there anybody alive out there?

STEPHEN SMITH: Major Brent Beardsley.

BRENT BEARDSLEY: The world just didn't care. And it made no difference what you said or how you said it to them. We could have packed up dead bodies, put them on a Herk, flown to New York, walked into the Security Council, and dumped them on the floor in front of the Security Council. And all that would have happened was we would have been charged for illegally using a UN aircraft.

STEPHEN SMITH: Anthony Lake remembers there was no support for intervention in Africa, not with UN troops and certainly not with an American force.

ANTHONY LAKE: It was almost literally inconceivable that American troops would go to Rwanda. There was no appetite in the international community for such an effort. And I might add, not just among other governments. And of course, some of the governments that had troops there were extremely anxious to get out and stay out. But in the whole international community, editorial writers, legislatures, other African governments, even NGOs.

CARL WILKENS (RECORDING): Well, this is Wednesday, April 27. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. Whoo, boy, what a day this has been.

STEPHEN SMITH: Five days after the UN withdrew most of its peacekeepers, Carl Wilkens ventured out from his house in Kigali for the first time since his family was evacuated.

CARL WILKENS: Finally, the government said heads of organizations of businesses can leave their houses. Come to the government headquarters, get a permit to travel around the city. From that point on, we started moving about working with finding food, water, and meds for the orphans.


INTERPRETER: This American showed up at the orphanage. He said he was stopping by just to see if anyone here needed help. I told him we needed water the most.

Carl Wilkens promised to come back the next day with water and anything else he could get his hands on. I kept wondering how this guy will get past so many checkpoints. And besides the checkpoints, there were bullets flying everywhere.

RAKIYA OMAAR: It would have been a daily trip through hell for anybody who was here. There were just so many roadblocks manned by drunken militia, men who were waving machetes. Their hands were so stained with blood.


INTERPRETER: And to my surprise, Carl came back the next day with water and lots of goodies. And the next day, and the next day. There were some days he could not reach us because the militia blocked him or let the air out of his tires, but Carl kept his promise. He was fearless.

CARL WILKENS (RECORDING): When Christ said that he would come and die just for one person, how can we think of anything less because so many times I felt my hands have been tied--


But I'm not alone as I'm working here. There are many, many other people who are doing their best. Church workers and many others--


--to make a difference.

STEPHEN SMITH: Some of the people making a difference were Red Cross workers and the small UN force under General Dallaire. Gregory Alex, a veteran American aid worker, led the UN's humanitarian team in Kigali. Each day, Alex delivered food to Red Cross and UN safe havens where thousands of Tutsis were still alive. In May, Alex met up with Carl Wilkens.

GREGORY ALEX: He was venturing out into the city a lot more as time went on. And it was a risk. We were shot at almost every day that we went or attacked. I mean, some days, we were attacked four or five times.

And we're not talking an incidental shot. I'm talking rockets, heavy machine guns, people surrounding our vehicles, rocking the vehicles with machetes and rocks and grenades and making threatening gestures to slice our throats. These things were real. And Carl was still going there, and he was going out more boldly. I was worried that he had become so obsessed with saving these people that he had forgotten that he could only save them as long as he was alive.

STEPHEN SMITH: Alex himself was obsessed with protecting his Tutsi colleagues on the UN staff. Many were already dead or in hiding. Alex was especially concerned for a colleague named Florence Ngirumpatse. Florence was loved by many UN workers, but she was targeted by Hutu extremists.

GREGORY ALEX: And right down here, where we're going to turn off, there was a checkpoint. We're just getting near.

STEPHEN SMITH: Driving in from the center of Kigali, Alex approaches a dirt lane. Florence's house was here. During the genocide, it was just half a mile from a UN safe haven.

GREGORY ALEX: And she was there with, I think it was, 10 children that she was taking care of.

STEPHEN SMITH: Florence had taken in the children, mainly teenage schoolgirls because she thought her UN status would give them protection. But Florence couldn't protect them from militiamen at barricades near the home.

GREGORY ALEX: And they would sit there during the day, drink their beers, do whatever they did, and kill people and come here and terrorize Florence and the kids.

STEPHEN SMITH: The UN did not have the muscle or the mandate to breach the militia barricades. For weeks during the genocide, Florence telephoned friends and UN officials, pleading for help in escaping. Alex says her voice grew increasingly desperate.

GREGORY ALEX: They came again today. They threatened to kill us. It was every day a terror. Kind of like the false execution torture where they come and say, we're coming back later, and we're going to kill you. So you spend the whole day terrorized that they're going to come. And then they come and they say, nah, we're going to come tomorrow, but we're going to rape you first before we kill you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Florence also reached the leader of the Tutsi rebels, General Paul Kagame, a distant relative. Kagame is now the president of Rwanda. He says Florence told him that she and the girls had given up hope.

PAUL KAGAME: She told me that they are already more or less dead. They haven't actually physically died as such, but they are dead according to her. And I asked her, I said, what do you mean? She told me how all the women in the house had been raped by the militias who just come in, sleep with them, then leave, then come the next day and so on. So according to her, she said living like that is like being dead.

STEPHEN SMITH: Gregory Alex says he pressed the UN to rescind a ban on rescue attempts, but headquarters feared such actions could undermine UN neutrality.

GREGORY ALEX: Florence represented more than just her. I mean, she represented the first attempt, official attempt, by the UN to actually do something. I mean, there was a lot of debate going on about her being saved. So people were trying to get authorization to get her out.

STEPHEN SMITH: Authorization finally came, but hours before UN armored vehicles were dispatched, Hutu militiamen invaded Florence's house, armed with knives and machetes.

GREGORY ALEX: I imagine that all these people down at the checkpoints said, hey, tomorrow's the day. You better do it today. So they came in, and they just cut them all to death. Women and children.


DEBORAH AMOS: I'm Deborah Amos. You're listening to The Few Who Stayed-- Defying Genocide in Rwanda. Coming up.


INTERPRETER: The militia came to get me one morning. They wanted to drag me away and then kill everyone else in the orphanage.

DEBORAH AMOS: You're listening to The Few Who Stayed from American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio, in cooperation with this PBS program FRONTLINE. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the members of Minnesota Public Radio.

Additional support from the Open Society Institute and the Ploughshares Fund. To see pictures of the Gisimba Orphanage and hear more of the tapes Carl Wilkens made in Rwanda, visit our website at You'll also find information on ordering a CD of this program and a link to the FRONTLINE film, Ghosts of Rwanda. That's all at


Our program continues in just a moment from NPR, National Public Radio. You're listening to The Few Who Stayed, a documentary from American RadioWorks. I'm Deborah Amos.

By May of 1994, a quarter million people had been killed in Rwanda. Hutu government soldiers and their militia death squads roamed the cities and countryside, seeking Tutsis to kill. At Damas Gisimba's orphanage, hundreds of terrified adults and children huddled together, low on food, water, and medicine. The surrounding neighborhood was a Hutu stronghold. The killers were at the gates.


INTERPRETER: This was our kitchen. At the time of the genocide, it had a tile roof and ceiling panels. Some of the young Tutsi men were hiding up there in the ceiling.

ALPHONSE KALISA (INTERPRETED): This is Alphonse. When Damas left to buy some sugar, the militia stormed our orphanage. One of those young men went outside to go to the toilet. Just then, a rocket launched nearby, and the flash lit up the whole area.

The killers found six of them hiding in the kitchen. They pulled them out and tortured them all night long. Their screams were so loud. That those men knew if they said anything about the others hiding here, all of us in the orphanage would die. They gave their lives for the rest of us.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: This is Michael Montgomery. On May 25, 1994, Rwandan government soldiers and the rebel Tutsi army were battling for control of Kigali. By now, at least half a million Rwandans were dead. Hundreds of thousands were in mortal danger.

That day, President Bill Clinton spoke to graduates at the US Naval Academy. As he surveyed a series of crises around the world, including the wars in Bosnia and Rwanda, the president said America had to think hard before getting involved.

BILL CLINTON: The end of the superpower stand off lifted the lid from a cauldron of long simmering hatreds. Now the entire global terrain is bloody with such conflicts from Rwanda to Georgia. Whether we get involved in any of the world's ethnic conflicts in the end must depend on the cumulative weight of the American interests at stake.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Clinton announced a new presidential directive. In order for the United States to support UN peacekeeping operations, there had to be a direct benefit to US national interests. Clinton's policy made purely humanitarian intervention all but impossible.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN: It was a very, very frustrating period, because as soon as this document comes out, we have a situation of enormous humanitarian consequences unfolding in front of our eyes.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Michael Sheehan served in the US mission to the United Nations. He says the new Clinton policy was driven by the murders of 18 US servicemen in Somalia the previous October.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN: The Clinton administration was brought to its knees by the problem in Somalia. There was no democratic political operative that could advise President Clinton to virtually turn around the ship steaming out of Somalia and send them back into a new African adventure of a raging civil war in the early parts of this genocide.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: But there was a potential problem in carrying out the new Clinton policy. After the Nazi Holocaust, the world said "never again." Many nations, including the US, had signed an International Convention requiring action to stop future genocides. Rwanda seemed to fit the definition of genocide-- an attempt to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Clinton administration lawyers instructed US officials to avoid using the word genocide regardless of the mounting evidence. US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright stuck to that script when pressed by a reporter about the genocide convention.

SPEAKER: Given that so many people say that there is genocide underway or something that strongly resembles it, why wouldn't this convention be--

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think, as you know, this becomes a legal definitional thing. Unfortunately, in terms of as horrendous as all these things are, there becomes a definitional question.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Secretary Albright and other former administration officials now say they did not grasp the full scope of the killings until it was too late, and they were not alone. Most Western governments, UN headquarters, and the international media continued to see the Rwanda violence as another bloody spasm in the country's ongoing civil war.

But classified government documents obtained by the National Security Archive, a nonpartisan research group, show that reports on the large-scale killings of Tutsis circulated in the US government within the first week of the genocide. And a secret national intelligence digest sent to senior officials on April 23 referred matter-of-factly to events in Rwanda as genocide. There were some frustrated officials who wanted quick tough action. Prudence Bushnell led a State Department task force on Rwanda.

PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: The issue of whether it was genocide or was not something that I had neither the time nor the inclination to deal with. It was a political legal issue. Whether you want to call it genocide, I don't care. Call it genocide and stop the killing, or don't call it genocide. But let's stop the killing.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: But higher up in the Clinton administration, officials worried that intervention troops would land in the crossfire between government forces and the Tutsi rebels. And senior officials expected the Tutsi army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, to win.

ANTHONY LAKE: The fastest solution to the genocide probably was the victory of the Tutsi forces.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Anthony Lake was President Clinton's national security advisor.

ANTHONY LAKE: If the UN mission with sufficient forces had come in to halt the RPF offensive so that it could deal with the humanitarian consequences, then you were perpetuating the a genocidarian power in effect, and you were ending up opposing the forces that we're trying to protect the victims of genocide.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Others disagree. Former UN commander Roméo Dallaire says the US strategy amounted to doing nothing and letting the slaughter continue.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: And to say that the best thing was to do to let them fight it out is actually condoning the government forces in doing not only the fighting on the line, but continuing to let happen the killing and slaughtering behind the line. But ultimately, that's what the Americans were aiming for. They didn't want to get involved.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: By early June, Washington faced growing criticism on Rwanda. Enough that Clinton administration lawyers loosened their language guidelines. Now a spokeswoman could use the term genocide, cautiously.

SPEAKER: We have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.

SPEAKER: How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?

SPEAKER: That's just not a question that I'm in a position to answer.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: Shortly after this exchange on June 10, the death toll in Rwanda exceeded 700,000 people. The speed of the killing far outpaced the Nazi slaughter of Jews in the Second World War.

MICHAEL SKOLER: The blood on the floor is so thick, it's dried to a muddy brown dust that may be in some places a quarter of an inch thick.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: NPR reporter Michael Skoler came upon the scene of a government-sponsored massacre. It was one of many that occurred in public places where Tutsis had fled for safety.

MICHAEL SKOLER: There are bodies scattered all over the church. Some lie on mattresses, some on the floor. Some were covered with blankets.

By the altar, there are probably about 30 bodies clustered around. One is the body of an infant with the parents, it seems, on either side. Above the whole scene, above the altar is a small wooden statue of Christ with one hand raised.

SPEAKER: In Rwanda, the battle for the capital Kigali continued throughout the night. Tutsi rebels and government soldiers pounded each other's positions with mortar fire.


INTERPRETER: This is Damas. The militia came to get me one morning. They wanted to drag me away and then kill everyone else in the orphanage.

RAKIYA OMAAR: The militia were, one, they had killed all the prominent people, and I they were just getting impatient. Two, they realized that their time in terms of the cleaning up the genocide and making sure that there were no witnesses left was drawing to a close.


INTERPRETER: They tried to trick them, saying, the governor wants to see you. I was suspicious. So I lied to them. I said, has the governor forgotten that I have an appointment with him at 9:00 this morning? So the militia pulled back and waited for me to leave. I snuck away to the office of the International Red Cross.

CARL WILKENS: It was another day to just bring water to those guys. And then, all of a sudden, these militia guys began to appear, circling the whole compound. All of them with assault rifles and grenades and stuff. Then all of a sudden, a car comes sliding in the dirt parking lot. There was a cloud of dust, and out gets the guy we called Little Hitler.


INTERPRETER: He went up to an orphanage worker and demanded to know where Damas was hiding. When the worker did not answer, they shot him to death. Carl went crazy, calling everywhere on his radio for help.

CARL WILKENS: I called Phillip at the Red Cross. I said, Phillip, I don't know where Damas is. We're surrounded. It looks like we're about to have a massacre. How can you help me?


INTERPRETER: All the noise Carl made on the radio got some Kigali police to show up and stop the attack.

CARL WILKENS: I drove out of there.


The militia didn't hassle me. I went through all the barriers. And I said, well, I'm going to the prefecture office. I went there, and the Secretary who had befriended me said, listen, Wilkens. The prime minister is here today.

You should ask him for help. After I'd explained my situation. And I said, what? The prime minister? That's like asking the devil for help.

When you would get in situations where you were looking for an ally, you would look around for some sign of sympathy, whether it would just be a look or a glance, and you would appeal to that part in them. And so when the prime minister comes out with his entourage, I stand up and step forward, put my hand out, and said, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm Carl Wilkens, the director of ADRA.

And he looks at me for a second. He says, yeah, I've heard about you and your work. How's your work going? And I said, well, honestly, sir, It's not going very well at all today. I'm afraid all the orphans are going to be killed.

He stops, and he confers a little bit with his assistants and stuff. He turns back to me and he says, I'm aware of the situation, and I've briefed my people. And we'll see to the security of your orphans. And he was gone.


INTERPRETER: A wave of militiamen came into the orphanage kicking doors open. They told us to get into the bus. We didn't know where we were going, but Carl had made some sort of a deal for the militia to let us go.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: With defeat increasingly certain, the extremist Hutu regime was collapsing. Some genocide leaders now sought to curry favor with the international community. They wanted to deny that all Tutsis had been targeted for killing.

So in a strange twist, the Gisimba orphans were escorted through the bloody streets of Kigali by a top militia leader to a sanctuary at the Church of St. Michel.


INTERPRETER: When the buses arrived at the Church of St. Michel, a soldier came up and said, who is this man Gisimba? We were told all these people are for Gisimba? They expect some sort of big important man.

I said, I'm Gisimba. They asked how I managed to keep so many people alive for so long. I answered with a Rwandan proverb. "Even if an animal comes to you for protection, you give it sanctuary."

SPEAKER: Rebel troops in Rwanda are celebrating in the streets of Kigali. The Rwandan Patriotic Front has taken control of the capital city. They pushed their way into Kigali this morning.

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: On July 4, 1994, Tutsi rebels seized Kigali. That's when United States troops finally arrived.

CARL WILKENS: When I got out, the genocide's over and the airport's crawling with American soldiers and stuff. For a long time, I couldn't salute the flag. Why is it that good, decent people didn't do anything?


INTERPRETER: The thing I remember most vividly is the sense of humanity Damas Gisimba had and also that American, the preacher Carl Wilkens, where the international community and the UN practically abandoned us. He came to our aid and took risks. I still owe him many thanks.

In fact, we should give him cows. That is what we do in Rwanda for someone who has done something extremely kind. We give them cows.


DEBORAH AMOS: About 150 children live at Damas Gisimba's orphanage today. Carl Wilkens is now the pastor of an Adventist high school in rural Oregon. Both men saved hundreds of lives during the genocide.

They were few, but not alone. Workers for the International Committee of the Red Cross are credited for saving tens of thousands of people. Many others found protection from the small UN peacekeeping force.

Near the end of the genocide, French troops moved into Rwanda to create a safe zone. But in a country the size of Maryland, some 800,000 people were killed over the course of three months, an average of 10,000 per day.

That gruesome equation is etched like a scar in the minds of many who witnessed the slaughter. Few more than UN Commander Roméo Dallaire. Following his return to Canada several months after the genocide, Dallaire suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: The pain of killing yourself is nothing compared to the pain of living with this.

DEBORAH AMOS: Dallaire is retired from the military. He says he will be forever haunted by Rwanda.

ROMEO DALLAIRE: Rwanda will never ever leave me. It's in the pores of my body. My soul is in those hills. My spirit is with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered and killed that I know of. And lots of those eyes still haunt me. Angry eyes or innocent eyes. No laughing eyes.

But the worst eyes that haunt me are the eyes of those people who are totally bewildered. They're looking at me, and they're saying, what in the hell happened?

DEBORAH AMOS: The UN has tried to offer some answers. A highly critical report commissioned by the UN said the international body had failed the people of Rwanda. Western leaders, including President Clinton and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, went to Rwanda to express remorse.

Kofi Annan said he will appoint a UN Special advisor on the prevention of genocide, but he also says he can't rule out the possibility of another genocide sometime, somewhere. What will the world do then?


The Few Who Stayed was produced by Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith. The editor was Deborah George, with help from Sasha Aslanian, Misha Quill, Ochen Kaylan, Ellen Guettler, Samantha Kennedy, and Neil Tassoni. The program was mixed by Craig Thorson and Scott Liebers. Executive producer Bill Buzenberg.

This program was produced in cooperation with this PBS program FRONTLINE and producer Greg Barker. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the members of Minnesota Public Radio.

Additional support for this program came from the Open Society Institute and the Ploughshares Fund. To see pictures of the Gisimba Orphanage and hear more of the tapes Carl Wilkens made in Rwanda, visit our website at

You'll also find information on ordering a CD of this program and a link to the FRONTLINE film, Ghosts of Rwanda. That's all at American RadioWorks is the National documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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