Around 8 PM local time on the evening of April 6th,
1994 the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and
Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down over Kigali, Rwanda as
the presidents returned from a summit of regional leaders in Tanzania.
Both men died, as did their senior aides and the French aircrew. Within
hours, the Presidential Guard was out on the streets setting up roadblocks
in Kigali and going house-to-house to find and attack prominent Rwandan
opposition leaders and Tutsi civilians.
As Lt. Gen. Dallaire, the UN commander in Rwanda, recalls "In
just a few hours, the Presidential Guard had conducted an obviously
well-organized and well-executed plan-by noon on April 7 the moderate
political leadership of Rwanda was dead or in hiding, the potential
for a future moderate government utterly lost." (Note
The genocide in Rwanda had begun.
With reports of the deaths of the presidents, Washington--and the
world--reacted. The U.S. government responded with statements offering
condolences and condemning the violence; established inter-agency
committees and intra-agency task forces to monitor the situation and
coordinate policy; contacted Belgian and French officials to coordinate
a response; and ordered the evacuation of American citizens from Rwanda.
These documents highlight what the U.S. knew and how it responded
in the first three days of the crisis.
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1: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs, Memorandum
from Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Prudence Bushnell
through Under Secretary for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff to The
Secretary, "Death of Rwandan and Burundian Presidents in Plane
Crash Outside Kigali", April 6, 1994 (Freedom of Information
Act release; previously published here in "Evidence
Deputy Assistant Secretary Prudence Bushnell, acting head of the
State Department's Africa bureau as Assistant Secretary George Moose
was returning from Africa, wrote to Secretary of State Warren Christopher
to advise him of the plane crash and the deaths of the presidents,
which occurred in the afternoon Washington-time of April 6th. Bushnell
reports ominous signs: "the Rwandan military prevented the UN
from inspecting the site" and "reportedly disarmed the UN
(Belgian) peacekeepers stationed at the airport." She informed
Tarnoff and Christopher that "the military intended to take power
temporarily" and that there was "an increase in sporadic
gunfire and grenade explosions" in Kigali. Finally, Bushnell
warned "widespread violence could break out in either of both
countries, particularly if it is confirmed that the plane was shot
down." As part of the U.S. response, Bushnell noted that the
UN Special representative had arranged a meeting between "the
military and Western diplomats at the U.S. Ambassador's residence"
for the next morning. That meeting never occurred; UN forces, already
burdened responding to pleas for help, could not provide an escort
for the Special Representative. (Note 2)
2: "Burundi/Rwanda: Presidents Killed", Excerpt from
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Secretary's
Morning Summary, April 7, 1994 (Freedom of Information Act release;
previously published here in "Information, Intelligence and the
The Secretary's Morning Summary is just that--a summary
report of important intelligence items produced for morning delivery
to the Secretary of State, which is also distributed to senior officials
of the State Department and other departments and agencies. This Summary
item reports the shoot-down of the plane, offering as potential culprits
"hard-line Hutu soldiers, the former rebels of the Tutsi Rwandan
Patriotic Front (RPF), or someone else seeking to fan Hutu-Tutsi tensions."
Noting the political and historical connections between Rwanda and
Burundi, State analysts indicate "The incident may also spark
an upsurge in violence in Burundi."
3: "Rwanda-Burundi: Presidential Deaths Likely to Renew Fighting",
Excerpt from Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence
Daily, 7 April 1994 (Freedom of Information Act release; previously
published here in "Information,
Intelligence and the U.S. Response")
CIA produced the highly-sensitive National Intelligence Daily
six days of the week for top policymakers at the White House, State
and Defense departments and other agencies. (Note 3)
On April 7th, CIA analysts predicted the shoot-down of the plane would
cause "Hutus in Rwanda" to "seek revenge on Tutsis"
and predicted that "the civil war may resume and could spill
over to Burundi".
4: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research,
"SPOT Intelligence Report as of 08:45 EDT April 7, 1994: Rwanda/Burundi:
Turmoil in Rwanda", April 7, 1994 (Freedom of Information Act
The State Department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence
and Research, produced intelligence appraisals beginning shortly after
reports of the shoot-down of the plane in Rwanda. SPOT reports are
intelligence reports written 'on-the-spot' intended to 'flag' severe
problems for senior Department of State officials. This report from
the morning after the shoot-down relays information provided by U.S.
Ambassador David Rawson in Rwanda. Rawson-who had already met with
Col. Theoneste Bagosora, the genocide's mastermind, Gen. Augustin
Ndindiliyimana, the head of the National Police, and Ephrem Rwabalinda,
the army's liaison to UNAMIR that morning-reports that "rogue
Hutu elements of the military-possibly the elite presidential guard"
shot down the plane, although another report blames the RPF, which
"denied responsibility." "Military elements" are
also identified as killing the opposition Hutu Prime Minister and
"the killing of several other Rwandan cabinet officials including
the senior ranking Tutsi." At this point, "the fighting
appears to be limited to the capital". Explaining the violence,
the analysis concludes "Ultra conservative Hutus had been opposed
to the peace settlement agreed to by the Hutu Rwandan government and
the rebel Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)."
5: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research,
"SPOT Intelligence Report as of 13:00 EDT, April 7, 1994: Rwanda/Burundi:
Violence Update, No. 2", April 7, 1994 (Freedom of Information
U.S. defense attaché Lt. Col. Charles Vuckovic USA was posted
to the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, but he also had responsibility for
Rwanda-thousands of miles across the African continent. Coincidentally,
Vuckovic had arrived in Rwanda on April 5th. Given his background,
his reporting proved useful to Washington policymakers and his presence
contributed to the evacuation of American citizens. This heavily censored
appraisal from later in the afternoon of April 7th conveys information
from Lt. Col. Vuckovic that Rwandan Army Headquarters "reports
that the Presidential Guard is "out of control" on the streets
of Kigali while all other military units remain in their barracks".
Lt. Col. Vuckovic saw "no effort by other military units to stop
the presidential guard". His report, while again identifying
the Presidential Guard as key perpetrators of the violence, otherwise
suggests control, organization and discipline among the regular army.
6: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, "Statement
by the President: The Deaths of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi",
April 7, 1994 (Freedom of Information Act release)
President Clinton's statement expresses his shock at the deaths of
Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien
Ntaryamira. He "strongly condemn(s)" the murders of Rwandan
officials, including Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, by "elements
of the Rwandan security forces", and calls on "all parties
to cease any such actions immediately."
7: United Nations Security Council, "Statement by the President
of the Security Council", S/PRST/1994/16, 7 April 1994 (Accessed
Colin Keating, New Zealand's Ambassador to the United Nations, sat
as President of the UN Security Council during April 1994. Keating's
statement reports the deaths of the presidents, "the deaths of
Government leaders, many civilians and at least ten Belgian peacekeepers",
and strongly condemns these horrific attacks and their perpetrators."
Specifically identifying the parties involved, the President's statement
urges "the Rwandese security forces and military and paramilitary
units to put an end to these attacks and to cooperate fully with UNAMIR",
the UN mission in Rwanda.
During his term, Keating pressed hard for a UN response on Rwanda,
arguing early to increase the strength of UNAMIR (Note
4) and urging a Security Council declaration of "genocide".
His efforts were in vain; the Council's permanent members-the United
States, Britain, France, Russia and China-succeeded in suppressing
any Security Council initiatives.
8: U.S. Department of State, Telegram State 092008, "WGRW01:
Working Group Formation to Deal with the Situation in Kigali and Bujumbura",
April 8, 1994 (Freedom of Information Act release)
At 1 PM on April 7th, Secretary of State Warren Christopher established
a "24-hour working group" as "the center of all Department
activity" concerning "the situation in Kigali and Bujumbura."
The task force concluded its work April 15, following the evacuation
of American citizens and the closure of the U.S. Embassy. Notably,
at this early stage, the State Department apparently perceived the
crisis as confined to the capitals of both countries.
Christopher appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary Bushnell as head
of the task force. Bushnell would go on to play a major role in the
U.S. response to the genocide; after the working group concluded,
she headed an inter-agency task force designated with monitoring the
crisis and developing and implementing the U.S. response.
9: "Rwanda: Downward Spiral", Excerpt from U.S. Department
of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Secretary's Morning
Summary, April 8, 1994 (Freedom of Information Act release; previously
published here in "Information,
Intelligence and the U.S. Response")
This summary for top State Department officials reports that "Rwandan
troops had kidnapped and killed" Belgian troops serving in the
UN mission, as well as the murders of Rwandan government ministers.
It also reports "the army high command" assertion that "a
missile fired by Hutu hardliners in the presidential guard (PG) downed
the aircraft" carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi.
State Department analysts conclude "The PG hardliners were operationally
in a position to take action"; although evidence is lacking because
"the PG has sealed off the site", it is notable that "no
one in the Rwandan high command is blaming the Rwandan Patriotic Front
(RPF) for shooting down the plane."
10: "Rwanda: Security Deteriorating", Excerpt from Central
Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Daily, 8 April
1994 (Freedom of Information Act release)
CIA analysts report to top U.S. officials that "Hutu security
elements from the Presidential Guard, gendarmerie, and military yesterday
killed several government officials-including the Prime Minister";
"killed numerous Tutsi civilians in Kigali"; and "killed
two Belgian civilians and 10 of the 450 Belgian UN troops". Their
report adds "what remains of Rwanda's civilian leadership and
moderate senior military officers appear unable to restore order",
suggesting the hardliners have killed or put-down opposition and are
11: U.S. Department of Defense, Memorandum from Assistant Secretary
of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict through Under
Secretary of Defense for Policy to the Secretary of Defense and Deputy
Secretary of Defense, "Rwanda: Current Situation; Next Steps",
April 8, 1994 (Freedom of Information Act release; previously published
here in "Information,
Intelligence and the U.S. Response")
This memo informs Secretary of Defense William Perry and Deputy Secretary
of Defense John Deutch of talks between the rebel RPF and Rwandan
government under the auspices of UN Force Commander Dallaire. Pentagon
officials see "a glimmer of hope that this crisis is waning."
Pentagon officials describe the Presidential Guard as "Hutu-extremists
who probably shot down the President's plane".
With regard to the U.S. response to the crisis, Pentagon officials
inform Perry and Deutch that that the State Department and National
Security Council have not sought Pentagon input for their response
to a Belgian request for airlift-the first evidence of policy disagreement
and bureaucratic infighting on Rwanda that would continue throughout
the crisis. Finally, the officials report that "the French, Belgians,
and the UN are all discussing evacuation of citizens/PKO forces"
and that U.S. military planners are "meeting with Belgian and
French military". Within 10 days, almost all Western officials
and Western citizens will have left Rwanda to its fate.
12: U.S. Department of State, Telegram State 093509, "Situation
Report as of 1600 EDT, 04/08/94, EDT", April 8, 1994 (Freedom
of Information Act release)
Under the power-sharing Arusha Accords, the rebel Rwandan Patriotic
Front had stationed a battalion within Kigali, although all other
RPF forces remained north of a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in northern
Rwanda or at camps in Uganda. In addition to killing prominent Hutu
and Tutsi civilians, Rwandan military forces attacked this RPF battalion.
On April 8th, RPF forces launched across the DMZ "because the
ceasefire had been violated, its Kigali contingent had been attacked,
the Rwandan army is killing officials and Tutsis, and the UN is unable
to control the situation" as RPF leader Paul Kagame told a U.S.
The resumption of the civil war had important consequences: for the
RPF, it was necessary to rescue both their comrades in Kigali and
to rescue Tutsi civilians; for the Rwandan military, it served to
solidify ranks which were divided over the military's involvement
in killing civilians and taking power; for the interim Rwandan government,
it would provide an excuse for prosecuting a war against the RPF and
any civilians it considered "accomplices" of the RPF, including
Tutsi women and children, and it directly threatened the government's
existence; and for outside observers, including the U.S., UN, and
others inexperienced with Rwanda's history, it confused the killing
of civilians with fighting between regular forces and discouraged
outside intervention, particularly in the wake of the U.S. and UN
experience in Mogadishu.
13: U.S. Department of State, Executive Secretariat, "Situation
Report No. 6; Situation as of 1630 EDT, 04/08/94", April 8, 1994
(Freedom of Information Act release)
By the close of April 8th, the situation was bad and getting worse
in Rwanda, Western nations wanted out, and they acted decisively.
This Rwanda task force situation report notes "the Belgian government
has decided to evacuate its citizens", but is still "willing
to keep their UNAMIR troops in Rwanda after the planned evacuation",
while "the French have agreed to take control of the airport".
This report also describes White House involvement in the crisis,
recording "NSC has given approval to State and DoD to plan for
a joint U.S.-Belgium-France operation to evacuate our respective nationals."
It also reports that the Belgian Prime Minister and the UN Secretary
General want to "strengthen" UNAMIR at least with "equipment
and/or firepower" if not "with more troops". Instead,
a week after the UN force finished assisting the evacuations by Western
nations, the UN Security Council voted to gut the force and leave
Rwanda to its fate.
1. Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire with Major
Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity
in Rwanda (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2003), p. 232.
2. Ibid., p. 233.
3. Jeffrey T. Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence
Community, 4th ed., (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999), p. 317.
The NID has been succeeded by the Senior Executive Intelligence
4. Dallaire, p. 298.