Listen to the hour-long documentary


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

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

AMOS: Ten years ago in Rwanda, ethnic Hutus slaughtered 800-thousand Tutsis. The world looked away.

PRUDENCE BUSHNELL, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: We are a nation in whose capital a Holocaust museum has been constructed with the words "never again". And yet it happened again

AMOS: Some Rwandans, and some westerners, chose to resist the genocide.

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

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

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



AMOS: You're listening to The Few Who Stayed - Defying Genocide in Rwanda. An American RadioWorks documentary produced in cooperation with the 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.

Ten 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 corps of U.N. 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 our report on The Few Who Stayed.

WILKENS: My name's 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.

SOUND: playing and chanting...

GISIMBA: 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 the Nyamirambo neighborhood from troubled families.

SOUND: kids playing...sound fades....

WILKENS: Before the genocide, we had heard rumors of pickup trucks loaded with machetes coming into Nyamirambo and some of the other townships, so you knew something was brewing.

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


NEWSCASTER: Here is the CBC news.

REPORTER: Belgians and minority Tutsi tribes people appear to be the object of a killing spree in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda....

GISIMBA: The evening of April 6th, I was at home.

SOUND(CBC report): This latest violence began on Wednesday night after the president of Rwanda died in a plane crash....

SOUND: ...Gunfire...

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

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


REPORTER: What are you hearing? What are you seeing?

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

SOUND: {Wilkens home video} 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.

GISIMBA: Government soldiers and the 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 am director of the human rights organization, African Rights. I myself was here in Kigali, and I mean 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 to what happened in Hitler's Germany. Do not worry, you're not killing humans beings like you. You are killing some vermin that belongs under your shoe. You're killing cockroaches.

ALPHONSE: There was 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.

SOUND: ...Gunfire...

MICHAEL MONTGOMERY: This is Michael Montgomery. The violence that erupted on the morning of April 7th, 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 U.N. force was a Canadian general, Romeo Dallaire. Under him was Major Brent Beardsley. Beardsley says he knew right away that the violence was different, something horrible was unfolding.

BEARDSLEY: I took calls at the rate of about a hundred per hour. It started with moderate leaders calling and then all of a sudden they started dropping off the net, they weren't calling anymore.

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.

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

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 changed her mind after shots were fired nearby. Moments later, Rwandan soldiers stormed her front gate.

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.

MONTGOMERY: The militia also grabbed ten Belgian peacekeepers protecting the prime minister.

The events of April 7th 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 U.N. headquarters in New York that Hutu extremists might be planning to exterminate all Tutsis in Kigali and target Belgian peacekeepers.

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

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.

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.

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

SOUND: ...chatter on Wilkens' radio...

WILKENS: We were on the radio in our house and they were telling us over the radio there were people in the front yard being killed right now, please try and get help to us. I tried to get in contact with local authorities, and there was no way. I tried the U.N. soldiers there was no way. And all of a sudden I looked up and there, in the doorway, are our kids. Just frozen. Listening to this, this horror play out over the radio.

SOUND: Radio fade to sound of Wilkens' neighborhood and Kigali gunfire.

WILKENS: Two lots over was a large house owned by 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 backyard by the chicken coop. And mom and dad had 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.

SOUND: Neighborhood fades...

MONTGOMERY: At mid-day on April 7th, General Dallaire approached the Rwandan army headquarters in the center of Kigali.

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

MONTGOMERY: The men on the ground were a part of his Belgium 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.

DALLAIRE: And so, your whole life is dependent maybe, on those nanoseconds of taking that right decision, 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 if - to do anything for them and for the others, I had to negotiate.

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

DALLAIRE: The morgue was a little shack and there was a twenty-five-watt bulb at best, and there in the corner was this pile of potato bags. Just looked like a pile of potato bags, big, huge potato bags. And as we got closer, we saw that they were bodies.

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

The Hutu extremists in Rwanda also drew lessons from Somalia. They knew the U.N. 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, NPR REPORT: 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.

MONTGOMERY: Ethnic violence was not new in Rwanda. The Tutsi minority - at the time, about 10 percent 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.

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 knifes, machetes and assault rifles.

SEMANA: As soon as they started killing, I joined them, because if you did not join them, they could 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 in the ID should be killed immediately.

MONTGOMERY: Some Tutsis fled to the forests 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.

SOUND: Sound of door unlocking and creaking...

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

PIE MUGABO [speaking in French + translated voice-over]: My family and I lived 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.

SOUND: door creaks....

MUGABO: During the day the four women hid in this 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.

GISIMBA: 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.

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

OMAAR: There were just so many roadblocks manned by drunken militiamen armed who were waiving machetes. Their hands were so stained with blood.

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.

Segment 2

AMOS: This is The Few Who Stayed, a documentary from American RadioWorks marking the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. I'm Deborah Amos. The wide-spread killing began April 7th, 1994. Within hours, the Clinton administration closed the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda and urged all U.S. citizens to evacuate. As producer Stephen Smith reports, the Western exodus helped clear the way for Hutu soldiers and militias to accelerate the killing.

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.

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

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

LANE: And I remember calling all the Americans and saying, okay here's your evacuation point. Here's where you need to move to. And I remember making the call to Carl, and he said, "Laura, there's people here, that are depending on me. I can't go."

WILKENS: You know, right there in front of me was our house girl, who's a Tutsi. Worked for us for several years. I knew as soon as we left she would be slaughtered. There was a young man who was our night watchman. A Tutsi. He'd be slaughtered. And there was no way that convoys were letting anyone take Rwandans with them.

LANE: 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. You know, he was following his heart.

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.

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 and maybe saving a few more lives. If only there had been more governments standing up saying, 'This is not right, the insanity has to stop.'

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 U.S. convoy leaving Rwanda.

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 knelt down on the floor with our house-girl and night watchman, and we prayed for the safety of my family. It was a pretty empty feeling.

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

LEADER: As we drove out of Kigali, we had to go drive down a long hill and there were people standing on either side of the road, watching us leave. And 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.'

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.

SOUND: (RTLM radio broadcast in Kinyarwandan)

SMITH: 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. The called the Tutsis "inyenzi," cockroaches, who deserved to be exterminated.

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

OMAAR: The propaganda of the genocidaire [perpetrator] is that God and the world had abandoned the Tutsis. This was a very very recurrent theme, 'Hey you can kill the Tutsis. Look, the world has turned their back on theme. God doesn't want them. Nobody wants them.'

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

GISIMBA: 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.

GENOCIDE SURVIVOR CLAUDINE: 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.

GISIMBA: A boy came 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: 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 at night. Finally Damas came with ropes to pull us out.

GISIMBA: 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.

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} If anyone else is listening to this tape it is not for you. It is not for your ears...

WILKENS: When I finally came to point of accepting that I could die there, I wanted to leave something behind. So I started making tapes to Theresa.

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} To my Theresa Lynn...

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

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} Foxholes and stuff there. They're not far from the Mille Collines...

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} Whew, I guess I didn't talk much about Sunday's mean gun battle. Man, I just laid on mattress in the hallway, holding my Bible on my chest...

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape conversation} Good copy. Go ahead. The church has clearly indicated its decision that you leave Kigali. We wish you were safely with your family. How... copy? Over.

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} {gunfire} Brought the animals all inside. The monkey is tied up to the sink in our bathroom. He doesn't like this very well.

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} {Wilkens laughing}... lost electricity and water last night. Don't know if it will come back today or not.

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

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

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

ALPHONSE: There were Hutu and Tutsi children. Damas told us how to live without prejudice. He said that we were all children of God, and God would punish anyone who created division. Damas said anyone who disagreed, should leave.

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

ALPHONSE: 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.

SMITH: While many Rwandans were trapped, some Tutsis 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.

MUJAWAMARIYA: 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.

SMITH: Monique spoke with U.S. diplomats, members of Congress, the media. She even talked with President Clinton's National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake.

MUJAWAMARIYA: I think that 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.

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

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.

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

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

SOUND (CBC Report): 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...

SMITH: As Monique was lobbying for action to stop the slaughter, the U.N. Security Council was reviewing its peacekeeping mission. With some U.N. soldiers dead, others under fire and their mandate shredded, the view from the Council was that the Rwanda mission was over. So, on April 21st the U.N. 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 U.N. force felt abandoned.

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

SMITH: Major Brent Beardsley

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 (C-130 Hercules Transport), flown to New York, walked in the Security Council and dumped them on the floor in from of the Security Council. And all that would have happened was we would have been charged for illegally using a U.N. aircraft.

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

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, legislators, other African governments, even NGOs.

SOUND: {Wilkens audio-tape letter} this is Wednesday April 27. Happy Anniversary mom and dad. Whoo boy, what a day this has been.

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

WILKENS: Finally, government said heads of organizations can leave their houses, come to Government H.Q. and get a permit to travel around the city. From that point on, we started moving about the city - finding food, water and meds for the orphans.

GISIMBA: This American showed up at the orphanage. He said he was stopping just by to see if anyone here needed help. I told him what 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 so many roadblocks manned by drunken militia-men who were waving machetes. Their hands were so stained with blood.

GISIMBA: 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.

SOUND: {Wilkens home video} And 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 feel that my hands have been tied {gunfire drowns him out} ... but I'm not alone as I am working here. There are many, many other people {gunfire} ... who are doing their best. Church workers and many others {gunshot} to make a difference ... {gunfire} ...

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

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. Somedays we were attacked, four or five times. And we are not talking incidental shots, I am talking rockets, heavy machine guns, people surrounding our vehicles and rocking the vehicles with machetes and rocks and grenades, and making threatening gestures to, you know, slice our throats. These things were real and Carl was still going there and he was going 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.

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

ALEX: Right down here, where we are going to turn off, there was a checkpoint.

SMITH: Driving from in 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 U.N. safe haven.

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

SMITH: Florence had taken in the children, mainly teenage schoolgirls, because she thought her U.N. status would give them protection, but Florence couldn't protect them from militiamen at the barricades around her home.

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

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

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

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.

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, "What do you mean?" She told me how all the women in the house had been raped by the militias who would 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.

SMITH: Gregory Alex says he pressed the U.N. to rescind a ban on rescue attempts. But headquarters feared these actions could undermine U.N. neutrality.

ALEX: Florence represented more than just her. She represented the first attempt, official attempt, by the U.N. to 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.

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

ALEX: Imagine that all those people down at the checkpoints said, 'Hey, tomorrow's the day, you'd better do it today.' So they came in and they just cut them all to death. Women and children.

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

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

AMOS: You're listening to The Few Who Stayed, from American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio, in cooperation with the PBS program FRONTLINE.

AMOS: 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 Web site 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.

Segment 3

AMOS: 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.

GISIMBA: This was our kitchen, and at the time of the genocide it had a tile roof and ceiling panels. Some of the young Tutsi men hid up there the ceiling.

ALPHONSE: This is Alphonse. When Damas had gone out to buy some sugar, the militia stormed our orphanage.

GISIMBA: 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. Some men from the militia were looming around the orphanage.

ALPHONSE: The killers found six of them hiding in the kitchen ceiling. They pulled them out and tortured them all night long.

GISIMBA: Their screams were so loud, but those men knew if they said anything about others hiding here ... all of us in the orphanage would die. They gave their lives for the rest of us.

ALPHONSE: When those boys wouldn't say anything, the militia shot them dead.

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 U.S. 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.

CLINTON (SPEECH): The end of superpower standoff 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 American interests at stake.

MONTGOMERY: Clinton announced a new presidential directive. In order for the United States to support a U.N. peacekeeping operations, there had to be a direct benefit to U.S. 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.

MONTGOMERY: Michael Sheehan served in the U.S. 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.

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 ships 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.

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 U.S., 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 U.S. officials to avoid using the word genocide regardless of the mounting evidence. U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright, stuck to that script when pressed by a reporter about the genocide convention.


REPORTER: Given that so many people say that there is genocide underway, why, why wouldn't this convention be app...

ALBRIGHT: 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.

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, U.N. 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 Archives, a non-partisan research group, show that reports on the large scale killings of Tutsis circulated in the U.S. 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 in Rwanda. Prudence Bushnell led a State Department task force on Rwanda.

BUSHNELL: The issue of whether it was genocide or not, was not something I had neither the time nor the inclination to deal with. It was a political issue. Whether you wanted 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.

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 Clinton 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.

MONTGOMERY: Anthony Lake was President Clinton's National Security Advisor.

LAKE: If the U.N. 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 genocidarian power in effect, and you were ending up opposing the forces that were trying to protect the victims of the genocide.

MONTGOMERY: Others disagree. Former U.N. commander Romero Dallaire says the U.S. strategy amounted to doing nothing and letting the slaughter continue.

DALLAIRE: And to say that the best thing was 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 the slaughtering behind the line. But ultimately that's what the Americans were aiming for. They didn't want to get involved.

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.

SOUND (Press Briefing):

STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda.

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

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

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.

SOUND (NPR REPORTER MICHAEL SKOLER): The blood on the floor is so thick, it has dried to kind of a muddy brown dust that may be in some places a quarter of an inch thick.

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.

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

SOUND (CBC REPORT): In Rwanda, the battle for the capital, Kigali, continued throughout the night. Tutsi rebels and government soldiers pounded each other's position with mortar fire.

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

GISIMBA: They tried to trick me, 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 this morning?" So the militia pulled back and waited for me to leave. I snuck away to the office of the International Red Cross.

WILKENS: It was another day just to 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. The all of a sudden a car comes sliding in the dirt parking lot. There was a cloud of dust, and out gets a guy we called Little Hitler.

ALPHONSE: 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 car radio for help.

SOUND: {Kigali radio traffic} Red Cross, this is mp zero...

WILKENS: I called Phillip at Red Cross. 'I don't know where Damas is. We're surrounded. Looks like we're about to have a massacre. {sigh} How can you help me?'

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

SOUND: gunfire

WILKENS: I drove out of there, past all the barriers. Militia didn't hassle me. I said '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.' And I said, 'What? The prime minister? That's like asking the devil for help.'

SOUND: shelling/gunfire

WILKENS: When you'd get into situations where you were looking for an ally, you'd look around for some sign of sympathy, whether it was just a look or a glance, and you'd appeal to that part in them.

And so when the prime minister comes out with his entourage I stand up, step forward, put my hand out and say, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm Carl Wilkens, Director of ADRA.' And he looks at me for a second and says, 'Yeah I've heard about you and your work. How's your work going?' {chuckles} I say, 'Well honestly, sir. It is not going very well at all today, I am afraid all the orphans are going to be killed.' He stops and confers a little bit with assistants. He turns back to me and says, 'I'm aware of your situation and I have briefed my people and we'll see to security of your orphans.' And he was gone.

ALPHONSE: A wave of militia-men 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 Wilkens had made some sort of a deal for the militia to let us go.

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 Saint Michael.

GISIMBA: When the buses arrived at the church of Saint Michael, a soldier came up and said, 'Who is this man Gisimba? We were told all these people are for Gisimba.' They expected some sort of big, important man. I said, 'I am 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.'

SOUND(CBC REPORT): Rebel troops in Rwanda are celebrating in the streets of Kigali. The Rwandan Patriotic Front is taking control of the capitol city. They pushed their way into Kigali this morning.

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

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?

MUGABO: 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 U.N. 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. {laughter}

AMOS: About 150 children live in Damas Gisimba's orphanage today. Carl Wilkens is now 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 U.N. 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 U.N. commander Romeo Dallaire. Following his return to Canada several months after the genocide, Dallaire suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide.

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

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

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 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 were totally bewildered. They're looking at me and they're saying, 'What in the hell happened?'


AMOS: The U.N. has tried to offer some answers. A highly critical report commissioned by the U.N. said the international body had failed the people of Rwanda. Western leaders, including President Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan went to Rwanda to express remorse. Kofi Annan says he will appoint a U.N. special adviser 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 the PBS program FRONTLINE, and filmmaker Greg Barker.

Major funding for American RadioWorks is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with additional support from the Open Society Institute and the Ploughshares Fund. To see pictures of the Gisimba orphanage and to hear more tapes Carl Wilkens made in Rwanda, visit our Web site at You'll also find information on ordering a CD of this program and a link to 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

back to The Few Who Stayed: Defying Genocide in Rwanda

American RadioWorks The Few Who Stayed