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The Rwanda “Genocide Fax” Deconstructed

January 9, 2014

This posting is part of the “Documents Day-by-Day” project in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Read more about it here.

By January 1994, indicators of preparations by Hutu militia for the mass slaughter –that would begin in April– of at least half a million members of the Tutsi minority, as well as thousands of “moderate” Hutus in Rwanda were already evident. These preparations –which would be one of the most explicit early warnings of the Rwandan genocide– were included in the infamous “genocide fax” sent from U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda to U.N. headquarters in New York.

The "genocide fax"

The “genocide fax”

General Roméo Dallaire, United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) Force Commander, had arrived in Rwanda in the fall of 1993 to assist in the implementing of the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords between the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the predominately Tutsi rebel group.  On January 10, 1994, Dallaire met with an informant who claimed to be a top level trainer of the Interahamwe, a militia connected to the current President of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana’s political party. After the meeting, Dallaire drafted the now infamous “Genocide Fax” to the United Nations (U.N.) in New York reporting on his meeting with the informant, his plans to take action, and his request for protection of his informant.

The informant, Jean-Pierre Abubakar Turatsinze, not only divulged information about political demonstrations, but also quotes specific numbers of the men trained in militia camps near the capital city of Kigali. Most forebodingly, the informant told Dallaire that he suspected that the recent registering of Tutsi in Kigali was for their extermination — and he was ready to provide locations of weapons caches that were to be distributed to the militias.

Dallaire explained in his fax to the U.N. that UNAMIR intended to take action to investigate and possibly seize the weapons caches and requested that the informant and his family be guaranteed safety and evacuation. He also noted that there was a possibility that the entire meeting was a set-up and that the informant could have ulterior motives, and would therefore proceed with caution.

DATE: 11 January 1994
FROM: Dallaire/UNAMIR/Kigali
TO: Baril/DPKO/UNations/New York
SUBJ: “Request for Protection for Informant”

the informant tells Dallaire about a weapons cache and plans for extermination of Tutsis.

The informant tells Dallaire about a weapons cache and plans for extermination of Tutsis.

Dallaire met with Turatsinze on the 10th, and drafted the infamous fax. Despite the fax’s date of January 11 (Rwanda time), markings show that it was sent at 6.45 p.m. on January 10, New York time. UNAMIR awaited a response from the U.N. headquarters about how to proceed.

Further investigation and research has shown inconsistencies in the information Turatsinze provided to UNAMIR. Turatsinze told Dallaire that  he was a “top trainer” in the Interahamwe milita, and a former security guard for the president. However, in a 2003 statement given to ICTR investigators, Turatsinze’s wife said that her husband was a driver to an intelligence official of the MRND political party (which was affiliated with the Interahamwe). There is no reliable evidence that he was a top-level trainer for the Interahamwe in January 1994.

Turatsinze also told Dallaire that he had been instructed to register “all Tutsis” living in Kigali, apparently for “their extermination,” and that the Rwandan army had been supplying the Interahamwe militia with weapons — the militia that went on to commit massacres during the genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found that the Rwandan government channeled weapons to the Interahamwe, who then went on to commit massacres during the genocide. While the ICTR did locate lists of “suspected opponents of the regime,” it never located lists that “focused exclusively on ethnicity.”

As Michael Dobbs stated in today’s op-ed in the New York Times“While [Turatsinze’s] prediction of mass murder of Tutsis by Hutu militia groups proved chillingly accurate, he misled United Nations peacekeepers on some key points,” which illustrates the lack of access to information that continues to obstruct the full understanding of this genocide.

For more about the complexities of the “Genocide Fax” see “The Rwanda ‘Genocide Fax’: What We Know Now”


Remember to watch for more documents on the Rwandan Genocide.  Follow #Rwanda20yrs on the Archive’s Facebook , Twitter: @Nsarchive, and check out the Archive’s website, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of GenocideFacebook, and Twitter:  @HolocaustMuseum

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