Washington, DC, January 9, 2014 – Twenty years ago this week, the commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Rwanda (UNAMIR) wrote a "Most Immediate" cable to his superiors in New York that has come to be known as the "Genocide Fax." Dated January 11 but received in New York at 6:45 p.m. on January 10, the fax from General Romeo Dallaire cited information from "a top-level trainer" for a pro-regime militia group known as the Interahamwe, and warned of an "anti-Tutsi extermination" plot.
Three months after this warning, Interahamwe members took the lead in the 100-day genocide of at least half a million members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority,
along with tens of thousands of "moderate" Hutus. The massacres took place against the backdrop of a war that pitted the Hutu-dominated regime against
Tutsi-led insurgents who had invaded the country from neighboring Uganda.
Over time, the "genocide fax" became a symbol of the failure of the international community to prevent mass killing in Rwanda. In reply to the fax, U.N.
officials rejected Dallaire's request for authority to raid suspected arms caches, and instructed him instead to consult with government leaders tied to
the Interahamwe. It was one of several turning points when the United Nations, backed by the United States and other powers, failed to take action that
might have prevented the genocide.
Thanks to new documents, including evidence submitted to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), it is now possible to piece together a much
fuller account of the man who inspired the "genocide fax" and how and why UN officials and other decision-makers responded, or failed to respond, to his warnings. For example, the documents posted today include the never-before-published statement given to tribunal investigators in 2003 by the widow of the "genocide fax" informant.
Today's e-book and op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Dobbs are the first publications of a joint "#Rwanda20yrs" project co-sponsored by the National Security Archive (at George Washington University) and the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Who was Jean-Pierre Turatsinze?
Jean-Pierre Abubakar Turatsinze, shown here in a previously unpublished photograph,
emerges from this new evidence as a much more complicated figure than was apparent from earlier versions offered in Dallaire's memoirs and other accounts.
Half-Hutu and half-Tutsi, Turatsinze operated on both sides of the political and ethnic divisions in pre-genocidal Rwanda.
While Turatsinze's prediction of mass murder of Tutsis by the Interahamwe militia proved chillingly accurate, he misled U.N. peacekeepers key points and
exaggerated his own importance. Judges at the ICTR have discounted some of the information that Turatsinze provided to Dallaire, including statements that
have been cited as evidence for a meticulously pre-planned genocide.
Whether the genocide was planned, and therefore foreseeable, in advance has been debated heatedly by historians, government officials and lawyers at the
international tribunal. The "genocide fax" has been an important part of this debate. In these postings, we attempt to provide the back story to the
"genocide fax" and the mysterious informant who told Dallaire that "
in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1000 Tutsis
The most complete version of Turatsinze's background comes from his wife Genevieve, who was interviewed extensively by investigators for the ICTR. In a
2003 interview, still considered confidential by the ICTR,
Genevieve told investigators that the couple got married in 1990
, and had three children, including twins born in the months immediately preceding Rwanda's descent into chaos in April 1994.
According to his wife, at the time of their marriage, Turatsinze worked
as a driver for a well-connected politician from the ruling MRND party
called Donat Hakizimana, then serving as prefect (governor) of the western province of Kibuye. In October 1990, after Hakizimana was appointed head of the
Rwandan intelligence service, he took Turatsinze with him to Kigali. Turatsinze arrived in the Rwandan capital during a period of of political turmoil. The
RPF had just launched an invasion of the country from neighboring Uganda. The autocratic president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was under pressure from France and
other western donor countries to establish a multi-party system.
With everything in flux, Turatsinze saw an opportunity in politics.
His political patron was a man named Mathieu Ngirumpatse
, a leader of the ruling MRND party. Ngirumpatse used Turatsinze as an intermediary to the Interahamwe ("Those who fight together") youth organization,
which was founded in 1992 to combat the youth wings of rival political parties. As Rwandan politics became ever more polarized, the Interahamwe degenerated
into a band of armed thugs, whose principal goal was to keep the Hutu-dominated MRND in power.
Political tensions in Rwanda escalated following the assassination of the democratically elected president of Burundi, a moderate Hutu, in October 1993.
The crisis atmosphere was further inflamed in December with the deployment in Kigali of a battalion of RPF troops, under the terms of the Arusha peace
accords, which were meant to lead to the formation of a broad-based transitional government. It was around this time that the Rwandan army began channeling weapons to the Interahamwe "to
protect MRND militants from possible assault", according to a prosecution witness testifying before the ICTR.
In late 1993 or early 1994, Turatsinze told his wife that the ruling party was
"planning to commit some massacres of people." If he remained a member of the MRND, his wife told ICTR investigators, he would have to "start by killing me
and his mother." Given the fact that Turatsinze's wife and mother belonged to the Tutsi minority, Genevieve understood this remark to mean that "the
massacres were going to be against the Tutsi population."
EXTRACT FROM DOCUMENT
In the meantime, Turatsinze was getting into trouble with his bosses, who found him arrogant and undisciplined. He had been given the assignment of
distributing weapons to Interahamwe members-but was
suspected of selling many of the weapons for personal profit
to a rebel group in neighboring Burundi. By early 1994, this son of a Tutsi mother and Hutu father had personal, financial, and ideological reasons to
switch his allegiances.
In some ways, Turatsinze was the ultimate outsider, a factor that may have contributed to his disillusionment with the MRND, particularly after the party
embraced an ideology of "Hutu Power." Not only was he half-Tutsi, he had also converted from Christianity to Islam, a religion
embraced by less than two per cent of Rwandans. At some point prior to 1993-precisely when is unclear-he adopted the Muslim name Abubakar in addition to
his Christian name, Jean-Pierre. Curiously, these divided loyalties do not appear to have been an obstacle to Turatsinze's advancement in the Interahamwe,
at least up until the end of 1993.
How did Jean-Pierre make contact with UN peacekeepers?
Dallaire's January 11 cable refers to a " very very important government politician" [sic] as the facilitator
of meetings with a "top-level trainer" in the Interahamwe militia.In his memoir, Dallaire identifies this unnamed politician as Faustin Twagiramungu, who
had been named as Rwanda's prime-minister designate in the transitional government due to be set up under theArusha accords. At the time, Twagiramungu
headed a Hutu-based party known as the MDR that had emerged as the principal internal opposition to Habyarimana's MRND party.
Further evidence of the role played by Rwanda's political opposition in introducing the informant known as "Jean-Pierre" to the UN is provided by a January
11 cable from Dallaire's civilian superior, Jacques-RogerBooh-Booh. The cable refers to another MDR member, related to
Turatsinze by marriage, as the key intermediary with the informant. This mysterious go-between has since been identified as a man named Charles Ntazinda, a
senior Foreign ministry official and one of the founding members of the MDR.
UNAMIR commander, General Romeo Dallaire, 1994
Photo credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant
Acting on the information received from Twagiramungu, Dallaire assigned his subordinates to make contact with "Jean-Pierre" on the afternoon of January 10.
As relayed to New York by Dallaire later that night, Turatsinze claimed that the Interahamwe was providing military training to its supporters, with the
assistance of the Rwandan army. According to Turatsinze, the Interahamwe was no longer focused primarily on defending the capital from attack, but on a much more sinister mission:
Turatsinze offered to take the peacekeepers to the site of a "major weapons cache with at least 135 weapons," including AK-47 rifles supplied to the
Interahamwe by the army. In return for cooperating with UNAMIR [the U.N. peacekeeping force in Rwanda], Turatsinze requested protection for himself and his
family. Sensing an opportunity to crack down on political extremists, Dallaire told his superiors that he was planning to " take action within the next 36 hours." In
addition to seizing the weapons caches, he also requested permission to spirit the informant out of Rwanda for his protection.
Dallaire injected a note of caution into his cable, saying that "the possibility of a trap" directed against "the very very important political person"
(i.e. Twagiramungu) could not be "fully excluded". What the UNAMIR commander did not know at the time was that
Turatsinze may also have been in contact with the Tutsi-led RPF rebel group, which had moved into the parliament building in Kigali.Evidence of Turatsinze's contacts with the RPF only emerged a decade later at the Rwanda war
Nevertheless, Dallaire ended the cable with his
old French-Canadian army motto, aimed at persuading his bosses in New York to approve his plan to seize the Interahamwe weapons caches: "Where there's a
will, there's a way. Let's go."
What did the UN do with Turatsinze's information?
Due to the seven-hour time difference between Kigali and New York, the "genocide fax" reached the United Nations on the evening of January 10. A UN
spokesman, Fred Eckhard, explained later that officials felt that Dallaire had to be kept "on a leash" as he was "champing at the bit."[Toronto Globe and
Mail, September 25, 1997.) Worried that the UNAMIR commander was exceeding his authority, UN officials drafted an immediate reply ordering him to take no action on the
information from Turatsinze until he had received "clear guidance."
Even though this reply bears the signature of Kofi Annan, then head of UN peacekeeping operations, markings show that it was actually drafted by his
assistant, Iqbal Riza. The following day, Riza drafted a more considered reply to Dallaire, describing the
proposed raid on the alleged arms caches as clearly "beyond the mandate entrusted to UNAMIR" under UN Security Council resolution 872. Traumatized by
memories of the loss of 20 UN peacekeepers in Somalia two months earlier, New York ordered Dallaire to refrain from any "course of action that might lead
to the use of force and unanticipated repercussions."
Photo credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant
In place of the proposed arms raid, Dallaire and Booh-Booh were instructed to inform President Habyarimana about the latest developments, and demand
government action to rein in the extremists. Permission to "extend protection to the informant" was also denied.
New York's refusal to approve the proposed raids on the arms caches was enormously frustrating to Dallaire. The UNAMIR commander felt that he had the clear
authority under the Arusha agreement to confiscate illegal weapons in the Kigali area. As his aide, Major Brent Beardsley, recalled in an interview two
decades later, there was "a big disconnect between us in the field and New York." Beardsley uses the phrase "Somalia syndrome" to describe the caution
displayed by UN officials in New York. This was a reference to the caution among US and UN officials generated by the deaths of US soldiers in Somalia in
the fall of 1993.
Over the course of the following month, UNAMIR officers had at least four more meetings with "Jean-Pierre." On the evening of January 12, he
escorted a Senegalese peacekeeper into the MRND party headquarters, and showed him a stack of about 50 automatic rifles in canvas bags, with sealed boxes of ammunition. The following evening, he took the peacekeepers to
another three locations around Kigali where additional weapons were stored. The largest cache, with more than 100 automatic rifles, was located near his
home in the Kanombe district of Kigali.
A confidential January 13 report to Dallaire
suggests that Turatsinze was eager to establish a link between the weapons distribution operation and the MRND. According to the report from Captain Frank
Claeys, one of Dallaire's intelligence officers, the informant offered to "move some of the weapons at his home to the party building to increase the
number of weapons there if we should do an operation there."
UNAMIR officers informed Turatsinze of the
rejection of his request for political asylum at a meeting on January 20. While he continued to meet with UNAMIR officers, he declined to show them the
lists of Tutsis slated for "extermination" that he claimed to have compiled on instructions from the MRND. When asked for the lists, he would reply with a
question of his own: " Where is my security?"
In an effort to demonstrate that raids on arms caches were within UNAMIR's mandate, Dallaire
wrote a long memorandum for New York on January 31, citing a clause in the Arusha peace agreement that authorized UN peacekeepers to "assist in the recovery of all weapons distributed to, or illegally,
acquired by civilians." He warned that both the Hutu-dominated Rwandan army and the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front appeared to be preparing for a
fresh outbreak of hostilities. At the same time, Dallaire reported, both sides were also
clamoring for more effective action by UNAMIR to end the impasse.
The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations remained determined to stick to its much narrower interpretation of the Arusha accords. In a February 3 cable,
New York made clear to Dallaire that UNAMIR "cannot take an active role" in recovering illegal weapons and should restrict itself to a "monitoring
function."The cautious stance adopted by DPKO can be explained in large part by the lack of support from major western governments for a more active UNAMIR
Jean-Pierre, meanwhile, began feeling the heat from fellow Interahamwe
members who suspected him of betraying their secrets to UNAMIR. At the meeting on February 10, Turatsinze told his UNAMIR contacts that he was being sent
to the Congo for two-month "commando training."
He vanished soon after this meeting - but did not go to the Interahamwe training camp in the Congo. Instead, he went to Tanzania, where he was recruited to
join the RPF.
READ THE INTERNAL UNAMIR MEMOS ON JEAN-PIERRE HERE
READ US STATE DEPARTMENT CABLES ON JEAN-PIERRE HERE
How accurate was the information received from Jean-Pierre?
UNAMIR peacekeepers with soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, July 1994
Photo credit: UN Photo/John Isaac
One of the structural weaknesses of UNAMIR was the
lack of a professional intelligence evaluation unit. The officers who made contact with "Jean-Pierre" were known as "military information officers" rather than "intelligence officers". Their mission under
Chapter VI of the United Nations charter was to "monitor" compliance of the different parties with the Arusha peace agreement, rather than pro-actively
"enforce" the agreement.
Lacking the resources to fully evaluate Turatsinze's credibility, UNAMIR forwarded his reports to the Belgian military intelligence service, the SGR, four
thousand miles away in Brussels. (The former colonial power in Rwanda, Belgium provided the military backbone of UNAMIR and was responsible for security in
Kigali.) Appearing before a Belgian Senate inquiry in 1997, the Belgian intelligence analyst for Rwanda expressed skepticism about "Jean-Pierre." " He was a deserter," Major Hock
testified. "A priori, therefore, he was not reliable. Don't forget this might be disinformation. There are regularly people who present their services for
financial gain or in the hope of becoming a political refugee."
A February 2, 1994 report on the Interahamwe prepared by Hock dismissed the information about "weapons caches and distribution" as
neither "very reliable" nor "particularly useable." Hock added that UNAMIR was handicapped by the fact that it was compelled to collaborate with the
Rwandan Gendarmerie ("
a section of which very often has links with criminals
") and had difficulty penetrating "a population that is already secretive and easily hypocritical by nature."
Read the full report here. (In its 1997 report, the Belgian Senate criticized Hock and the SGR for paying insufficient attention to the
information provided by "Jean-Pierre," and declining his requests for protection.)
In a January 12, 1994 dispatch,
the French embassy in Kigali described the information provided by "Jean-Pierre" as "serious" and "plausible", noting it coincided with a sudden spike in
political violence in the capital. At the same time, the embassy drew attention to the involvement of prime minister designate Twagiramungu, an outspoken
opponent of President Habyarimana, cautioning that "one cannot exclude a disinformation maneuver designed to discredit the president."
Twagiramungu's own views about the reliability of "Jean-Pierre" underwent a 180 degree shift between 1994 and 1997. Initially, he expressed "total, repeat
total, confidence in the veracity and true ambitions" of Jean-Pierre, according to a January 11, 1994 UNAMIR report. "He is 100%
sure that the individual wants out of all these killings and disruption." Three years later, Twagiramungu dismissed Turatsinze as a "little bandit", telling the Belgian Senate that "these kind of people seek
to acquire advantages by selling information or lying."
These conflicting assessments probably tell us more about Twagiramungu's changing political fortunes than they do about Jean-Pierre. In 1994, Twagiramungu
had a political interest in discrediting the ruling MRND party. Considered an ally by the RPF, he was appointed prime minister of Rwanda following the
genocide. By 1997, however, he had become a political enemy of the RPF, and was living in exile in Belgium.
A less partisan analysis of Turatsinze's information is provided by the Rwanda war crimes tribunal. The ICTR has found that the Rwandan army channeled
weapons to the Interahamwe from late 1993 onwards, and provided military training to Interahamwe members. On the other hand, the
judges were unconvinced that the purpose of the military training and weapons distribution was the "extermination" of Tutsis, as claimed by Turatsinze, rather than preparation for
renewed hostilities with the RPF.
The ICTR noted that some of the information
provided by Jean-Pierre to UNAMIR was incorrect, including his claim that he had received commando training from the Rwandan army. The judges were also
skeptical of Turatsinze's assertion that he had been ordered to "register all Tutsi in Kigali," citing evidence
that such lists were confined to "people suspected of collaborating with the RPF." A 2008 judgment in the case of Theoneste Bagosora, a Rwandan army
officer convicted of genocide, returned a mixed verdict on Turatsinze.
There were other "inconsistencies" in the information supplied by
Jean-Pierre, as noted by the UN Department of Peacekeeping. It is difficult to explain, for example, why the Interahamwe would trust someone who was married
to a Tutsi, and was himself half-Tutsi, with a mission to exterminate his own relatives. Turatsinze's mixed ethnicity was immediately apparent to anyone inspecting his identity card.
As events unfolded, Turatsinze's warning of "anti-Tutsi extermination" proved grimly prophetic. Within three months of his initial meeting with UNAMIR
officers, Interahamwe thugs were murdering Tutsis at roadblocks in Kigali and other cities for no other reason than their ethnicity. (The vast majority of
these murders were carried out with machetes and other primitive weapons, rather than the automatic rifles distributed to the Interahamwe earlier in the
year.) The fact that several of Turatasinze's predictions came true in April 1994 is not by itself proof of the reliability of his information in January
1994, according to the ICTR.
Was Jean-Pierre linked to the RPF?
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with Rwandan President (former RPF leader) Paul Kagame, 2001
Photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
While it is clear that Turatsinze had ties with the moderate Hutu political opposition inside Rwanda, and particularly the MDR party, his links with the
armed RPF rebels are more controversial. Appearing before the Rwanda war crimes tribunal, several witnesses speculated that "Jean-Pierre"
might have been an RPF agent who had managed to infiltrate the Interahamwe. Reliable evidence to support such speculation is lacking, however.
What seems incontestable is that the RPF found out very quickly that UNAMIR had
succeeded in "infiltrating" the Interahamwe, and may have offered him "protection." It is also certain that Turatsinze joined the Tutsi-led rebel groupsoon
after breaking with the Interahamwe-contrary to his statement to UNAMIR officers that he was going to the Congo for "combat training" with the
The most authoritative account on what happened to Turatsinze after UNAMIR rebuffed his request for protection is provided by his wife Genevieve. According
to the statement she provided to the ICTR, her husband moved to Tanzania, where he met with relatives who were RPF members. About two weeks before the
shooting down of President Habyarimana's plane on April 6, 1994 (the event that triggered the genocide), Turatsinze joined the rebels in northern Rwanda.
Turatsinze seems to have been on good terms with RPF leaders who operated out of the town of Mulindi in northern Rwanda, prior to capturing the town of
Byumba. In late 1994, the family received news from a Muslim member of the
new, Tutsi-led government, Abdoul Karim Harelimana, that Turatsinze had been "killed in battle."
Like several other aspects of the "Jean Pierre" story, the circumstances of Turatsinze's death remain shrouded in mystery. His widow was unable to
establish where he died, or how-or even whether he was "surely dead."
Lessons from the "Genocide Fax"
UN Security Council debate on Rwanda, June 1994
Photo credit: UN photo/Milton Grant
An obvious lesson arising from the confusion surrounding the "genocide fax" is the need for better intelligence. As they later acknowledged, UNAMIR
commanders did not have the intelligence capabilities to make a proper evaluation of the information supplied by "Jean-Pierre," or assess his reliability.
Testifying before the ICTR in 2004, General Dallaire said that he acted largely on his instincts in recommending a raid on suspected arms caches on the
basis of "
information which had not yet been corroborated."
But inadequate intelligence was not the only challenge confronting the United Nations. It is now clear that the 47-year-old Canadian general found himself
in a virtually impossible position in early 1994, two months after arriving in Rwanda at the head of a 2,548-member international peacekeeping force. With both the government and the
RPF openly preparing for renewed hostilities, he felt thathe had to do something dramatic to "seize the initiative" from the
hardliners. But he was limited by the restrictive "peace monitoring" mandate imposed by the Security Council and a lack of military resources. Apart from
the 420-member Belgian contingent, which was responsible for security in Kigali, the rest of his force was under-equipped and ill-prepared.
What seemed like a risk worth taking from Dallaire's perspective was viewed very differently by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. From
where they sat, Annan and Riza had reason to treat the unevaluated information from "Jean-Pierre" with a high degree of caution. DPKO was coming under
daily pressure from the United States and other permanent members of the Security Council to
avoid a repetition of the Somalia debacle.
DPKO did not just reject the request for action in response to the "genocide fax,"it also displayed passivity in the face of repeated requests from both
Dallaire and his civilian superior, Booh-Booh, in January and February for a generally more assertive stance on the part of UNAMIR. In a February 2, 1994 cable, Booh-Booh and Dallaire
both called for "determined and selective" deterrent operations in cooperation with the Rwandan military. They also recommended a vigorous public
information campaign including the establishment of a UNAMIR-run radio station to demonstrate that UNAMIR was doing "all within its ability to carry out
With hindsight, Dallaire's warnings proved prescient. His superiors in New York can certainly be faulted for failing to support the judgment and
recommendations of their own field commander. In the end, however, the United Nations Secretariat carried out the wishes of the Security Council, and
particularly its permanent members, led by the United States.
State Department records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the UN officials briefed the United States, Belgium, and France on the
"emerging crisis" in Rwanda, both in Kigali and in New York. Butthere was zero enthusiasm in the Clinton
administration for running any significant risks in Rwanda in the wake of the Somalia debacle and mounting criticism of UN peacekeeping efforts by the
Republican-controlled Congress. The United States took the view that it was up to the rival Rwandan factionsto
"assume their responsibilities" under the Arusha accords. Failure to carry out the accords, Washington hinted, could result in the withdrawal of UNAMIR altogether.
While we have drawn on multiple sources to research the story of "Jean Pierre" and the "genocide fax," we acknowledge that there are still significant gaps
due to the still incomplete nature of the historical evidence. If you have further information about the life and death of Jean Pierre AbubacarTuratsinze,
please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We will publish new details about the case as they become available.
DATE: 2 February 
FROM: Booh Booh, UNAMIR, Kigali
TO: Annan/Jonah, UNations, New York
SUBJ: Update on Security Situation and Request for Commencement of Deterrent Operations Aimed at the Recover of Illegal Weapons
Cable No.: MIR- 256