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Letter to Congressional Leaders on Humanitarian Assistance for Rwandan Refugees

August 01, 1994

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

Since August 1993, when a fragile peace was signed between Rwandan Government Forces (RGF) and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the United Nations has been actively addressing the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda. On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana of Rwanda, President Ntaryamira of Burundi and a number of government officials were killed when their plane crashed while approaching the airport in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. This incident ruptured the peace and led to a resumption of the civil war that has now resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, many of them Tutsi civilians who were the victims of genocide on the part of radical Hutu elements aligned with the former government.

In early July 1994, the government fell and the RPF assumed power in Kigali, establishing a multi-party government. Since that time they have cooperated fully with us and have even requested human rights monitors to better assure the safety of returning refugees. As a result of the Civil War, the nation's infrastructure has been virtually destroyed. An estimated 2.1 million Rwandan refugees have fled to neighboring Zaire, Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that a further 2.6 million persons are internally displaced.

The need to respond to disease, starvation, and dehydration in the refugee camps, especially in Zaire and Burundi, led me on July 29, 1994, to direct the expansion of capabilities at the Kigali airport to support the UNHCR relief operation more effectively. By providing a support infrastructure for the relief of refugees and displaced persons out of this capital city, I believe we will be better able to draw Rwandans back to their homes, away from the unsanitary conditions of the refugee camps, and closer to a more centralized distribution point for humanitarian aid. We have engaged in negotiations with the new government in order to promote these objectives. We have urged this new government to broaden its political base, refrain from retribution, respect the rule of law, and otherwise create the conditions of safety and security that would permit the refugees to return home.

In the afternoon of July 29, 1994, I directed General Joulwan, Commander in Chief, United States European Command, in addition to the relief operations he is already conducting through Goma, Zaire and Entebbe, Uganda, immediately deploy a contingent of U.S. forces, numbering approximately 200, to the airport at Kigali. These forces began to arrive on July 30, 1994. Other forces from Australia and the United Kingdom are committed to this effort in Kigali as well. During this initial phase of "Operation Support Hope," the United States and other committed nations will establish and operate a logistics base to support UNHCR humanitarian relief operations. In this effort, they will open a logistic coordination center for receiving and distributing relief supplies, provide airfield services and cargo handling, and provide security for the airport at Kigali. These efforts are directed at achieving the objectives of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 929, 925 and 918. No organized resistance has been encountered to our efforts to date and none is expected.

United States Armed Forces will remain in Rwanda only as long as necessary to assist the UNHCR in establishing an effective distribution mechanism for humanitarian relief support to the Rwandan people. While it is not possible to estimate precisely how long it will take to satisfy this requirement, we believe that prolonged operations will not be necessary.

We do not intend that U.S. Armed Forces deployed to Rwanda become involved in hostilities. Nonetheless, a majority of the approximately 200 personnel deployed will be assigned to provide force protection and assure security of the Kigali airport. These security forces are equipped and ready to take such measures as may be needed to accomplish their humanitarian mission and defend themselves if necessary.

I have taken these actions pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct our foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. I am providing this report consistent with the War Powers Resolution in accordance with my desire that the Congress be fully informed. I look forward to cooperating with the Congress in this effort to relieve human suffering.



NOTE: Identical letters were sent to Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Robert C. Byrd, President pro tempore of the Senate. This letter was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on August 2.

William J. Clinton, Letter to Congressional Leaders on Humanitarian Assistance for Rwandan Refugees Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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