By Tracey Langner
“The world watched with horror as a tiny third world nation attempted to obliterate one race of its people.”
Decades of tension between Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi, erupted twenty five years ago, between April and July 1994, when almost one million Rwandans were killed.
Following independence from Belgium in 1962, Rwanda was governed by the Hutu, who openly discriminated against the Tutsi. The catalyst for the 1994 genocide occurred on 6 April, when a plane preparing to land in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, was shot down. On board were Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu.
Retaliation from the Hutu came in the form of systematic slaughter, of both Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The Tutsi responded with military operations, ignoring the demilitarised zone in which they were operating.
UNAMIR, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda, was completely overwhelmed and powerless to help. The international community was slow to act. Some nations, most notably the US, advocated a complete UN withdrawal from Rwanda; wariness still remained following the disastrous end to the previous UN intervention in Somalia.
It wasn’t until June 1994 that the UN Security Council sanctioned reinforcements for UNAMIR. The Australian component deployed in August. They arrived into chaos. The Rwandan economy had been destroyed, there was little functioning infrastructure, and disease was rife. The Tutsi rebel army (RPF), which had defeated the Hutu government the previous month, remained bent on reprisal.
Australia provided a 293-strong medical support force, consisting of a medical contingent with an infantry company to provide security. The first contingent completed its tour in February 1995 and was replaced by another. Both contingents served for six months.
“As part of the second contingent chosen to go to Rwanda, I travelled to Townsville to start deployment training. Three weeks were spent learning land mine recognition, resuscitation protocols, cultural differences, laws of armed conflict, weapon training and how this deployment would affect us and our loved ones.”
Lyndall Moore, a Nursing Officer, was part of the Australian Medical Support Force, which was tasked with running a hospital facility to provide health care to the 5,500 UN troops who were part of UNAMIR II. The reality for the Australian medics was that many of their patients were local Rwandans.
Lyndall Moore worked in the intensive care unit and also with the aeromedical evacuation team. An average week for the medics involved amputations, grenade injuries, car accident injuries, gunshot wounds and a wide range of infectious diseases.