Newly declassified cables from 1994 show that with Rwanda poised on the brink of genocide, world leaders were anxious to get UN peacekeeping forces out of the country as quickly as possible, reports the New York Times. They did so, and an estimated 800,000 people were massacred in 100 days. “It’s clear, in hindsight, that the pullout of peacekeeping was the green light for genocide,” says Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. It obtained the 300 cables along with the Holocaust Museum and was highlighting them this week at a conference in the Hague on what world leaders did, and did not, do to stop the killing. (You can access the full trove here.)
The cables show that Bill Clinton's White House—still stung from the "Black Hawk Down" disaster in Somalia only months earlier—pushed to remove the vast majority of the peacekeepers. One of the cables is from UN ambassador Madeleine Albright instructing the State Department to take that position. Albright recalls that she had been swayed by African criticism that a withdrawal would be a mistake, but she failed to convince the White House. “I was an instructed ambassador, not the secretary of state, but I do wish I had argued harder,” Albright tells the Times. The Security Council voted on April 21, 1994, to reduce the force from 2,100 troops to 270, and the Canadian leader of the force wrote that those who remained were "standing knee-deep in mutilated bodies." Still classified are internal White House emails, which would shed further light on US decision-making.