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Clinton Aides Weighed Fallout Of Calling Rwanda Killing 'Genocide'

Dozens of Hutu refugees flee fighting between Hutus and Tutsis in Kigali, Rwanda, in April 1994, about a month before an internal White House email on the possible consequences of calling the killings a genocide.
Jean-March Bouju

President Bill Clinton's administration wondered what the legal consequences would be if the White House acknowledged that genocide was occurring in Rwanda in 1994, according to newly public documents.

In a May 26, 1994, email to Donald Steinberg, who handled the Africa portfolio in Clinton's National Security Council, legal adviser Alan Kreczko wrote: "Concluding that genocide has occurred/is occurring in Rwanda does not create a legal obligation to take particular action to stop it."

Kreczko went on to write that while human rights groups had argued the contrary, "We would not agree."

"Of course, making such a determination will increase political pressure to do something about it," he added.

As The Associated Press notes: "The Clinton administration was slow to react to the mass killings and went to great lengths to avoid calling the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutu 'genocide.' Clinton would later call the U.S. inaction among his biggest regrets."

In another document made public Friday, in a practice session for his 1996 State of the Union speech, Clinton railed against Republicans who he said wanted to shut down the Department of Commerce because its head, Ron Brown, was black.

"The reason they want to get rid of the Commerce Department is they are foaming at the mouth that Ron Brown is better than all of those Republican corporate executives who got those cheeky jobs because they gave big money to Republican presidential candidates," Clinton told aides.

"And here is this black guy who is a better secretary of commerce than anybody since Herbert Hoover, which he was a success at," Clinton said.

Brown was killed later that year in a plane crash in Croatia.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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