The Beginning of the End for Kagame?

On June 22, 2015 it was reported that the director-general of Rwanda’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, was arrested in London. One report, by Judi Rever in the Digital Journal, refers to Karenzi Karake accurately as “Kagame’s spy chief”. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, rose to power as an intelligence chief himself – working for Yoweri Museveni, the ruler of Uganda, during the 1980s Bush War in that country. Kagame would not choose a spy chief lightly, and Karenzi Karake is absolutely in Kagame’s inner circle.

Interpol is responsible for the arrest, and was acting on indictments issued by a Spanish Judge, Fernando Andreu Merelles, in 2008. Merelles issued indictments for forty of Kagame’s men, all of whom were in command positions of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at the end of the Rwandan Civil War and genocide of 1994. Having defeated and replaced the Rwandan government that committed the genocide, Kagame’s RPF hunted and massacred Rwandan refugees during and after the Rwandan civil war, in the areas they controlled (and in the DR Congo).

The evidence of these massacres is irrefutable. In standard accounts of the genocide, including the basic Human Rights Watch book Leave No One to Tell the Story by Alison Des Forges, massacres by the RPF are presented, though no estimates are given on their scale. A famously buried report by UN investigator Robert Gersony, which has since surfaced, estimated the scale to be in the tens of thousands – during the civil war. Some of the largest, and best documented massacres by the RPF occurred after they had already won the war – the worst and most infamous being the Kibeho massacre of April 1995.

Scholar Gerard Prunier, who wrote one of the standard accounts of the Rwandan genocide and one of the major books on the Congo wars, Africa’s World War (Oxford University Press 2009), was a long-time friend of the RPF since before the Civil War. In his book, he expresses considerable understanding and empathy for the RPF, arguing that RPF violence “had to be seen in the context of the war and of the genocide”, that there were going to be some “unavoidable revenge killings”. But when one of the few Hutu members of the RPF, Seth Sendashonga, also a friend of Prunier’s, tried and failed to stop the Kibeho massacre, after sending 400 memos over 13 months to Kagame to try to stop these killings (memos to which Kagame studiously avoided replying in writing), Prunier was forced to start changing his mind. Sendashonga went into exile and was assassinated in Kenya in 1998 – Prunier reports this murder as causing his final break with the RPF. Prunier called the RPF’s campaign of killings “coherent”, with their “focal point” being “undivided political control”. Targets included “friends and family of genocidaire, educated people, PARMEHUTU (from the Hutu political party), and opponents” – a broad and ever-expanding pool of potential victims. The RPF, Prunier wrote, viewed the Hutu majority population, whether they were involved in politics or not, whether they had anything to do with the the genocide or not, as a “permanent danger” to be kept at bay with “random mass killings to instill fear and defanged by neutralizing real or potential leaders”.

Merelles’s indictments are based on testimony by ex-RPF soldiers, like the 2014 BBC documentary that stirred so much controversy. The 182-page legal document outlines specific charges against specific commanders for specific massacres in different parts of Rwanda. Like the BBC documentary, it has generated enraged responses from Kagame’s supporters, both in Rwanda and in the West. The standard enraged response is to counter-accuse, and attack the source as being “pro-genocide”. The idea is that Interpol and a Spanish judge are, in 2015, working on behalf of the Hutu forces that committed the genocide and were militarily defeated, scattered, hunted, and slaughtered by the RPF (along with hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent civilians) two decades ago, during which some of their leaders were also convicted in the International Criminal Court.

The explanation might be somewhat simpler – that, according to this judge, the fact that Kagame and the RPF fought against a government that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians did not grant them the right to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Merelles’s 2008 indictments are not the only documents sitting out there in the public domain that contain enough evidence to condemn Kagame and the commanders around him to jail. There are also a number of United Nations reports, including the UN Mapping Report on the Congo and a series of reports on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are also indictments from another judge, Jean-Louis Brugiere of France, from 2006. Most who know about Kagame’s crimes assumed that these documents would mainly collect dust.

But slowly over the past five or so years, and especially since the BBC documentary was aired last year, even as Kagame seeks to change the constitution to remove term limits and stay in office beyond 2017, it does look like something has changed in the West’s treatment of him. The automatic smear that anyone seeking accountability for the RPF’s crimes must be a ‘genocidaire’ is not sticking as well it used to. The evidence that Kagame and the RPF are responsible for assassinations and massacres in Rwanda and Congo, as well as plunder and occupation in the Congo, is overwhelming and hard to ignore, as hard as Kagame’s supporters try. The idea that the 1994 genocide gives Kagame and the RPF impunity to commit crimes against humanity holds so little weight that no one is willing to say it out loud. Now his spy chief has been arrested in one of the countries, the UK, that has supported Kagame the most unconditionally. If the UK is not safe for a war criminal, then where in the West is?

If Kagame can’t shake off the stench of crimes against humanity, he may find himself becoming another one of the West’s dispensable dictators. Joseph Kabila has, after all, demonstrated that he can fulfill Western interests in the DR Congo directly, without the need for Rwanda’s middle-management – especially if the UN continues to provide soldiers to do it.

Kagame and his once-patron, Museveni of Uganda, were once touted by the US as the ‘New African Leaders’. But perhaps they are approaching their shelf life. If so, they may suddenly be ushered off stage and replaced some time soon. If the West remains the arbiter of what happens there, the people of the region can have little to hope for from their replacements.

First published at TeleSUR English:

Israel’s battles in sports, law, and science

Sports. In early 2014, two young athletes, named Jawhar (then 19) and Adam (then 17), were returning from a soccer training session in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers ambushed them, shot them, set dogs on them to maul them, dragged them across the ground, and beat them. The Israeli soldiers targeted their feet and legs – ten bullets in 19-year old Jawhar’s feet, one bullet in each of 17-year old Adam’s feet. No more soccer for Jawhar and Adam (1).

So, now, Israel’s war on Palestinians is so comprehensive that it includes soccer. Jawhar and Adam are not unique for being targeted as Palestinian athletes. Sports writer David Zirin wrote about another player, Mahmoud Sarsak of the Palestinian national soccer team (2), who Israel seized on his way to a contest in 2009, and held without trial or charges for years. He was released after he went on a 92 day hunger strike in July 2012.

With such a determined, deliberate, violent campaign against soccer, Israel has generated some questions about its own status in the international soccer association, FIFA. Spurred on by the vicious attacks on Jawhar and Adam, as well as discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) led efforts to expel Israel from FIFA, and a motion was making its way to the 2015 international gathering of FIFA.

Then, in May, something happened. At the same time that FIFA was supposed to hear the motion on the expulsion of Israel for racism and its war on Palestinian soccer, the FBI moved against FIFA officials and arrested them for the corruption that FIFA has long been notorious for. Then the Palestinian Football Association amended the motion to expel Israel. Instead of expelling Israel, FIFA has struck a committee to ‘monitor’ Israel’s compliance with FIFA rules. Some commentators have argued that the the passage of the amended resolution was still a major loss for Israel (3). Others have argued that the PFA last-minute amendment was yet another betrayal of principles by the Palestinian Authority (4).

Was the timing of the FBI raids completely coincidental, or were the raids timed to show that the US could create consequences for FIFA for trying to expel Israel? Did the Palestinian Football Association back down from its principled stand because of pressure applied behind the scenes?

Law. Certainly, the PFA, which is affiliated with the Palestinian Authority (PA), has many vulnerabilities to US pressure, from anti-terrorism suits in US courts (5) to the ever-present threat of cutting off aid money (aid to the PA is a tiny fraction of the money given to Israel by the US, the “honest broker”). And of course the US need not pressure the PA directly: it has many levers of power to exercise to ensure Israel has its way with the Palestinians, including the UN Secretary General. Most recently, for example, Israel, after targeting children, and killing at least 547 children in Gaza in 2014, was taken off of a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights by Ban Ki Moon. The “list of shame” annex in the UN’s report on children in armed conflict is seen as an important “accountability tool” in the human rights community (6). If Israel can kill 547 children and not get on the UN’s “list of shame”, it is hard to take this as anything other than a green light from the UN for Israel to keep killing children. To get this green light for Israel, the US had to pressure the UN Secretary General directly. The PA had no say in the outcome.

But the PA has had a say in many issues, and failed to use it. From the ruling by the International Court of Justice against Israel’s apartheid wall in 2005, to the Goldstone Report, to the ICC bid, to the recent statehood bid at the UN, the PA has failed repeatedly to use effectively the many international forums that it has access to (7).

The recent threat at FIFA, and then retreat, by the PFA is a replay of the same behaviour by the PA at the ICC, over the Goldstone Report, the ICJ ruling, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement more generally – the threat of an effective, principled move, followed just before the moment of truth by a retreat.

The number of these near-misses in recent years, of possibilities of breakthrough at the international level, even if followed by capitulation by the Palestinian Authority, suggests that there are real possibilities for the movement for human rights for Palestinians, the cutting edge of which is the BDS movement.

Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu certainly behaves as if he is afraid of these possibilities. This might be because Israel’s attempts to paint Iran as the great enemy was unsuccessful and Israel simply needs a new enemy to focus on constantly. Or it might be that Netanyahu and the Israeli establishment genuinely fear that Israel’s genocidal campaign towards the Palestinians will start to become politically costly at some point in the future. Netanyahu’s casino billionaire backer, Sheldon Adelson, told the Israeli-American Council in 2014 that Palestinians exist only to destroy Israel (8). The billionaire has been strategizing with others about how to deploy more money to combat BDS. There’s nothing new here. Israel’s violence and its supporters have always had many more billions than those seeking justice or peace in the region.

Medicine. Critics of BDS sometimes argue that boycott tactics are inherently immoral. But a group of pro-Israel academics don’t think it is: they were happy in April to threaten to boycott the eminent medical journal, The Lancet, because they didn’t like the peer-reviewed medical journal’s coverage of the medical consequences of Israel’s high-tech slaughter of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2014 (9). Hundreds of other doctors and academics replied with the “Hands off the Lancet” letter (10).

It may be that, as Jonathan Cook argued over the Lancet affair: “Very gradually, the space to have an honest and critical debate about Israel is opening up in places where once it was almost impossible, including in the media, in academia and even among the conservative medical community. Those committed to protecting Israel at all costs are desperate to shut down those spaces.”

If the media, academia, sports, and medicine are all wondering whether Israel should be allowed to shoot and maim soccer playing youths, target and kill children and avoid censure, and avoid discussion even of the most basic public health consequences of its killings and its purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure, there is one field in which Israel continues to shine, as Alex Kane reported in The Intercept on June 5 (11): the production of combat-proven weaponry, tested out on the Palestinian population and especially its children. But as with Sheldon Adelson’s billions, so too with weapons: Israel has always had the advantage in this arena. There is nothing new here.

When people stop making Israel an exception to their consciences, to their sense of fairness and of justice; when people start thinking of Palestinians as human beings deserving of rights and of Palestinian children deserving of safety even while they do things like play soccer; when that happens Israel’s advantages in billions and weapons won’t be enough.

When that happens, a just resolution of the conflict with equal rights for everyone will be possible.


1) Dave Zirin covered this at the time,, citing Maan News:

2) Dave Zirin, May 10, 2012. What if Kobe Bryant Were an Imprisoned Palestinian Soccer Player?

3) See Newsclick – FIFA: Israel Guilty of Systematic Racism Against Palestine.

4) Liad Osmo, “Palestinians rage at Rajoub for about-face on Israel FIFA suspension”, May 31, 2015.,7340,L-4663230,00.html. See also Sharif Nashashibi, “FIFA: Palestine’s own goal”, June 2, 2015.

5) Charlotte Silver, “New York Jury Finds Palestinian Authority Liable for Terrorism”. February 24, 2015.

6) Ali Abunimah, “UN’s Ban Ki-moon caves in, takes Israel off list of serious child abusers”. June 9, 2015.

7) Jalal Abukhater is important to read on this. See “The PA stands in the way of the Palestinian struggle”, July 12, 2014. Electronic Intifada:

8) Ha’aretz, November 9, 2014. “Sheldon Adelson: Palestinians are made-up nation that exists only to destroy Israel”.

9) Jonathan Cook, “Professors for Israel try to shut down the Lancet”. April 23, 2015:


11) Alex Kane, June 5, 2015. “Combat Proven”: The booming business of war in Israel.

First published on TeleSUR English: