The Ossington Circle Episode 30: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front with Judi Rever

The Ossington Circle Episode 30: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front with Judi Rever
Judi Rever's book In Praise of Blood
In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the RPF, by Judi Rever

I talk to Judi Rever, author of the important new book In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. We start with the inception of the military force that would become the RPF in 1980s Uganda and follow it through the civil war and genocide to contemporary Rwanda and the Congo. The mind-boggling deaths and atrocities of the many Central African wars and the central role of Paul Kagame are the focus of this interview.

The end of universal jurisdiction

At the beginning of October, Spain’s supreme court dismissed the case known to Rwanda watchers as the Merelles (2008) indictments. Judge Andreu Merelles had charged forty Rwandan military officials of crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, and genocide, and issued warrants for their arrest. The indictment was launched because some Spanish citizens had been killed in the Rwandan civil war. But it expanded to include Rwandan and Congolese victims of the armed forces of Paul Kagame, the winner of the 1990 civil war and the man who may have just become Rwanda’s President-for-life (more on that below).

The indictments had always excluded Kagame because of Kagame’s presidential immunity. Kagame went about protecting himself in two ways, both of which eventually succeeded. First, Kagame may have reasoned, if the president is immune to prosecution, why not stay president forever, making whatever constitutional changes necessary to do so? Second, the indictments themselves were challenged and the doctrine underlying them, ultimately defeated.

The doctrine in question was called ‘universal jurisdiction’. The idea was that a crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity were not crimes that stopped at national borders. As a result, any country could charge and try those accused of such crimes, even if they were from another country. Universal jurisdiction is a liberal doctrine, analogous to the selectively applied Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Universal jursidiction is not as prone to abuse as R2P mainly because it is not as asymmetric as R2P: any country with a judiciary can hold a trial and issue arrest warrants, but only two or three countries in the world have the military might to send military forces to other countries, whether on the pretense of protecting people or some other. For non-superpowers, for smaller countries, there was only the threat of the law.

Spain was just such a small country whose judges took up the law against human rights abusers in other countries. Under the universal jurisdiction doctrine it attempted to try Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet, Guatemalan military officers, and Argentinian military officers. But the Spanish judges didn’t just chase fallen dictators from smaller countries. They also pursued former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, US soldiers for crimes in Iraq, Chinese politicians for crimes in Tibet, and Israeli generals for massacres of Palestinians.

By going after the big fish and people currently in power, the Spanish judges set alarm bells ringing. Israel, which famously used the doctrine of universal jursidiction in its trial of Eichmann 1961, got the investigation against its officers stopped. Kissinger argued that the doctrine would degenerate into show trials against political opponents.

Last year, Spain’s legislature reduced the applicability of universal jurisdiction. An NYT article (Feb 10/14, “Spain Seeks to Curb Law Allowing Judges to Pursue Cases Globally”) suggests that China was the last straw. But the doctrine was targeted earlier. And the last straw was not China, but the arrest in June of one of Rwandan ruler Kagame’s intelligence officers, Karenzi Karake, in London, on a European arrest warrant filed based on Merelles’s 2008 indictments. Karake was released in August through the strenuous efforts of the Blair family (Tony Blair is a friend and advisor to Kagame, and Cherie Blair was Karake’s lawyer). Less than two months later, Merelles’s indictments were dismissed in the Spanish Supreme Court.

Kagame and his men could breathe a little easier. As for Kagame himself, lest any other countries get any universal jurisdiction ideas, the Rwandan parliament voted to allow Kagame to extend his tenure beyond the end of his term limits in 2017. Maybe he’ll stay on until 2034. The parliament didn’t change the law for everyone: just for Kagame.

Is anything left of the indictments? For 29 of the 40 indicted, there remains a possibility of prosecution should they enter Spanish territory.

But the doctrine on which it is based, universal jurisdiction, has been eroded. Journalist Judi Rever, describing the case in the Digital Journal, used the term “gutted”. After this decision, the international legal arena has become a bit safer for war criminals.

Partial justice and victor’s justice will still take place through these international tribunals. If you are a dictator, if you lose a war, if you end up on the wrong side of Western weapons – you should continue to fear trial and execution in international courts.

But if you are perpetrating crimes against Asians or Africans, in places like Rwanda or the DRC, or in Palestine or Afghanistan or Iraq, under the protection of a major power like the US – well then, rest easy. The law will not get you.

First published TeleSUR English:

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:

The BBC Documentary doesn’t deny the genocide

The BBC Documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, does not deny the Rwandan genocide against Tutsis. It is a documentary primarily about Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current ruler, who came out of the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1994 into a position of absolute power in Rwanda, from which he launched multiple invasions into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, invasions which resulted in well-documented mass atrocities. I wrote about the documentary after I watched it (“The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide”:, saying that I hoped that it would create an opening to talk about the current government in Rwanda and about Western support for Kagame. So did many others, including Jonathan Cook, who has done excellent work on Israel-Palestine and has a sharp critique of propaganda in that conflict (See his Oct 4 blog, “Why is the truth about Rwanda so elusive?”:

On October 12, a group of academics and writers wrote to the BBC to express their “grave concern” about the documentary. Their letter, which has been posted on media lens ( is supposedly about ‘genocide denial’, but since no one involved in the BBC documentary denied the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the letter is really about Kagame, and continuing to protect him from criticism using the slur of genocide denial. The letter seems designed to ensure that no discussion about Kagame or Western support for his regime occurs. It repeats the term “genocide denial” 10 times, but it centers on a number of factual claims which can be evaluated. In the spirit of the “utmost intellectual honesty and rigor” that they claim to seek in their letter, let us evaluate these claims.

1. The documentary features a woman, Marie, whose childhood involved living through an incredible number of horrors: first she lived through the Rwandan genocide, then she lived through being hunted as a refugee through the forests of the Congo as a refugee. The writers write that “the programme allows a witness to claim that ‘only ten percent of the Interahamwe (militia) were killers”. The letter counters with “eyewitness testimony by several militia leaders who cooperated with the ICTR”, who argue that “the majority of the Hutu Power militia forces – estimated to have been 30,000 strong – were trained specifically to kill Tutsi at speed, and were indoctrinated in a racist ideology.”

The witness is a survivor of the genocide, and a survivor of the RPF massacres in the DR Congo. Her estimate is obviously not the outcome of a detailed sociological study or survey, and viewers should exercise skepticism in interpreting it, but it is very, very far from “genocide denial”. The context was one in which mass numbers of Hutus were being punished collectively for the genocide – and the witness was trying to say that not all of those punished were guilty. That is not so far from what was written in the suppressed Gersony report, about the thousands of people massacred by the RPF during their advance: “It appeared that the vast majority of men, women, and children killed in these actions were targeted through the pure chance of being caught by the RPA. No vetting process or attempt to establish the complicity of the victims in the April 1994 massacres of the Tutsis was reported.” As Theogene Rudasingwa, a former member of the RPF who is now in exile, wrote in his reply to the letter (posted on medialens:

“The BBC documentary, in its opening moments captures the agony of the victims, as they are hacked to death by this militia. So what if they were 5,000, 10, 1000, 30,000? For the American Professors (note: Rudasingwa is referring here to Davenport and Stam, academics at the University of Michigan, to whom I will return), and the authors of the letter trading polemics on this matter, I would say this is not time well spent. The militia had to be defeated militarily. I am glad they did. Unfortunately, the military victors of 1994 went on a killing spree in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that is yet to be accounted for. That should be a subject of urgent interest rather than counting the number of militia that were involved in the genocidal madness.”

2. The second claim is that “the programme attempts to minimize the number of Tutsi murdered”. The programme presents figures by Davenport and Stam. Davenport discusses their study at length in this lecture: ( To me, the value of their study was in this discussion of their sources, the ranges of figures, and how they understood the violence in Rwanda in space and time. You can look at their data here ( Their figures should definitely be viewed with caution, but their analysis has several points of interest. They concluded that more Hutus died in the genocide than Tutsis, arguing that a specific dynamic occurred: once the killings started, people began to flee, and the killers, unable to distinguish between Tutsi and Hutu, killed indiscriminately; because there were many more Hutus than Tutsis, more Hutus ended up dying. Like Marie, the witness’s testimony, this analysis, and this conclusion, does not amount to ‘genocide denial’. Davenport and Stam set out to study the Rwandan genocide, and have never denied that there was an anti-Tutsi genocide that was carried out by the Rwandan government at the time. You can disagree with their analysis, or with their conclusions (I do disagree with the figure they gave in the BBC documentary, of 800,000 Hutus and 200,000 Tutsis killed, and I think Fillip Reyntjens’s estimates are the most accurate, of 600,000 Tutsis and 500,000 Hutus killed, and he has repeated his figures in a post about the documentary in facebook) but it is simply false to call them ‘genocide deniers’. They presented an analysis of data, not “a tactic of genocide deniers”, in the letter’s ugly language.

3. “The film argues that the shooting down of the plane on April 6, 1994 was perpetrated by the RPF.” The film presents RPF insiders claiming to have heard the planning of the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. The letter writers cite French magistrate judge Marc Trevidic, whose investigations suggest that the missiles could not have been fired by the RPF. Two other judges concluded otherwise: Fernando Merelles from Spain in 2008 and Jean-Louis Brugiere from France in 2006. Reyntjens and Rudasingwa, in their replies, have both pointed out that Marc Trevidic’s investigation is not over – like many others, they have concluded that the RPF shot down the plane.

I have reviewed the material that is available and I am not confident about who shot down the plane. But as a matter of logic, whether the RPF shot down the leader of their enemy government, or whether the government shot down their own president, culpability for the genocide does not change, does it? If – as the letter-writers, the BBC reporters, and all the people the BBC reporters interviewed agree – the Rwandan government and its militias organized and carried out the mass murder of Tutsis immediately after the plane was shot down, surely they are culpable for the genocide regardless of who shot the plane down? If the RPF shot the plane down, they would be guilty of assassination, but it would still be the Rwandan government that would be guilty of genocide. Regardless, the film presents some claims, the letter-writers present some claims, about an assassination that occurred at the beginning of the genocide. Whether the RPF shot the plane down or not, the genocide occurred. So, presenting a claim that the RPF shot the plane down cannot be ‘genocide denial’.

4. “The film-maker, Jane Corbin… even tries to raise doubts about whether or not the RPF stopped the genocide.” The letter writers cite Romeo Dallaire (one of the signers of the letter) as “The authority on this subject”. But is Dallaire a greater authority than Kagame himself? At 20:38, there is an interview with Kagame, who was at the battlefront. Kagame is asked: “Are the massacres still continuing?” He replies: “Yes, the massacres are continuing, though on a lower scale, and this is not because the killers have stopped killing but because, I think, they have killed quite a big number of those they are supposed to kill.”

Now to the departures from the “utmost intellectual honesty and rigor” engaged in by the letter writers. There are many, including the systematic slinging of mud and the constant argumentation from authority, but let us take two.

1. Do the letter-writers really believe that the civil war between the RPF and the Rwandan government at the time, led by Habyarimana, which killed tens of thousands of people, is a mere “smoke screen”? Do they really believe that the term ‘civil war’ belongs in scare quotes? Do they really not believe that the civil war created the context for the genocide?

2. Are the letter-writers really blowing off the invasion of the DRC, the millions killed there, the stealing of elections, the testimonies of the former RPF who are on the run and in exile and admit to committing crimes at Kagame’s side? Do the Hutu deaths, even though they occurred on a smaller scale, really mean nothing to them?

The writers write that “Denial… ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived.” And yet, the letter writers do all of those things. If the victims of the RPF don’t count, as they do not seem to to these writers, then what is this except denial? All of the victims in Central Africa – of the defeated Rwandan government, of the RPF, of the RPF’s proxies and of their opponents – all deserve to be acknowledged, not denied. The BBC documentary deserved better than shoddy arguments and mudslinging. Kagame is still in power, and the only function of this letter is to provide him with cover. Rather than a letter about ‘genocide denial’, the authors would have been more honest to write a manifesto of unconditional support for Rwanda’s dictator.

The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide

First published on TeleSUR English:

At the beginning of October 2014, the BBC aired a documentary called Rwanda: The Untold Story. The outlet, the BBC, and the producer and presenter, Jane Corbin, don’t just possess impeccable mainstream credentials – they define the mainstream in the West. The one hour documentary is intended for a British audience, and Britain is a bigger supporter of Rwanda and its ruler, Paul Kagame, than even the US. Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda’s savior. The titular untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda’s president for the past 20 years.

In the documentary, Corbin talks to Rwandan dissidents who were once close to Kagame, but are now exiled and hunted – Kagame’s former army chief of staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa, has survived four assassination attempts so far. Kagame’s former intelligence chief, Patrick Karageya, was not so lucky, and was strangled in a hotel room in South Africa in January of this year. The documentary shows Kagame at a prayer meeting after Karageya’s assassination telling the crowd that anyone who crosses Rwanda will pay the price, and that “it’s a matter of time.” Details of assassination plots are provided by another exile, who fled the country rather than carry out a killing of these dissidents for Kagame.

Corbin also talks to a Hutu survivor, Marie, who was a school girl, whose family sheltered Tutsi children from the anti-Tutsi genocide in 1994, and who then fled and was hunted in the jungles of the Congo, along with hundreds of thousands of others, when Kagame’s forces invaded the DR Congo in 1996, and who can’t go back to Rwanda. Marie estimates that 10% of organized Hutu forces participated in the genocide – but all Hutus were hunted, indiscriminately, by Kagame’s forces in the Congo. Marie’s conclusions are similar to those reached by Robert Gersony, the author of a report on the Hutu refugees who were being killed in large numbers by Kagame’s forces. The report was suppressed, as the BBC documentary notes – in order to protect Kagame from criticism.

The Gersony report was not the only suppression of evidence which international institutions engaged in to protect Kagame. When Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) began investigations into crimes by Kagame’s forces, Del Ponte tells Corbin in the documentary, she was told by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, that the ICTR was political, and that there would be no tolerance for investigations into crimes committed by the winners in the war, only by the losers. When former FBI investigators were looking into the shooting down of the plane of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in 1994, an event that helped set the genocide in motion, they told Corbin, they were told to stop by Louise Arbour, then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and well known Canadian human rights advocate. Successive, well-documented UN reports on the exploitation of natural resources in the Congo and of human rights violations there, all of which attribute primary responsibility to Rwanda and Kagame, have been filed and ignored.

The BBC report also talks to academic experts who rarely get a hearing despite being among the most knowledgeable people on Rwanda: political scientists Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, and political scientist Fillip Reyntjens. Anyone who studies Central Africa knows Reyntjens for his role in compiling the annual L’Afrique des grands lacs journal, as well as his articles and books. Davenport and Stam are known for compiling all of the numbers and data sources on deaths in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Unlike Reyntjens, they are not experts on the region, but have worked to come to solid conclusions based on solid methodology and the available evidence. Good scholars, their academic publications show all of their data and the process by which they arrived at their conclusions, so that readers can come to their own conclusions.

What are their conclusions? In other words, what is this untold story that is so shocking, 20 years later? To look into it requires some careful study of the death counts, which, while simultaneously gruesome and dehumanizing, is politically important. One scholar, Gerard Prunier, who wrote one of the standard accounts of the Rwandan genocide, and who was at the time very sympathetic to Kagame and the RPF (more recently, like others close to Kagame, he has had experiences that drove him out of sympathy), reasoned as follows based on the 1991 Rwandan census and a growth rate of 3.2%. The Rwandan government said Tutsis were 9% of the population, 700,000 people, but Prunier bumps this up to 12%, 930,000 people. Based on figures of Tutsi survivors after the genocide, of 130,000 in refugee camps, Prunier estimated roughly 800,000 Tutsi deaths in the genocide.

Davenport and Stam, by contrast, encoded all of the massacres described in all of the human rights reports, including Alison Des Forges’s field study for Human Rights Watch, a definitive report from African Rights, and government and other scholarly sources. Where the records showed a range of casualties, Davenport and Stam included the range in their analysis. Using this method, they produced a wide casualty range for the genocide and settled on a mean value of 1,063,336 deaths. This is very close to Filip Reyntjens’s estimates, which are based on tallies made in refugee camps in the three years after the genocide. These estimates are between 1,069,643-1,143,225 deaths. Most of Davenport and Stam’s 1,063,336 deaths, 891,295, were in areas under Rwandan government control. A much smaller, but substantial number, 77,043, were in areas under RPF control. Analyzing the available figures for Tutsi who survived the genocide, between 130,000-300,000, the range of Hutu victims is as low as 28,573, but as high as 958,573. Their best estimate, they tell Corbin, is of about one million killed in the genocide, 800,000 of which were Hutu, and 200,000 of which were Tutsi. Thus in Davenport and Stam’s estimation, Hutus were the majority killed.

In Reyntjens’s calculations, Tutsi were 10% of the population, or about 800,000 before the genocide, and 600,000 Tutsi were killed. This means, according to Reyntjens, 500,000 Hutu were killed. While not the majority, it is still nearly half of the victims.

How, if the Rwandan government set out to organize people to kill Tutsis in organized massacres, could so many of their victims have been Hutus? For several reasons. The main reason cited by Davenport is that the civil war and the massacres were creating massive displacement, of nearly the entire population. Even though local organizations were responsible for the killing, and locally, the killers could distinguish Hutu from Tutsi, in a situation where nearly everyone was fleeing from somewhere, and in a situation where admitting to being Tutsi was certain death, killers would have faced potential victims who were claiming to be Hutu, and killed them anyway. Many of the people who were killed as Tutsi, were Hutu.

Hutus were the demographic majority, so if there was a random element as well as a systematic element to the killing, this random element would led to many more random Hutu victims than Tutsi. I would also add a third possibility: that many Hutu were killed trying to protect Tutsi. The idea that the killers in the genocide were everyday Hutu neighbours of the Tutsi is quite pervasive, but it is also likely that many of these Hutu neighbours tried to protect the Tutsi members of their community and died doing so.

Davenport and Stam concluded from their analysis of the timing of the massacres that they occurred in government-held areas just before the arrival of RPF troops. The pace of the killing was set by the pace of the RPF advance. The Rwandan government turned away from its military enemy and instead committed genocide against its own population.

This was, as the BBC documentary shows, a matter of complete indifference to Kagame. His RPF rejected a peace deal with the Rwandan government because in his assessment, total victory was within his grasp. The BBC documentary argues that Kagame did not stop the genocide at all. Instead, it was actually the victims of the genocide who paid the price of the RPF’s victory. Contemporary footage, shown in the BBC documentary, shows Kagame telling the camera that the killing is slowing down as the RPF advances, not because of the advance, but because most of those who were to be killed had been killed.

I should note here that I disagree with writers Ed Herman and David Peterson on the interpretation of this evidence. Herman and Peterson conclude that it was Kagame’s RPF who did the majority of the killings. In their book The Politics of Genocide, they suggest that “Davenport-Stam shy away from asserting the most important lesson of their work: not only that the majority of killings took place in those theaters where the RPF “surged,” but also that the RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994, and the only one that planned a major military offensive.”

I disagree with Herman and Peterson because the RPF was not “the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994”. The RPF was fighting a “well-organized killing force”, in the Rwandan army and its militias, who turned primarily on the civilian population instead of fighting Kagame’s RPF forces.

The BBC documentary also does not accuse Kagame’s RPF of primary responsibility in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The truth of Kagame’s acts is bad enough without adding this crime: Kagame’s invasion and the civil war set the context for the genocide; Kagame’s massacres of Hutus in areas under RPF control were smaller in scale but were also crimes against humanity and were also genocidal like the Rwandan government’s massacres; Kagame’s massacres, proxy warfare, and occupation of the Congo have led to the deaths of, by best estimates, millions of people; Kagame’s suppression of human rights and freedom in Rwanda have created a brutal dictatorship that has somehow been sold to the world as a developmental miracle.

Up until now, these discussions were impossible to have in the West, even on the left. One did not have to argue, as Herman and Peterson do (incorrectly in my opinion) that Kagame conducted the Rwandan genocide, to be labeled a genocide denier. Indeed, anyone who suggested that Kagame’s forces committed crimes against Hutu civilians in Rwanda and Congolese civilians in the Congo was eventually labeled some kind of genocide denier, or a proponent of something called double genocide theory. Rather than coming to some kind of shared understanding of events in Rwanda, as Davenport and Stam tried to do, or as scholars like Reyntjens and Rene Lemarchand have tried to do, proponents of Kagame’s government have smeared those who seek to understand the full magnitude of crimes and criminals in Central Africa in the 1990s as genocide deniers. In doing so, they have of course participated in their own kind of genocide denial, but worse than that, they have helped prevent any actual reckoning with the past, any end to impunity, that might help prevent the repetition of genocides in the future, including in the region. As Reyntjens said in the BBC documentary, there might presently be a lid on the volcano there, but it may erupt again.

The BBC documentary is not perfect. It shows Tony Blair smiling all over the place next to Kagame, and even a shot of Clinton, but a whole other hour could be spent with the evidence on economic interests unearthed by the UN investigations into the exploitation of natural resources in the Congo, the parallel genocides and wars in Burundi, the Western interventions that set all these horrors in motion in the 1960s, and the disgraceful role of most Western media and scholarship in covering it all up. But for one hour, on the BBC, it is a remarkable opening to think about Central Africa and the West’s role. It remains to be seen whether the BBC and Jane Corbin will now be accused of genocide denial, or whether this documentary can help Westerners begin to understand what they are actually supporting in Africa, in Reyntjens’s words, “the most important war criminal in office today”.

Note: On Oct 18/14, Ed Herman and David Peterson’s reply to the above article was published on ZNet. I wrote a comment underneath their article just clarifying my disagreement, which I’m reproducing here:


Ed, David:

First, I didn’t want you to think I was singling you out just to disagree with you. When the BBC doc came out, I, like Jonathan Cook, thought back to that ugly McCarthyite episode with Monbiot. Because Monbiot’s particular focus was your writing, I thought I had to address your writing – and my disagreement with it. I was trying to model how I think people should disagree, just sticking to the facts and trying to point out exactly where the disagreement is. That was why I mentioned you in the first place.

As for the disagreement. You write above that you “hew closely” to Davenport and Stam, and you do, until you make the leap that Davenport and Stam don’t make, in which you attribute to the RPF massacres their data attribute to the Rwandan government and militias. Their animations show most of the biggest massacres taking place in areas under Rwandan government control. And the datasets they based their work on, including the African Rights and the HRW report by Des Forges, describe a lot of these massacres in a lot of detail, including who did them. It’s the same types of reports, with the same types of testimonies, that describe massacres by Kagame’s RPF, including Kibeho and others. Even after reading your reply above, I continue to think this is a big leap you guys are making, beyond the evidence.

As for the numbers, I think, and I think Davenport and Stam acknowledge, all of the estimates are pretty rough, including the ones Davenport and Stam give. On their genodynamics website, they summarize Ibuka’s data (which I am not very familiar with, I only know about it through them) by saying it is an enumeration only for Kibuye prefecture. Is the estimate of 300,000 survivors a scaling up of some kind? You guys know that Prunier bumped the pre-genocide population of Tutsis up from 9% to 12% for his calculation. In his 1997 article, Reyntjens proceeds by assuming the pre-genocide population of Tutsis was 10%, and that 3/4 were killed in the genocide, which is where he arrives at his estimate of 600,000 Tutsis and 500,000 Hutus.