by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Excerpted from The Politics of Genocide
Elsewhere we have written that the breakup of Yugoslavia “may have been the most misrepresented series of major events over the past twenty years.”1 But the far bloodier and more destructive invasions, insurgencies, and civil wars that have ravaged several countries in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa over the same years may have been subjected to even greater misrepresentation.
To a remarkable degree, all major sectors of the Western establishment swallowed a propaganda line on Rwanda that turned perpetrator and victim upside-down. In the much-cited 1999 study, “Leave None to Tell the Story”: Genocide in Rwanda, on behalf of Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights in Paris, Alison Des Forges writes that “By late March 1994, Hutu Power leaders were determined to slaughter massive numbers of Tutsi and Hutu opposed to [Hutu President Juvénal] Habyarimana,” and that on April 6, 1994, with the assassination of Habyarimana, “[a] small group of his close associates…decided to execute the planned extermination.”
Although “responsibility for killing Habyarimana is a serious issue,” writes Des Forges, it pales in comparison to “responsibility for the genocide. We know little about who assassinated Habyarimana.” This is a false statement, as we show in detail below. “We know more about who used the assassination as the pretext to begin a slaughter that had been planned for months” is true enough, but in exactly the opposite sense reported by Des Forges.2
During testimony at a major trial of four Hutu former military officers before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Des Forges acknowledged that by April 1992 (i.e., a full twenty-four months before “The Genocide” is alleged to have been perpetrated), the “government in charge of Rwanda [had become] a multiparty government, including Tutsi representatives, and it is for that reason alone that it is impossible to conclude that there was planning of a genocide by that government.”3
Although Des Forges tried to salvage the Hutu conspiracy model, alleging plans by individual Hutu members of the coalition government to use their “official powers” to carry out a preplanned genocide, this model disintegrated on cross-examination.4 Des Forges could not explain how Hutu “individuals” used these “powers” without the knowledge of their Tutsi and Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) associates. Furthermore, she was forced to admit that pro-RPF ministers were in cahoots with the RPF and its plans for war (which we describe below), and that after the Habyarimana assassination, the RPF did not simply respond in self-defense to a Hutu-organized killing spree, but initiated its own killing spree. In other words, while the Hutu members of Rwanda’s power-sharing government would have had great difficulty organizing a genocide against the Tutsi, the Tutsi-led RPF was well-positioned to paralyze any government response to plans it had developed—and that were implemented—to avoid the threat of a free election the RPF was destined to lose, to assassinate the Hutu president, and to take over the country by military force. Yet Des Forges’s dramatic concessions before the ICTR never turned up in the Western media, and in her public statements thereafter she continued to repeat the official propaganda line about a Hutu conspiracy to commit genocide, right up to the very end.5
To accept the standard model of “The Genocide,” one must ignore the large-scale killing and ethnic cleansing of Hutus by the RPF long before the April-July 1994 period, which began when Ugandan forces invaded Rwanda under President (and dictator) Yoweri Museveni on October 1, 1990. At its inception, the RPF was a wing of the Ugandan army, the RPF’s leader, Paul Kagame, having served as director of Ugandan military intelligence in the 1980s. The Ugandan invasion and resultant combat were not a “civil war,” but rather a clear case of aggression. However, the invasion led to no reprimand or cessation of support by the United States or Britain—and, in contrast to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait just two months before, which was countered in the Security Council by a same-day demand that Iraq withdraw its forces immediately—the Council took no action on the Ugandan invasion of Rwanda until March 1993. It did not even authorize an observer mission (UNOMUR) until late June 1993, the RPF by then having occupied much of northern Rwanda and driven out several hundred thousand Hutu farmers.6
It is clear that Museveni and the RPF were perceived as serving U.S. interests, and that the government of President Habyarimana was targeted for ouster.7 UN Security Council inaction flowed from this political bias. In his assessment of the years he spent representing U.S. interests in Africa, former Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen raised the question of why, as of October 1, 1990, the “first day of the crisis,” as he calls it, “did [the United States] automatically exclude the policy option of informing Ugandan President Museveni that the invasion of Rwanda by uniformed members of the Ugandan army was totally unacceptable, and that the continuation of good relations between the United States and Uganda would depend on his getting the RPF back across the border?”8 This question is naïve but revealing—the answer, like that to the question of why the United States lobbied for the withdrawal of UN forces from Rwanda as “The Genocide” was getting under way in April 1994, is that the Ugandan army and RPF were doing what the United States wanted done in Rwanda.
The United States and its allies worked hard in the early 1990s to weaken the Rwandan government, forcing the abandonment of many of the economic and social gains from the social revolution of 1959, thereby making the Habyarimana government less popular, and helping to reinforce the Tutsi minority’s economic power.9 Eventually, the RPF was able to achieve a legal military presence inside Rwanda, thanks to a series of ceasefires and other agreements. These agreements led to the Arusha Peace Accords of August 1993, pressed upon the Rwandan government by the United States and its allies, called for the “integration” of the armed forces of Rwanda and the RPF, and for a “transitional,” power-sharing government until national elections could be held in 1995.10 These Peace Accords positioned the RPF for its bloody overthrow of a relatively democratic coalition government, and the takeover of the Rwandan state by a minority dictatorship.
As we have already suggested, the established perpetrator-victim line requires suppression of the crucial fact that the April 6 shooting-down of the government jet returning Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprian Ntaryamira to Kigali, that killed everyone onboard, was carried out by RPF commandos (as discussed below), and had been regarded by RPF planners as an essential first strike in its final assault on the government. Although the mass killings followed this assassination, with the RPF rapidly defeating any military resistance by the successor to Habyarimana’s coalition government and establishing its rule in Rwanda, these prime génocidaires were, and still are today, portrayed as heroic defenders of Rwanda’s national unity against Hutu “extremists” and the Interahamwe militia, who were the RPF’s actual victims.
Acceptance of this line also requires the suppression of a key verdict in a December 2008 Judgment by the ICTR.11 This seven-and-a-half year trial of four former high-ranking Hutu members of the Rwanda military produced an acquittal of all four defendants on the Tribunal’s most serious charge: participation in a conspiracy to commit genocide against the country’s Tutsi minority. To the contrary, the court ruled unanimously that the evidence was “consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle and measures adopted in the context of an on-going war with the RPF that were used for other purposes from 6 April 1994.”12
Of course, it was the RPF that had been organized to carry out a “military power struggle” against Rwanda’s Hutu majority for several years prior to April 1994; and with its Tutsi base a numerical minority in the country (at most 15 percent overall), the RPF recognized that they would suffer an almost certain defeat in the free elections called for by the Arusha Accords. But the fact that the RPF itself conspired to assassinate Habyarimana and to carry out subsequent mass killings remains entirely beyond the grasp of the ICTR. Although it has failed to convict a single Hutu of conspiracy to commit genocide, the ICTR has never once entertained the question of an RPF conspiracy—despite the RPF’s rapid overthrow of the Hutu government and capture of the Rwandan state. This, we believe, flows from U.S. and allied support of the RPF, reflected in media coverage, humanitarian intellectuals’ and NGO activism, as well as the ICTR’s jurisprudence. Like the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the ICTR was a creation of the Security Council.13 Both have served Western, and notably U.S., purposes throughout their remit, but the ICTR has acted far more uncompromisingly than the ICTY—which makes this particular Judgment even more striking and important.14
Paul Kagame and the RPF were creatures of U.S. power from their origins in Uganda in the 1980s. Allan Stam, a Rwanda scholar who once served with the U.S. Army Special Forces, notes that Kagame “had spent some time at Fort Leavenworth…not too far before the 1994 genocide.” Fort Leavenworth is the U.S. Army’s “commander general staff college…where rising stars of the U.S. military and other places go to get training as they are on track to become generals. The training that they get there is on planning large scale operations. It’s not planning small-scale logistic things. It’s not tactics. It’s about how do you plan an invasion. And apparently [Kagame] did very well.”
By 1994, Kagame’s RPF possessed, in addition to the necessary manpower and material, a sophisticated plan for seizing power in Rwanda that, in its final execution, Stam says, “looks staggeringly like the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 1991.” Stam adds that the RPF launched its final assault on the Rwandan government almost immediately after the assassination of Habyarimana, within 60 to 120 minutes of the shooting-down of his jet, with “50,000 [RPF] soldiers mov[ing] into action on two fronts, in a coordinated fashion”—clearly “a plan that was not worked out on the back of an envelope.”15
So the Hutu conspiracy model, still at the center of establishment belief even if implicitly rejected by the ICTR, suffers from the RPF-Kagame locus of responsibility for the triggering event (the shoot-down of Habyarimana’s jet during its approach to Kigali airport) and the incredible speed and coordinated nature of the RPF’s military response, which again suggest detailed planning, and a different set of conspirators.
But there is also the fact that the alleged Hutu perpetrators of “The Genocide” were the ones driven from power, with several million Hutus sent fleeing from Rwanda by July 4, the date by which the RPF had taken Kigali. We also see that, before the end of July, Washington withdrew diplomatic recognition from the ousted government and awarded it to the RPF—the “entity that exercises effective control in Rwanda,” a State Department spokesman explained. And we see that, at the same time, Washington began dispatching U.S. troops and large-scale aid to Kigali,16 after having lobbied and voted at the Security Council on April 21 for a withdrawal of virtually all UN troops, over the objections of Rwanda’s ambassador,17 positively facilitating both the slaughters and the RPF’s conquest of power. If the established narrative about “who used the assassination as a pretext” were true, then Rwanda would be the first case in history in which a minority population, suffering destruction at the hands of its tormentors, drove its tormentors from power and assumed control of a country, all in the span of less than one hundred days. We find this incredible in the extreme.
So does a body of important but suppressed research. An investigation in July and August 1994, sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to document Hutu massacres of Tutsis, found instead massacres of Hutu civilians in RPF-controlled areas of Rwanda on the order of 25,000-45,000. This finding led the UNHCR to take the extraordinary step of blocking Hutu refugees from returning to Rwanda in order to protect them. Prepared by Robert Gersony, the report, covered in the New York Times, “concluded that there was ‘an unmistakable pattern of killings and persecutions’ by soldiers of the [RPF]…‘aimed at Hutu populations.’” But the Gersony report “set off a bitter dispute within the world organization and led the Secretary General to demand that the United Nations officials refrain from discussing it,” in an effort to placate the RPF and, more importantly, its Western sponsors.18 Officially, the report “does not exist” at the United Nations,19 and Gersony was instructed never to discuss his findings (a ban he has largely respected).20
A memorandum drafted in September 1994 for the eyes of Secretary of State Warren Christopher reported that the UNHCR team “concluded that a pattern of killing had emerged” in Rwanda, the “[RPF] and Tutsi civilian surrogates [killing] 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the [RPF] accounting for 95% of the killing.” This memorandum added that “the UNHR team speculated that the purpose of the killing was a campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to clear certain areas in the south of Rwanda for Tutsi habitation. The killings also served to reduce the population of Hutu males and discouraged refugees from returning to claim their lands.”21 The added significance of this campaign was that the south of Rwanda shares a border with northern Burundi, where a majority Tutsi population long has dwelled.
Separately, U.S. academics Christian Davenport and Allan Stam estimated that more than one million deaths occurred in Rwanda from April through July 1994,22 concluding that the “majority of victims were likely Hutu and not Tutsi.” Initially sponsored by the ICTR, but later dropped by it, the Davenport-Stam work shows convincingly that the theaters where the killing was greatest correlated with spikes in RPF activity (i.e., with RFP “surges,” in their terminology), as a series of RPF advances, particularly in the month of April 1994, created roving patterns of killing. In fact, they describe at least seven distinct “surges” by the RFP (e.g., “they surged forward from the North downward into the Northwest and middle-eastern part of the country”), and every time, an RPF “surge” was accompanied by serious local bloodbaths.23 Then, in late 2009, Davenport-Stam reported what they called the “most shocking result” of their research to date: “The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR [i.e., the Hutu-controlled Armed Forces of Rwanda] seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased.”24
With these facts, Davenport-Stam appeared to link the mass killings of 1994 to RPF actions. This work also suggests that the mass killings were not directed against the Tutsi population. Moreover, a number of observers, as well as participants in the events of 1994, claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million.25
Yet 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.26 Clearly, the chief responsibility for Rwandan political violence belonged to the RPF, and not to the ousted coalition government, the FAR, or any Hutu-related group. But Davenport-Stam are inconsistent on the question of likely perpetrators, with their evidence of probable RPF responsibility contradicted by assertions of primary responsibility on the part of the FAR.27
In short, their work does not break away from the mainstream camp, overall. However, they do acknowledge that forms of political violence took place, other than a straightforward Hutu “genocide” against the minority Tutsi—in itself, a rarity in Western circles. As with the suppressed Gersony report, the Davenport-Stam findings caused great dismay at the United Nations, not to mention in Washington and Kigali. Davenport and Stam themselves have been under attack and in retreat since they were expelled from Rwanda in November 2003, upon first reporting that the “majority of the victims of 1994 were of the same ethnicity as the government in power” and have been barred from entering the country ever since.28 The established narrative’s 800,000 or more largely Tutsi deaths resulting from a “preprogrammed genocide” committed by “Hutu Power” appears to have no basis in any facts, beyond the early claims by Kagame’s RPF and its politically motivated Western sponsors and propagandists.
We also know a lot more about “who assassinated Habyarimana.” In one of the most important, and also suppressed, stories about “The Genocide,” former ICTR investigator Michael Hourigan developed evidence as far back as 1996-1997, based on the testimony of three RPF informants who claimed “direct involvement in the 1994 fatal rocket attack upon the President’s aircraft,” and “specifically implicated the direct involvement of [Kagame]” and other members of the RPF. But in early 1997, when Hourigan hand-delivered his evidence to the ICTR’s chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, the latter was “aggressive” and “hostile,” Hourigan recounts in a 2006 affidavit,29 and advised him that the “investigation was at an end because in her view it was not in [the ICTR’s] mandate.” This decision, which “astounded” Hourigan, was rejected by former ICTR chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone, who told a Danish newspaper that the assassination was “clearly related to the genocide,” as it was the “trigger that started the genocide.”30
Suppressing evidence of the assassination’s perpetrator has been crucial in the West, as it seems awkward that the “trigger” for “The Genocide” was ultimately pulled, not by the officially designated Hutu villains, but by the Tutsi victors in this conflict, the RPF, long-supported by the United States and by its close allies (who very possibly aided the assassins in the shoot-down).31 It has also been important to suppress the fact that the first Hutu president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, had been assassinated by Tutsi officers in his army in October 1993, an action celebrated by the RPF and arousing fears among Rwanda’s Hutu.
A far more comprehensive eight-year investigation by the French magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, who had been asked to rule on the deaths of the three French nationals operating the government jet that was shot down in April 1994, concluded that the assassination followed from Kagame’s rejection of the Arusha power-sharing accords of August 1993, and that for Kagame, the “physical elimination” of Habyarimana was therefore essential to achieving the goal of an RPF-takeover in Rwanda.32 Bruguière issued nine arrest warrants for high-ranking RPF members close to Kagame, and requested that the ICTR itself take up Kagame’s prosecution, as under French law, Bruguière could not issue an arrest warrant for a head of state.33
As best we can tell, the existence of Hourigan’s evidence has been reported only once in two U.S. newspapers (the Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times), and never in the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal; Bruguière’s findings were mentioned in several U.S. newspapers (sixteen that we have found), including three short items in the Washington Post, a major report in the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in the Seattle Times), and one blurb apiece in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which totaled ninety-four words.34 Interestingly, the U.S. media have reported fairly often on Bruguière’s work as a “counterterrorism” specialist in France, including several dozen items in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. But when we checked the U.S. media for Bruguière’s eight-year inquiry into mass killings in Rwanda—a case where his focus was on a U.S. client-agent as the primary villain—their interest declines to almost zero.35 The propaganda system works.
The invasions, assassinations, and mass slaughters by which the RPF shot its way to power in Kigali advanced many objectives, and their support by the “enlightened” states are regarded by many of the defense teams that practice before the ICTR as reflecting a quid pro quo between Washington and the RPF: Washington gains a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals’ influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, known as Zaire into 1997); while the RPF renews Tutsi-minority control of Rwanda, and gains a free hand to kill any perceived internal rivals, along with a client state’s usual immunities, money, weapons, foreign investment, and a great deal of international prestige.
One year after ICTY and ICTR chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte (successor to Louise Arbour) opened what she called the “Special Investigation” of the RPF in 2002, she was terminated as chief prosecutor at the ICTR, despite taking her plea directly to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whom Del Ponte called “inflexible” on the question. In her memoirs, Del Ponte recounts a June 2002 meeting with Kagame at his presidential abode in Kigali, during which Kagame, “fuming,” told her: “If you investigate [the RPF], people will believe there were two genocides….All we did was liberate Rwanda.” This was followed by a May 2003 meeting with Pierre-Richard Prosper, the Bush administration’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes, who, in Del Ponte’s words, “backed the Rwandans,” and “suggested that [she] surrender responsibility for investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes of the RPF.” By the time Del Ponte was able to meet with Annan in New York in late July 2003, she told Annan, “This will be the end of the Special Investigation,” to which Annan replied: “Yes. I know.”36
“It is clear that it all started when we embarked on these Special Investigations,” Del Ponte told an interviewer after her position with the ICTR ended, “pressure from Rwanda contributed to the non-renewal of my mandate.”37 Doubtless, pressure from other sources with a lot more clout with the Security Council played an even greater role. Former ICTR (and ICTY) spokesperson Florence Hartmann also recounts extensive interference by the United States, Britain, and Kagame’s RPF in every effort by the Office of the Prosecutor to investigate RPF crimes.38 Hassan Jallow, Del Ponte’s successor at the ICTR, has stated on the record that he does not believe the assassination of Habyarimana belongs within the ICTR’s mandate. Under his charge (from September 2003 on), the Office of the Prosecutor systematically dragged its feet when it came to the crimes of the RPF, always pleading a need to carry out “additional inquiries,” without ever bringing a single indictment.39 Through the end of 2008, 100 percent of the ICTR’s indictments for “serious violations of international humanitarian law” committed during 1994 have been brought against Hutu members of the former government and ethnic Hutus more generally, and none against members of the RPF, despite the ICTR’s Statute, making no distinctions on the basis of ethnicity or political allegiance.40 Neither the RPF’s violent takeover of Rwanda, its massacre of “10,000 or more Hutu civilians” per month in 1994, nor any of its other numerous postwar slaughters, have ever once been disturbed by criminal charges at the ICTR.
Very big lies about Rwanda are now institutionalized and are part of the common (mis)understanding in the West. In reality, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is one of the great mass murderers of our time, far surpassing Uganda’s former dictator Idi Amin.41 Yet, thanks to the remarkable myth structure that surrounds him, he enjoys immense popularity with his chief patron in Washington, his image of big-time killer transmuted into that of an honored savior, deserving strong Western support. Philip Gourevitch, one of Kagame’s prime apologists for many years, portrays him as an emancipator, a “man of action with an acute human and political intelligence,” who “made things happen.” He also compares Kagame to “another famously tall and skinny civil warrior, Abraham Lincoln.”42 A more recent hagiography by Stephen Kinzer portrays Kagame as the founding father of a New Africa, “one of the most amazing untold stories of the modern history of revolution,” as Kinzer explains it, because Kagame overthrew a dictatorship, stopped a genocide, and turned Rwanda into “one of the great stars” of the continent, with Western investment and favorable PR flowing.43 In fact, what Kagame overthrew was a multiethnic, power-sharing, coalition government; what Kagame imposed was a Tutsi-dominated dictatorship; and what Kagame turned Rwanda and the whole of Central Africa into was a rolling genocide that is ongoing. But it is true that he is a shining “star” in the Western firmament and its propaganda system.
According to this same myth structure, “The United States did almost nothing to try to stop [the Hutu genocide],” in Samantha Power’s view, but instead “stood on the sidelines” as “bystanders to genocide.”44 But this is doubly false. What the United States and its Western allies (Britain, Canada, and Belgium) really did was to sponsor the U.S.-trained Kagame; support his invasion of Rwanda from Uganda and the massive ethnic cleansing prior to April 1994; weaken the Rwandan state by forcing an economic recession and the RPF’s penetration of the government and throughout the country; and then press for the complete removal of UN troops. They did this because they didn’t want UN troops to stand in the way of Kagame’s conquest of the country, even though Rwanda’s Hutu authorities were urging the dispatch of more UN troops.45
Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali also wanted to increase UN troop strength,46 and complained bitterly in his memoirs about the “obstruction” caused by the Clinton administration: “The U.S. effort to prevent the effective deployment of a UN force for Rwanda succeeded, with the strong support of Britain,” he wrote; the Security Council “meekly followed the United States’ lead.”47 (We may recall that Samantha Power also claimed that the United States “looked away” when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, when in fact the United States gave Indonesia the go-ahead, the arms to carry out the invasion, and diplomatic protection in the United Nations. Whenever the United States colludes in a genocidal process, Power pretends that U.S. guilt, at worst, comes from remaining a mere “bystander”; never from acting as an accomplice, let alone a perpetrator.)
In the Rwanda “genocide” case, the “human rights” community played an unusually active role in supporting the real aggressors and killers, in close parallel with their own governments’ perspectives and policies. As in the case of the Western aggressions against Yugoslavia (1999) and Iraq (2003), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other nongovernmental organizations simply ignored the “supreme international crime” (or “act of aggression by Uganda,” in Herman Cohen’s phrase), while conveniently, and in hugely biased fashion, paying attention to lesser human rights violations.48 They downplayed or ignored entirely the refugee crisis created by the Ugandan-RPF invasion and occupation of northern Rwanda and the armed penetration and de facto subversion of the rest of the country by the RPF. Every response to these by the Habyarimana government, from October 1990 on, was scrutinized for “human rights” violations and framed as evidence of unlawful state repression. The NGOs systematically evaded the massive evidence of RPF responsibility for the April 6, 1994, shoot-down, surely because the finding conflicts with their deep commitment to the model of a preplanned Hutu genocide and the RPF’s self-defensive rescue of Rwanda—the twin components of the established perpetrator-victim line. We believe that their biases played an important role in supporting the RPF’s aggression, its penetration of the country, and the execution of its final assault on power. Above all, we believe that their biases and propaganda contributed substantially to the mass killings that followed—all in accord with the needs of actual U.S. policy.
On March 8, 1993, just days before the Security Council took up the situation in Rwanda for the first time, a consortium of four human rights organizations led by Human Rights Watch and calling itself the International Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda issued its Report.49 The Commission concluded that, rather than Rwanda’s having suffered an invasion by Uganda, from which the Habyarimana government had yet to liberate its country, the Habyarimana government was instead guilty of something very close to a genocidal rampage against the country’s Tutsi minority, with 2,000 dead since October 1990, “systematic killings,” widespread rape, and a “climate of terror.”50 Alison Des Forges, one of the Commission’s co-chairs, later commented that this report “put Rwandan human rights abuses squarely before the international community.”51 But it was only the Habyarimana government’s alleged abuses on which the Commission focused.
The Commission produced its report after its members spent no more than two weeks on the ground in Rwanda in January of that year, and only two hours in territory controlled by the RPF. The Commission itself had close ties to the RPF, its sponsors “either directly funded by the RPF or infiltrated by it,” Robin Philpot reports.52 Prior to her work on this Commission, Des Forges had worked for the U.S. Department of State and National Security Council.
William Schabas, a Canadian member of the Commission, issued a press release at the time the full report was released that bore the title “Genocide and War Crimes in Rwanda”53—drawing attention to a category of crime that not even the establishment narrative alleges was to begin for another thirteen months. Stressing that, in the work of the Commission the “word genocide has been mentioned on a number of occasions,” Daniel Jacoby, the president of the International Federation of Human Rights League, stated that the situation in Rwanda “is not simply an ethnic confrontation. It goes beyond that. Responsibility for the killings can be placed extremely high.”54 Human Rights Watch’s annual World Report covering 1993 noted that, when the RPF launched its major offensive that year, “it justified the offensive in part by the need to counter human rights abuses of the Rwanda government” such as those put squarely before the world by the Commission’s report. In short, with the brunt of its findings coming down against the Habyarimana government, the Commission’s work served to delegitimize the government of Rwanda and enhance the legitimacy of the armed forces of the RPF. As the RPF quickly used the Commission’s claims to justify a new killing spree, we believe the case can be made that the overall impact of this report—and of the work of HRW and its allies with respect to Rwanda over the past two decades—was to underwrite the mass killings to follow, including the vast numbers in the DRC, regularly explained as carried out by the benevolent RPF and Uganda in search of Hutu “génocidaires.”
In a study we conducted for The Politics of Genocide, we found that the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda were referred to as “genocide” more frequently than in any other theater of atrocities—i.e., 3,199, or nearly triple the number for Darfur.55 This, we believe, follows from the successful framing of the Hutus as the villains, executing a preplanned “genocide” against the Tutsis (a nefarious and mythical bloodbath at one and the same time) and Kagame’s RPF as the defender-savior of the Tutsis and of Rwanda and Central Africa as a whole, with the RPF unexpectedly finding itself one day the new power in the country. But it also cleared the ground for Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni—Kagame’s ally and the two staunchest U.S. clients in the region—to invade and occupy the DRC and beyond periodically, without opposition from the “international community.”
The Pentagon has very actively supported these invasions of the DRC, even more heavily than it supported the RPF’s drive to take Kigali. This support led to the killing of many thousands of Hutu refugees in a series of mass slaughters (ca. 1994-1997), and also provided cover for a greater series of Kagame-Museveni assaults on the DRC that have destabilized life in this large country of perhaps sixty million people, with millions perishing in the process.56 In his letter of resignation to Chief Prosecutor Hassan Jallow, Filip Rentjens, a Dutch academic and one-time expert witness before the ICTR, took issue with the “impunity” that protects the RPF leadership from prosecution. “[RPF] crimes fall squarely within the mandate of the ICTR,” he wrote. “[T]hey are well documented, testimonial and material proof is available, and the identity of the RPF suspects is known….It is precisely because the regime in Kigali has been given a sense of impunity that, during the years following 1994, it has committed massive internationally recognized crimes in both Rwanda and the DRC.”57
This again has been compatible with Western interests and policy, as it contributed to the replacement of Mobutu with the more amenable Laurent Kabila (and later his son Joseph), and the opening up of the DRC to a new surge of ruthless exploitation of precious gems, rare industrial minerals, and timber by Western companies in a different kind of “resource war”—a fine illustration of “shock therapy” with murderous human consequences for the Congolese people. This plunder is the equivalent of “one tsunami every six months” for more than a decade,58 but with large gains for a small business and military elite. In a series of UN reports, which coined the phrase “elite networks” to denote the “politically and economically powerful groups involved in the exploitation activities” that lie at the heart of the DRC genocide, we read that “The war economy controlled by the three elite networks [Kinshasa, Kigali, and Kampala] operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo dominates the economic activities of much of the Great Lakes region….Years of lawlessness and a Government incapable of protecting its citizens have allowed the armed groups to loot and plunder the country’s resources with impunity….They have built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation”—and sales to the transnationals that manufacture the personal computers and cell phones of our everyday lives.59
The U.S.-supported leaders Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni have undeniably been key actors in the terrible bloodbaths of the DRC. Considering their U.S. support, these were benign bloodbaths, in contrast with killings in Darfur or Kosovo. In research for our book, we found that in only seventeen items in the large number of newspapers we surveyed did someone refer to deaths in the DRC as “genocide.” This amounted to one “genocide” reference for every 317,647 deaths (based on an estimated 5,400,000 deaths for the period under consideration). When we contrast this with how the same newspapers treated, say, the nefarious bloodbath of the Kosovo Albanians that was attributable to an official enemy, where only twelve deaths were necessary to receive one “genocide” reference,60 the basic outline of the politics of genocide could not be made more stark or clear.