April 6th 1994
First published in my old blog 24 Nov 2006 – Pasteur Bizimungu was released and pardoned in 2007
April 6th 1994
A French judge yesterday issued warrants for nine aides of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s government. The arrests relate to the shooting down of then President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane, the crew of which were largely French, on the 6th of April 1994. Kagame himself is immune from prosecution as Head of State.
The death of President Habyarimana is often referred to as the spark which ignited the Rwandan genocide of 1994, a 100 day massacre during which 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered. It’s worth pointing out that all anyone required to qualify as a Hutu moderate was not helping to murder Tutsi men, women and children. In the disorder following the death of Habyarimana, Hutu power extremists took control of the government and all mass media.
“Radio announcers reminded listeners not to take pity on women and children. As an added incentive to the killers, Tutsis’ belongings were parcelled out in advance – the radio, the couch, the goat, the opportunity to rape a young girl. A councilwoman in one Kigali neighbourhood was reported to have offered fifty Rwandan francs apiece (about thirty cents at the time) for severed Tutsi heads, a practice known as “selling cabbages.” ” –‘We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families’ Philip Gourevitch
This genocide was carried out at a faster rate than the Holocaust, yet following the disaster in Somalia, UN permanent members, most notably the USA, Britain and France, did their best to completely avoid becoming involved in the situation. Mounting and indisputable evidence that agenocide was taking place was stepped around and ignored because actually using the word ‘genocide’ meant that the UN, under the rules set down following WWII, would have to take action.
The skeleton UN Force headed by Lt. General Romeo Dallaire begged constantly for any help, any supplies, any mandate that would allow them to do something other than stand by and watch as innocents were murdered and the country fell apart. These requests fell on deaf ears (Dallaire, who had clocked up nearly thirty years army experience prior to his assignment in Rwanda, never recovered from the scenes he witnessed there. He co-authored a book recounting his time in Rwanda, entitled ‘Shake Hands With the Devil’ called so because “…in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists…”). When France did eventually send reinforcements, under the code name ‘Operation Turquoise’ their only mandate was to evacuate foreign nationals as quickly as possible, leaving the rest to their fate.
It has never been officially resolved who the responsibility for the death of Habyarimana lay with. News reports at the time blamed this on the RPF, orRwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF, led by Paul Kagame, was a guerrilla group made up of exiled Tutsi’s and moderate Hutus (Rwanda had seen previous mass killings of Tutsi’s and many had fled for their lives. These killings and the eventual genocide of 1994 are often put down to ancient ethnic tensions between the two groups, yet there was no violence between Hutus and Tutsis before colonialists, seeing the more European features - thinner lips and noses, lighter skin – of the Tutsi minority, declared them the Rwandan master race). Although all conclusions put forward by the media and government at the time pointed to the RPF, the conclusion come to by most unbiased observers was that Hutu extremists within the Presidential Guard had been responsible. The UN was already in town, trying to broker a deal called The Arusha Accords, which would have seen a more balanced form of Rwandan government, and hopefully an end to the violence which kept the country on a constant knife edge. Before his death, rumour had been rife that the Hutu Power movement, whose grip on the government was set to be loosened by the Arusha Accords, were unhappy with his ‘appeasement’ of Tutsis and the West. Lists were already being drawn up of Rwandan Tutsis and where they could be found. The belief that Hutu Power was the guilty party was only reinforced when the RGF (Rwandanese Government Forces) immediately took over the crash site, refusing to let any independent investigators, including the UN, in.
The genocide in Rwanda was eventually ended when the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, took Kigali, the Rwandan capital. As the RPF advanced, two million Hutus fled before them, looting and burning as they went, and eventually causing a refugee crisis in Congo. (This directly and indirectly contributed to the First and Second Congo Wars, the latter having also been dubbed “Africa’s World War.” )
In the time since, Rwanda has surprised the world by not imploding. The most obvious problems were how to rebuild a nation where the attackers and the attacked would have to live together side by side and how to properly punish those guilty of murder when almost everyone was guilty? In response Rwanda set up an internal tribunal, and has tried to reserve the harshest punishment for those who instigated acts of genocide. Standards in health care and education are rising, and although their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is rated 160th in the world, they are still ahead of Mozambique, Congo, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Zambia, Niger, Ethiopia, Burundi, Tanzania and Malawi.
The accusations against Paul Kagames government have caused a 25,000 strong protest in Kigali, with marchers carrying slogans asking the French if they wish to be responsible for ”another” genocide. Though Belgium were the original colonialists, France and Rwanda maintained close ties up until the genocide. Many in Rwanda, including the Kagame government have accused France of supplying arms and training to the Interahamwe (inKinyarwanda, the national language, this translates as ‘those who attack together’), a branch of the Hutu Power movement who zealously carried out and encouraged others to carry out, horrific acts of murder. Indeed, when Operation Turquoise, a UN force, arrived, the killers did not greet them with fear, as also reported by Gourevitch -
“The next day, the first French troops of Operation Turquoise rolled fromGoma into northwestern Rwanda, where they were welcomed by enthralled bands of interahamwe – singing, waving French tricolor flags, and carrying signs with slogans like “Welcome French Hutus” – while a disc jockey atRTLM advised Hutu women to gussy themselves up for the white men, taunting, “Now that the Tutsi girls are all dead, it’s your chance.” “
However, while the arrest warrants issued by the French do appear to be yet another lesson in the less-and-less subtle art of misdirection, it does give an opportunity to put the Kagame government under more scrutiny. While undoubtably the saviour of Rwanda twelve years ago, much has changed since then, most notably the fortunes of Pasteur Bizimungu, who served as Rwandan President from 1994-2000. Bizimungu, a moderate Hutu and former close friend of Kagame’s, was seen by some as merely a figurehead for a new, united Rwanda, with Kagame pulling the strings from his Vice-Presidential post. Kagame eventually became President in 2000, after Bizimungu was deposed for alledged incitement of racial hatred, although he always maintained he merely criticised the harsh punishments doled out to anyone deemed guilty of ‘dissent.’ Kagame has been criticised for his unwillingness to allow a free press, and for the intimidation of journalists, most notably those who have attempted to investigate the events leading up to Bizimungus removal, arrest and eventual imprisonment.
Following WWII strict laws were laid down in Germany regarding what could and could not be said about the Holocaust, the war itself, and groups who had been targeted, and this was in a country where the victims and the perpetrators were not expected to live together. In the West today we may believe we have a free press – perhaps sometimes too free – but the truth is that corporate intimidation has attempted to surpress details of scandals we have heard about -such as the effects of Thalidomide on unborn childrenand the number of convicted sex offenders employed by Disney theme parks – and has probably been extremely successful in supressing details of many that we have not.
In the case of Paul Kagame, it is understandable that he would wish to try to avoid further uprisings of violence, but as any former guerilla leader should know, gagging the press is more likely to result in the raising of hackles and suspicion, than in the building of a secure state.