Monday, April 12, 2004

Rwanda Revisited II: the Black Box

French troops (right) and Hutu militiamen
"Now that the Tutsi girls are all dead, it's your chance." — RTLM radio advising Hutu women to gussy themselves up for French troops.
Apologies for not getting to this second installment sooner. This is a large and demanding subject so it's tough to find enough free time to put it all together. Also, our friends at blogger had an emotional episode yesterday and I couldn't post.

On Wednesday, I wrote that I would try to put all the latest developments "in one place." I failed miserably, as the length of this followup shows.

Summary of the previous post on this matter:

Following the publication last March of excerpts from the final report of an investigation by the anti-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, well-placed witnesses are now openly stating that Rwandan president Kagame (whose racial views they say discounted the humanity of Rwandan Tutsis — who, unlike himself, had remained in the country after 1959), actively sought to provoke the genocide for his own political gain. Furthermore, the report has badly embarrassed Kofi Annan and called into question his competence during his time as head of UN peacekeeping operations (March 1993 - December 1996) — a failure he now regrets — by unearthing the presence at UN headquarters in New York of the cockpit voice recorder that came from former Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane, which was shot down in the hours that preceded the start of the genocide, an act widely viewed as the genocide's precipitating event. The CVR had sat unnoticed for ten years but was "miraculously" discovered within 48 hours of Le Monde's revelations.

Annan has expressed astonishment at the find and claims that he actively participated with Bruguière's investigation though Bruguière's assistants assert that the opposite is true. Furthermore, the report brings to light the fact that both the UN and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda failed to investigate, going even so far in some instances as to take investigators off the case and bury an official report on atrocities committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the leader of which, Paul Kagame, is now president of Rwanda. Annan also refused to testify before a Belgian fact-finding mission and refused to allow General Roméo Dallaire, leader of UNAMIR, to do so either. Annan wrote that UN officials have "immunity from legal process in respect of their official acts."

Kagame has attempted to divert attention from the Bruguière's findings by accusing France of direct and indirect complicity in the genocide. That France bears a very serious share of responsibility for what happened in those months is not in doubt. A fact-finding mission by the French parliament arrived at very damning conclusions and a book on the matter has just been published that essentially corroborates Kagame's accusations.

Nevertheless, this does not alter the significance that Bruguière's findings have in relation to the nature of the man who is now leading the Rwandan government. Rather than a leader seeking to heal his country, the report suggests that its current president actively tried to provoke Africa's greatest ever genocide. It will also color public views of Rwanda's participation in the conflict in neighboring Congo, where local journalists accuse Rwanda of having plundered natural resources to spend the proceeds on the lush redevelopment of Kigali where, among other grand buildings, a five star hotel has been completed that charges prices few Rwandans, many of whom are struggling to eke out a living from farming, could ever afford.

Furthermore, it makes the current Belgian government appear rather novice: in his eagerness to demonstrate Belgium's newfound repentance and virtue, prime minister Verhofstadt may have rushed into a situation the cynical reality of which escaped him. When Le Monde published Bruiguière's findings, Kagame was on official visit to Belgium, meeting with Verhofstadt and King Albert II. Neither of them can have been too pleased to appear at joint press conferences with a guest who faced questions of this nature.

New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch's outraged book We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families also relied heavily on accounts provided by Kagame, making Gourevitch appear somewhat credulous in retrospect.

Last Thursday, Rwandan authorities held ceremonies in Kigali to mark the tenth anniversary of the genocide.

As part of a week long commemoration of the genocide, President Kagame spoke to a crowd of 65,000 inside the Amahoro ("peace" in kinyarwanda) national football stadium. The Belgian government has built a national memorial on a Kigali hilltop where survivors gathered on the 7th to bury 20 coffins holding the remains of hundreds of victims recently excavated from mass graves. Kagame then lit a flame that will burn for 100 days (the duration of the genocide) outside the newly built Kigali National Memorial Center.

The commemorations started with burial ceremony. Survivors draped in violet, the Rwandan color of mourning, sang in memory of the dead while their remains were lowered into the gigantic crypts of the memorial. Sobbing became increasingly audible in the stadium.

In the middle the packed crowd, someone shouted. "It was our neighbors. They killed us! They killed us all!" A woman overcome with emotion attempted to hurl herself down the steps and rows of chairs collapsed. She was removed with some difficulty. Similar dramas broke out in the stadium. "Who among us didn't shudder on hearing the cry that pierced our assembly?" asked African Unity president Alpha Oumar Konaré.

EU representative Brian Cowen, who is Irish minister for Foreign Affairs, was present at the ceremonies as was Belgian prime minister Verhofstadt and his 200 person retinue. "We failed in our most basic duty," said Verhofstadt. "Our duty of intervention and humanity."

Though he had been invited by Rwandan authorities, French undersecretary for foreign affairs Renaud Muselier decided to cut his trip short following president Kagame's accusations of complicity in the genocide.

Rwandan President Kagamé took the opportunity to berate France yet again: "they knowingly trained and armed the soldiers and militias who were to commit a genocide and they knew they were going to commit this genocide," he said. "The French deliberately saved the killers without protecting the victims." Most explosively, Kagamé also claimed that, during a Paris visit two years before the genocide, when his rebel forces were advancing on Rwanda, he was warned that, if his forces didn't stop their advance, "they wouldn't find any more of their own kind when the got to Kigali." The French "have the audacity to stand there without apologizing," he said.

On Thursday morning, French president Chirac observed a moment of silence for the victims. But following Kagamé's remarks at the ceremony, the MFA released the following statement: "Accusations that are both grave and unfounded have been leveled against France. This is why the decision has been made to shorten the Foreign Affairs undersecretary's stay in Kigali."

And fast and furious developments are continuously arising. The Rwandan government is now fixing the number of people killed, and whose names and places of death have been identified, at 937,000.

This month, British author Linda Melvern published a book that contains information from a transcript of the interrogation of former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda, currently serving a life sentence for genocide. The BBC is reporting that a ICTR prosecutor Barbara Mulvaney flew to London to question Melvern about how she obtained the transcript (Melvern declined to reveal this, of course).

The BBC say that Kambanda's testimony "goes into remarkable detail" about how the genocide was organized. Some remarkable detail:
Interrogator: "Did any Tutsi complain to you?
Kambanda: "I did not have any."
"You did not have any. Do you have any information about what happened to the people whose ethnic origin was Tutsi?"
"They killed them."
"They killed them?"
"They killed them."
"It was the norm, wasn't it? They looted the Hutu and killed the Tutsi?"
The genocide was anything but a spontaneous explosion of violence, as many have long assumed, but rather an operation orchestrated by Hutu extremists from Rwanda's north attempting to maintain their hold on power. Melvern uses this and other documents to demonstrate the meticulous premeditation of the killing, revealing, for instance, Kambanda's testimony on cabinet-level discussions about the genocide. She also reveals that the Rwandan government imported $750,000 worth of Chinese machetes (enough to arm one in every three Rwanda men). Mulvern also discusses arms imports from France and Egypt shortly before the genocide and offers an "insider's account of the roadblocks where so many Tutsi lost their lives." Many of the road blocks were manned by French troops.

However, these revelations merely confirm what has long been known: the UN received a telegram on January 11, 1994 from its local force commander Roméo Dallaire who has since published a book on "the failure of Humanity in Rwanda." Dallaire sought protection for the wife and family of an informant, as well as the informant himself, who told Dallaire of Hutu plans for the Tutsi genocide and of the location of interahamwe arms caches. The informant revealed that all Tutsi in Kigali had been registered by the government and that Interahamwe personnel could kill 1,000 in as little as twenty minutes. Kofi Annan replied the same day telling Dallaire to inform president Habyarimana of the informant's statements — though the president's men were the ones they implicated.

Last february and March, filmmaker Georges Kapler filmed interviews with three Interahamwe militiamen which he presented in Paris. The three men say they were "trained and assisted" by France and one of them, Jean-Bosco Halimana, says that "the French gave us a license to kill. They came to support the genocide in a clear and visible manner."

Continue reading "Rwanda Revisited II: the Black Box"...

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