Academics, Lawyers and Journalists Joined in Genocide Denial

Posted: August 30, 2010 in Genocide Denial
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By: Tom Ndahiro

What does it mean to deny past atrocities like genocide? How does it affect the future of a country like Rwanda where it was carried out? How does it affect the memories of surviving victims and families of those who have been permanently silenced by perpetrators? What of the negative message to the rest of the world, the denial of the life of certain groups of people, and the implications for prevention of future atrocities?

The arrest of American Law Professor Peter Erlinder in Kigali, Rwanda on May 28, 2010 by Rwandan authorities was an important historical moment in how the fact and the rhetoric of genocide denial operates in the international arena.

The reaction to Erlinder’s trial on charges of genocide denial by many in the Western media reporters, academics and government officials says much about the continued use of double standards to judge this genocide in Africa compared to its counterparts – the Holocaust – in Europe.

History has repeated itself. The US government, in the summer of 1994, denied for as long as it could that genocide was happening in Rwanda. In June 2010 a different US government pleaded for Erlinder, apparently defending his right to say the genocide of 1994 never happened. P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman, told reporters on June 3, 2010 that U.S. officials were closely monitoring Erlinder’s situation and they have been in touch with officials in Rwanda. “We want to be sure that he is accorded all of his rights,” Crowley said. “We are pressing the Rwandan government to resolve this case quickly and would like to see him released on compassionate grounds.”

It has not been forgotten that in 1994, the United States Ambassador to Rwanda, David Rawson, had advised his government to frankly deny that genocide was happening, even when though this was a ‘genocide foretold’. As Rawson put it: “As a responsible Government, you don’t just go around hollering ‘genocide…You say that acts of genocide may have occurred and they need to be investigated.”  This wording made it impossible to mobilise the UN troops committed but never delivered, and to save more than a fraction of the lives that could have been saved.  As Herman Cohen, US former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, put it, the US government at that time adopted a “wimpish approach” on the genocide in Rwanda.  As Cohen said, what had happened in Rwanda, and what was going on “must be called genocide.”[1] As we know, his call, like those of others (for example Roger Winter who lobbied the State Department hard in 1994) went unheeded.

This time the wimpish approach is not only just from the US government but also from Erlinder’s supporters, who equate legal suppression of genocide denial with persecution.  They claim the arrest is not justifiable; yet arrests for Holocaust denial in Europe are rarely questioned, except (precisely) by Holocaust deniers themselves.  So is this really an attack on free speech?   Is the Rwandan government justified in arresting and charging Erlinder?

On 31 May 2010, the Wall Street Journal Europe edition carried a story on Erlinder’s arrest. The article cited this as an example of: “When free societies tolerate the foolish, the offensive … the unhelpful.”  Erlinder himself is described as a lawyer who “has spoken for suspected genocidaires, and has long been a critic of the Rwandan government.”  It is implied that this makes him a heroic advocate of democratic freedoms and human rights. But he can also be regarded as a fellow traveler along the road littered with the very racialist and denialist ideologies that led to the 1994 genocide in the first place.  Not untypically, this possibility is not even mentioned in the article.

The Wall Street Journal’s conclusion in this case is interesting: “Mr. Erlinder’s views seem foolish, offensive, and ultimately unhelpful to the cause of liberty he claims to champion. But therein lies the test of the free society: tolerance of the foolish, the offensive, and even the unhelpful.”  By claiming that it is responsible to tolerate the irresponsible, this article parallels the tolerance of the rise of genocidal ideologies in an earlier era.  The same tolerance was found in the editorials of Weimar Republic press as Hitler rose to power in 1933.  It is both dangerously naïve and malignly disingenuous to remove the means to tackle those who spread genocide denialist ideology, and then to weep over the consequences of failing to do so, when genocide predictably occurs.

The Wall Street Journal article attempts to bridge the chasm the author is straddling, by pointing out that: “not a full generation has passed since Rwanda’s genocide, which transformed every citizen into either a perpetrator or a target. Speech that elsewhere would merely outrage could easily inspire violence in Rwanda”.  The article then points out, rehearsing its conclusion: “That, though, is the risk Rwandans must take if they are to safeguard the civil society… The views expressed by Mr. Erlinder and Ms. Ingabire might be a threat to Rwandan stability. But denying their right to express them poses the greater threat.”[2]

How easy it is to make such bets on the lives of others, who live far away.  Here the concern seems to be not with the safety of Rwandans themselves, but with the much sought after safety of the West from the contagion of real and existential risks of genocide elsewhere.  Hence, this false choice, between ‘free speech’ and ‘safeguarding civil society.’ The Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages have certainly not adopted such an approach to America’s others face. It is always interesting to observe how people far removed from the real and existential dangers others face can be extremely sanguine and even cavalier about those dangers. As the saying goes, abstraction is always best in the third or second person, never in the first:  one should do this or you should do that, never should I do it.

It is strange that the WSJ and other mainstream newspapers in the US have been anything but abstract and vague about the threat posed to the United States civil society by Islamist groups, seen in recent years as the key ‘security risk’ to US society.  The majority of op-eds have been supportive of a safety-first mindset when it comes to the maintenance of American security and pre-eminence in the ‘War on Terror’.

Such standards of high security and safety are apparently not seen as relevant for Rwandans, who must risk their safety by allowing others to propagate hatred and denialist ideologies.  Rwandans lives are held in the balance between genocide denial – which is nothing less the counterpart of genocide ideologies – and the virtues of democratic free speech.  The US media – the Wall Street Journal included – has for the most part avidly supported US wars in the Islamic world which are seen as confronting the potential (rather than actual) dangers their country faces from ‘radicalisation’ in those regions and at home.  Yet in the face of much more tangible risks to their physical and economic security, to their safety and peaceful cohabitation, Rwandans are supposed to be not only forgetful, but forgiving of all forms of hatred and divisiveness in the name of free speech.

Nobody can claim that ‘ideology’ is not related to social action, any longer.  The media trials at the International Criminal Tribunal have shown, legally, that ‘talking’ genocide is a crime of genocide, and have resulted in long sentences for journalists and one musician.  Allowing genocide denial in academic research, or in speech, and media expression does not assist with constructing democracy.  If someone shouts “fire!” in a crowded theatre, it may be hard to stop them, but to seek to make this a crime is justified by the fact that falsely shouting fire can lead to people being trampled to death.  Fifteen years ago, Rwandans thought the world was serious about its pledges on ‘Never Again’ and full recovery from the genocide.  Today, however, it seems from most reactions to Erlinder’s arrest and prosecution by reputable newspapers and international statesmen, that world opinion remains paralysed by its inability to acknowledge that genocide really did occur in Rwanda, and that genocide ideology remains a threat to Rwandans’ peace and security today.

Amnesia can lead us to believe that even a country that lost more than a million of its people in a genocide that was executed in broad daylight just 16 years ago should now show tolerance, for the sake of democracy and free speech, of those academics, politicians and others who minimize the significance of what happened, claiming that complete annihilation of an entire group of people was not the agenda of the genocide, but something else.  Such carelessness, in a generally silent and uncaring world, can only reinforce the resolve of the still many unremorseful genocidaires – especially those outside Rwanda — who feel empowered by their well-connected, well-funded and ‘respectable’ groups of supporters and would-be deniers.

Erlinder: a pathological denier

Some basic facts should be stated before discussing in detail why I claim that genocide denialism is the central quality of Erlinder’s entire approach to 1994 in Rwanda. Before Erlinder joined the ICTR in 2003, to act as a defence attorney for those accused of genocide, several ICTR judgements established the existence of a plan of genocide, which was a deliberate, pre-meditated process, not something spontaneous or simply ad=hoc, but organised and designed in advance. Here is one such judgement from June 1, 2001:[3]

“The number of the Tutsi victims is clear evidence of intent to destroy this ethnic group in whole or in part (my emphasis) (para.533)

“The ICTR recognized the Tutsi genocide as “meticulously planned and systematically co-ordinated” by top level Hutu extremists in the former Rwandan government at the time in question.  The reasons given for this conclusion are: “the widespread nature of the attacks and the sheer number of those who perished within just three months” and the participation of the militias and the Hutu population “who had been convinced by these extremists that the Tutsi population, in fact, was the enemy and responsible for the downing of President Habyarimana’s airplane.” (Para. 289)

“A plan of genocide existed and perpetrators executed this plan in Rwanda between April and June 1994.  (Para.291)

On June 16, 2006, the ICTR then made a historic judgment:

“Genocide consists of certain acts, including killing, undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such. There is no reasonable basis for anyone to dispute that, during 1994, there was a campaign of mass killing intended to destroy, in whole or at least in very large part, Rwanda’s Tutsi population, which (as judicially noticed by the Trial Chamber) was a protected group (my emphasis). That campaign was, to a terrible degree, successful; although exact numbers may never be known, the great majority of Tutsis were murdered, and many others were raped or otherwise harmed. These basic facts were broadly known even at the time of the Tribunal’s establishment; indeed, reports indicating that genocide occurred in Rwanda were a key impetus for its establishment, as reflected in the Security Council resolution establishing it and even the name of the Tribunal. During its early history, it was valuable for the purpose of the historical record for Trial Chambers to gather evidence documenting the overall course of the genocide and to enter findings of fact on the basis of that evidence.  Trial and Appeal Judgements thereby produced (while varying as to the responsibility of particular accused) have unanimously and decisively confirmed the occurrence of genocide in Rwanda, which has also been documented by countless books, scholarly articles, media reports, U.N. reports and resolutions, national court decisions, and government and NGO reports. At this stage, the Tribunal need not demand further documentation.  The fact of the Rwandan genocide is a part of world history, a fact as certain as any other, a classic instance of a “fact of common knowledge.”[4]

Such was the position of the internationally appointed and staffed court in which Erlinder was appointed defence counsel. These statements were not written by the Rwandan government or by Rwandan survivors of the genocide but by persons appointed and sustained by the United Nations, judges trained to consider evidence and draw valid and reasonable conclusions. Erlinder though showed his contempt for these judgements, claiming that here was a vast cover-up, even a conspiracy. He claimed this conspiracy had been hatched together by the Americans and the UN (ironically the very actors that helped to deny genocide in 1994).  His conspiracy theory is clearly outlined in his paper, ‘The Rwanda War Crimes Cover-up: UN Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has confirmed the cover-up’, which was published by Global Research on September 3, 2009. In this paper, Instead of criticising those who deny the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, Erlinder praises some of these as ‘serious domestic opposition’. He claims that their freedom of speech must be respected at any price. Rwanda, he writes, is “where dissidents are usually accused of genocidal tendencies, live in fear, or exile, or both.” In another paper titled ‘Bush and other war criminals meet in Rwanda: the great “Rwanda genocide”– cover-up’, Erlinder says Presidents George Bush, British Premier Tony Blair and Rwandan president Paul Kagame, “stand accused of war crimes, and are mutually benefiting from the US/UK/Rwandan “cover-up” of their own complicity in the “Rwandan Genocide” tragedy….that should put all three in the dock at the UN-ICTR.”

The trouble with Erlinder’s conspiracy theory is that it covers over the true conspiracy: the genocide that actually took place and is still being denied, including in the pseudo-academic and legal research that Erlinder himself produces.  One of his recent essays is shockingly entitled: ‘Rwanda: No Conspiracy, No Genocide Planning … No Genocide?’ published by the JURIST on December 23, 2008 and by Global Research a few weeks later.   Here is just one nugget from this piece: “If there was no conspiracy and no planning to kill ethnic (i.e., Tutsi) civilians, can the tragedy that engulfed Rwanda properly be called “a genocide” at all? Or, was it closer to a case of civilians being caught up in war-time violence, like the Eastern Front in WWII, rather than the planned behind-the-lines killings in Nazi death camps? The ICTR judgment found the former.”

Clearly, forever seeking publicity for his views, Erlinder cannot be described as a man who harbours genocide denial ideology only in private. He is a prolific and widely read author of such counter-factual propaganda, a great dissembler of established historical truths through the invention of almost unhinged conspiracy theories that vie with those of Pat Robertson.  He is as guilty of genocide denial as David Irving is guilty of Holocaust denial, which surely comes to the same thing.  Irving, a British historian, was jailed in Austria in 2006 for the crime of denying the Holocaust and it has been established as legal fact that Holocaust denial is illegal in most of Europe.  If Erlinder were speaking of the Holocaust in terms similar to those he uses for the Rwanda genocide, whether in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania or Slovakia, then he could be arrested and charged, just as he has been in Rwanda.  Alas, it seems that since he is speaking of Rwanda, he may say what he pleases and is supposed to be able to do so with impunity.  It would appear that the world expects Rwandans to hold themselves to lower standards of security, intellectual honesty and memory, than Europeans and the diasporas of Jewish and Romani peoples in the US and elsewhere.

The Rwandan genocide was not an action born of spontaneous hatred, or some violent massacre hatched up at a moment’s notice by men and women in the blind grip of unreasoning fear and fury.  It was an idea, an ideology, which became embodied in a longer-term plan, translated through preparation and laws into an intention, and meant to create a new Rwanda permanently devoid of Tutsis. To deny the genocide, therefore, today is to deny that this ideology exercised its powerful hold on minds, on resources, on government actions.  To maintain the life of genocide ideas is to give hope and life to those who might think that extermination of a people should continue in the future.

This is part of Erlinder’s responsibility, and of all genocide denial journalists, scholars and politicians.  They become fellow travellers with those who sharpen and prepare their weapons to kill innocent civilians. The forces of destruction and mass murder involved in genocide purely violent; they are always accompanied by a violent ideology, that usually denies in advance, and with hindsight, that genocide is what it is; intent to annihilate innocents.  Erlinder’s research, his theories of conspiracy and genocide-as-civil-war-mutual slaughter muddy the waters; they blind an ill-informed Western public to the facts of history.  His words put Erlinder in the dock, under Rwandan law, and not the hatred or prejudice of his accusers.

Confusions and defending the indefensible

A recent Associated Press story ‘Rwanda Charges American over Articles’ as published by The New York Times of June 5, 2010 provides a caricature of the US view of what Rwanda can and cannot do in relation to those who deny the genocide of 1994.  This article claims to detect, in the arrest and accusation of Erlinder only: “the latest sign of increasing repression before national elections in August.”

This article quotes Mr. Erlinder saying to the Rwandan court: “It is the first time I have come to know that my obscure publications back in America were that bad and could amount to genocide denial.” As a tenacious genocide denier, who has been much criticised, Erlinder cannot be genuine in this claim.  He is also quoted in the New York Times article as saying that whilst Mr. Kagame’s political party might dispute his writings, “not all Rwandans” would do so.   In this, Erlinder is showing that he is ’taking sides’ and belongs to those who find it acceptable to disseminate the views of denialist Rwandan genocidaires, and their friends, relatives and supporters, who find it impossible to consider the genocide without inventing ideologies that exonerate them of any guilt.  Since their guilt is a matter of record, the best way is by claiming that it was ‘war’, and that therefore their actions during the genocide should be judged as ‘obedience to authority in wartime’, not a crime comparable to genocide.

Sometimes denial comes from surprising sources, including on the far left.  This is not new.  On February 14, 2009 the World Socialist Website published a letter from Erlinder, in which he claims: “Yes, it is true that the Rwandan Tragedy … some call genocide …was a product of Imperialism.”  The ‘some’ who call it genocide, as has been confirmed already by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, includes almost all serious historians, scholars and journalists who have worked on events in Rwanda in 1994.  Erlinder dishonestly implies that opinion is divided on the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994.

Erlinder understands the genocide as being part of “the four-year Rwanda War and the massive civilian killings in the war’s final 90-days”.[5] He tries to validate this belief by stating: “If you will Google my name, you will see that the alternative story, which properly places the violence in Africa in its proper neo-colonial and imperialist context, is available … and increasingly so”.  He seems to claim that Google is the new arbiter of truth, an astonishing claim given the amount of acknowledged ‘rubbish’ and hate propaganda on the internet.  Finally, Erlinder claims that: “The four-year war resumed after the apparent assassination and hundreds of thousands of civilians lost their lives in the month that followed in what has come to be called the ‘Rwanda Genocide’”.[6] Even his inverted commas insult those who died in the genocide and the survivors of genocide today.

In Erlinder’s scheme, highly placed conspirators in the International Community, mounted a cover-up for the killing of Hutu.  The genocide, where the West refused to intervene to stop genocide of Tutsi and killing of Hutu who were against the slaughter, was not what it seemed.  This is Erlinder’s special ‘brand’ of denial; that a deception has been carried out, and that the ‘truth’ about the genocide is being revealed by Erlinder.  The ICTR then, in his view, becomes part of the cover-up, therefore “a farce” that “has been manipulated for political reasons to create impunity for a favoured contestant and has actually become a “victor’s” tribunal, like those that were established after WW-II.”[7] The distorted logic of this conspiracy theory, itself a deception, is mind-boggling.

Like many who sympathise with genocidaires, whether knowingly or through ignorance of the real events of history, in Erlinder’s argument, is that there was no genocide really, there was only panic and killings on both sides during war. This view is very evident in his paper: “The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda:  A Model for Justice or Juridically Created ‘Victor’s Impunity’?”, which he presented in Paris in May 2008, shortly before starting to defend those appealing against ICTR decisions in The Hague (where the ICTR Appeals Chamber is located).

Jean Paul Akayesu was the first genocidaire convicted by the ICTR.  Bizarrely, Akayesu is described by Erlinder as “a leader of the losing side” (p.26). Colonels Theoneste Bagosora and Nsengiyumva are also said to be “of the losing side” (p.28) in a logic so distorted that it is hard (for me) to follow.  Erlinder at the same time claims that: “every ICTR prosecutor, and Judge, must have gotten the message that keeping all of the blame for the Rwanda tragedy firmly focused on the losing side is the only way to keep one’s job!”  This is so bad it’s good, but only good if what you want is pure fiction. Even a science fiction novel could not compete with the imaginative leaps of Erlinder.  This US academic blames the ICTR for creating impunity for war crimes and for “not exposing and prosecuting the real perpetrators” (p.29), when what the ICTR has done (as opposed to what it has not done) is precisely to accuse, prosecute and sentence those who organised and were largely in control of, the genocide of the Tutsi in 1994.

Still in his sci-fi logic Erlinder likes to take things yet further by prophesying doom, a favourite of preachers wanting to scare their congregations.  He writes that: “if the ICTR succeeds in fixing blame only on the losing side of the Rwanda war, through juridically-created impunity, the likelihood of a stable peace in Rwanda will have been reduced to the vanishing point…..and another Rwanda tragedy is a predictable consequence” (p.35).  Difficult as it is to grapple mentally with this twisted logic, this view of a “constructed impunity” which is “certain to be the source of future conflict, created by a false reconstruction of history”, lies at the heart of the present accusations of the Rwandan government against Erlinder.  As he has said: “In the absence of at least some mutual acceptance of responsibility, the ICTR will actually establish the ground for future explosion of violence, and inevitable consequence of a “peace” imposed by force, and the power of external actors.”   He is not confining his denial to 1994, but extending it to today and almost urging war by those who oppose the government in power, and the uneasy peace that it has been able to maintain.

Erlinder’s language is very clear and consistent. He questions the existence of genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He claims that there was just war and tragedy, and unintended massacres that arose through the dynamics of two sides butchering one another.  He repeats endlessly the idea of a winning and a “losing side,” as if this were a game.  In the single article referred to here, he states this idea no less than four times on four different pages.  The idea is to negate the concept of a planned, deliberate genocide, and to imply that if they had not ‘lost the war’, those responsible for what we still know as the Rwanda Tutsi Genocide of 1994, would never have been held accountable at the ICTR.

Erlinder claims that those tried and convicted for crimes of genocide are innocent, not because they did not do what they were accused of doing, but because they are “not the real perpetrators” (i.e. they were not as bad as their ‘enemies’)  Through carefully chosen expressions that can be easily (mis)understood, like “keeping all of the blame for” or “fixing blame only on”, guilt is bit by bit being shifted from those who started the genocide to those who ended the genocide, and even perhaps to victims and survivors themselves as allied with the ‘winners’.

Erlinder uses lies and twisted historical narratives to try to disguise his sympathy for the genocidaires, whom he also defends in court.  He substantiates his allegations of “created impunity” through complex counter-intuitive conspiracy theories that are both implausible, and for ignorant or unsuspecting readers—difficult to disprove.  Bluntly put, Erlinder’s central argument today is that through the genocide-conspiracy thesis: “Rwandan President Kagame and the RPA/F have benefited from juridically-created impunity… and the UN-ICTR detainees, all members of the vanquished former government, are facing transfer to the custody of indicted war criminals, by the United Nations” (p.16).  The message is not only that the present regime in Rwanda might be ‘criminal’, but goes further to imply that accused (and sentenced) genocidaires, those who have been found guilty at the ICTR of organising genocide of Tutsi and killings of moderate Hutus, are actually the ‘real’ victims of the whole story.

Erlinder asserts that accusations of “negationism” and “divisionism” are false charges, which can be directed at any “Hutu” or even “Tutsi” critical of the Kagame regime (p.33).  Erlinder says he has been declared a criminal by President Kagame, personally, because he has ‘put the facts’ before the ICTR “and the court of public opinion.”  He acknowledges that he violated the laws of Rwanda, especially the ban against “negationism”, but in his view, he did nothing wrong in questioning the Kagame “version of events” (p.34). Indeed, it is his right to question and express his views ‘freely’.

It should be apparent so far that Erlinder’s virulence as a denier leads him so far as to exonerate those already found guilty of being major organisers and perpetrators of genocide. This is most apparent in his paper published towards the end of 2009, and entitled: Former Chief UN Rwanda Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte: “Obama War-Crimes Nominee – Complicit in War Crimes Cover-up.” Does Obama Know ….or Care? In this, he claims that: “blaming only the losing side for all crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994 is simply not true.  Simply put, …ICTR  prosecutors,  have withheld evidence  that would  be  beneficial  to  the  defence,  and  prosecuted  Kagame’s  vanquished  opponents  for  crimes  they  knew  were committed by Kagame’s forces” (p. 6).  The claim here is that the RPA committed genocide.  It is genocide denial, and reversal of the accusation of genocide against the present regime.

Erlinder’s thesis, and its widespread dissemination, especially through the internet and mainstream media, gives hope to many exiled genocidaires and many other deniers and bigots, whether inside Rwanda or not.  It is not that hard to persuade guilty people that they are really on the side of justice and that what they did was right even if some see it as criminal and wrong.  Erlinder, by urging the international community to rethink the Rwanda genocide, asks them to believe that “ICTR detainees….are being held responsible for the crimes of the Kagame regime…With U.S. and U.K. support.” In other words, belief in conspiracy theory is being presented as ‘the plain truth’.

There are of course different opinions, and everyone has a right to their opinion.  To express opinions in public spaces, however, involves meeting certain standards of not inciting hatred, racial or otherwise.  Some facts need to be held as sacred if free speech is not to be used as a means to positively encourage violent solutions to problems and grievances, justified or not.  But as Professor Alexander Kimenyi writes:

“All attempts to justify and rationalize genocide in Rwanda by social scientists and others not only trivialize genocide, but also…condone it because doing so removes the responsibility and minimizes this despicable act. Genocide is seen as either a self-defence reaction, a natural behaviour in this dog-eat-dog world, a continuation of the Hutu Revolution and an attempt to get rid of evil.”[8]

When it comes to murder and genocide, genocidal and hate talk is part of the crime of genocide, itself.  This has been established legally by ICTR judgements, as explained in the first part of this paper.  There is a line beyond which ‘hate’ speech cannot be free as it reduces the freedom of those who may hear and believe in it.  At that point, when it incites violence along race lines or against religious minorities, then talk becomes a crime. It is not just an accessory to crimes; it is itself the making of crimes by providing their legitimation.

Solidarity with Erlinder

Erlinder’s family has quite naturally sought to protect him, as a man. This is understandable.  It is also clear that families will tend to be blinded to the facts of a case that accuses their own kin.  There is little doubt that Erlinder is guilty of genocide denial.  And there is no doubt that this is a crime, since it is against the law to deny the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  As has been suggested, genocide denial is a crime in Rwanda in much the same way as Holocaust denial is illegal in many European countries.  Beyond the grieving daughter and wife of Erlinder, however, some colleagues in academia have also sided with him. Their decision to do so deserves closer attention.

On May 28 2010, the New York Times ran a story entitled: ‘American Lawyer for Opposition Leader Is Arrested in Rwanda.’ The authors of this piece, Josh Kron and Jeffrey Gettleman, however, did not verify the exact accusations against Erlinder. Instead, they simply highlighted the academic credentials of the accused and quoted his defenders, who protested his innocence.

First the article quotes one Eric S. Janus, president and dean of the William Mitchell College where Erlinder works.  He claims that Erlinder “is an advocate for unpopular causes,” and that this form of advocacy is “one of the great traditions of lawyers.” It is as if Erlinder were defending the poor, or immigrants subject to harsh discrimination rather than elites who had served in government and other authority positions.  Another person cited was Ms. Victoire Ingabire, herself, intending Presidential candidate, who said that she and Erlinder both suffered from the same problem.  The journalists did not mention that this might be because both are accused of being genocide deniers, which is a crime under Rwandan law. Ingabire is not just a genocide denier but a genocide ideologue.

The wife of Peter Erlinder is Masako Usui, and she is quoted saying that the charges against her husband are “not based on facts, but on the suppression of free speech in his representation of clients, which undermines the rule of law. His family knows he stands with people who are oppressed by those in power and he encourages people to stand up for justice.”  In the same article, Erlinder’s daughter, Sarah, suggests the US government should act to stop be father being “detained and prosecuted for doing his job, as an attorney and advocate for his clients.”  Erlinder’s wife “plans to meet with Security Council members”, to ask them to urge Rwanda to free Erlinder and to drop all charges. The article claims that Erlinder “doesn’t deny mass violence happened but says it’s wrong to blame just one side.”[9] However, we have shown that this is at variance with what Erlinder himself claims – which is that there is a conspiracy to cover up the true nature of what happened in 1994, and that this conspiracy is a ‘genocide conspiracy’. 

Ignorance both of what actually happened in Rwanda in 1994, and also a lack of familiarity with the content and significance of what Peter Erlinder actually says in his various publications, is evident in all these messages of support.  On May 30, 2010 in an article ‘Law professor who grew up on South Side jailed in Rwanda’, Kristen Schorsch quotes Sarah Erlinder in the Chicago Tribune saying that the charges against her father have “very little to do with 1994 and the genocide and much more to do with representing unpopular opinions and people, opinions that are outside of the official government line.”  Sarah earlier was quoted in a press release by The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of May 28, 2010 saying her father “has made a career defending unpopular people and unpopular speech – and is now being held because of his representation of unpopular clients and analysis of an historical narrative that the Kagame regime considers inconvenient.”   His family claimed: “He knew he was taking a risk by going to Rwanda but probably thought he had taken sufficient precautions by contacting the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Kigali and Minnesota’s congressional offices” [10]

Another story that takes a similar line is: “Detained law professor back in Rwandan jail after hospital scare’, published June 3, 2010 by Laura Yuen. Here Erlinder’s own defence attorney, Kennedy Ogeto, tells Minnesota Public Radio News that his client has not confessed to any crime, and “…maintained whatever he has written, whatever speech he has made, is protected by the U.S. Constitution”.  Indeed “(he) maintained his innocence.”  Yet Ogeto adds that: “if there is anything Rwandans have been offended with, he [i.e. Erlinder] is prepared to revoke it.”  The following day The Star Tribune reported that Masako was: “very proud” of her husband because “He represents real people and he’s brave enough to go against power.”  The same complement was proffered by his brother, Scott Erlinder, who says of Peter that he is “fearless” and a man of sound judgment. “He also believes in doing the right thing, and I don’t think he thought that the Kagame regime would do something this stupid.”[11]

If Erlinder had been defending criminals, even genocidaire like Major Ntabakuze, simply because he thought they had had an unfair trial, and deserve to be properly legally defended, then this could be understood.  But instead, his defence of these clients seems to arise from a real identification with their portrayal of the genocide.  He is not defending the right of those he disagrees with, in other words, but defending the right to impunity of those he has come to agree with.  They are “real people” for him, apparently, in a way that most Rwandans can never be.

In a press release of June 3, 2010[12] Peter Erlinder’s supporters in some ways made things worse for Erlinder, by conveying the accused genocidaires as mostly good men and women at peace with others.  Erlinder, it is claimed, discovered thousands of UN and US documents at the United Nations offices in New York which raised legitimate concerns about Rwanda’s official story of the 1994 genocide. The communiqué also claims that “sorting the mountain of documents he [i.e. Erlinder] learned that the so-called “1994 genocide” happened during the last three months of a four-year civil war in Rwanda. During the war, they say, the “Hutu” Government repeatedly requested a ceasefire because they lacked the military capacity to put down the civilian massacres but “Tutsi rebels led by Kagame”, refused to agree to a cease-fire.  Finally, the release points the reader to one of the worst examples of denialist disinformation imaginable, proposing: “For more information…please see “Peter Erlinder Jailed by One of the Major Genocidaires of Our Era”, Monthly Review by Edward S. Herman & David Peterson http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp290510.html”.

Edward S. Herman, himself professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and David Peterson, an independent journalist and researcher based in Chicago are also co-authors of The Politics of Genocide (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010). In this study they contend that, “Like a growing body of researchers, Erlinder rejects the version of the “Rwandan genocide” long since institutionalized within U.S.-, Western-, and RPF-establishment circles.”

The claim is that Erlinder was arrested in order “to avoid any meaningful electoral contest,” and that the allegation of “genocide denial” has been “an important instrument of Kagame’s rule, with potentially rival politicians, or in fact any Kagame target, so accused and pushed out of the way.”  Placing the genocide denial between quotes is to suggest it does not exist.

Here are public figures, a professor at one of the most prestigious business schools in the US and a respected journalist, playing the same dangerous game as Erlinder, of refusing to face the facts of a genocide, and stating falsities in print, such as that “a compelling case can be made that Kagame and his RPF were the major genocidaires in Rwanda, in alliance with Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni dictatorship, both under US and UK protection.”  The claim that RPF forces intended to establish control of Rwanda even at the expense of one hundred days of genocide, is not only outrageous, but it is tied in with claims that the “the triggering event” was also the fault of RPA.  A view “not consistent with the notion that his was an unplanned defensive reaction and that his ethnic group, the minority Tutsi, was the main victim.”

There is an interesting interview with Sarah Erlinder by Elizabeth Dickinson, assistant managing editor of Foreign Policy, about her father. The real issue is avoided; instead, the magazine affirms: “An American lawyer is arrested in Kigali for genocide denial. Is it a sign of President Paul Kagame’s creeping authoritarianism?”[13]

They are joined by others of the so-called Fourth Estate whose responsibility is to expose power’s dark deeds and human rights activists who purport to speak truth to power. On June 7, 2010 the Associated Press reported that Erlinder’s wife and his brother Scott Erlinder considered the charge of genocide denial “as absurd”. This is the day,The New York Times, in an article: ‘American Lawyer Denied Bail in Rwanda’ by Josh Kron, quoted Peter Robinson, a lawyer from California defending a client in the ICTR, saying that “As long as defence lawyers are subject to prosecution, we can’t continue to participate in cases here.”

Kevin Jon Heller, in his article ‘Two Thoughts on Peter Erlinder’s Arrest in Rwanda’ published in The Jurist June 2, 2010, asserted that “genocide denial” is a code for “criticizing the Kagame government.”[14] They were joined by FDU-Inkingi, through its president, Victoire Ingabire, saying they [FDU] were “saddened” by the arrest of the lawyer of “an opposition leader and a presidential candidate”, something they deem to deepen “the political crisis as the August 2010 presidential elections loom.”

Such prophecy is also in ‘Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide and the 2010 Elections’ by Ann Garrison, who is in Erlinder’s network. In her posting in the ‘Digital Journal’ of January 20, 2010, she says: “The memory, consequence, and disputed histories of what we know as the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, loom large in Rwanda’s memory, national consciousness and future as it heads into this national election year, which will conclude in August 2010 polls.”

To substantiate her denialist and apocalyptic message, her sources are: “Rwandan exiles in the United States and Europe, and seasoned Africa reporters, including Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski.” Snow and Barouski, are prolific deniers and any such on Internet of the two names leads to their odious propaganda.

The communiqué says: “the lawyers, experts’ witnesses and factual witnesses would fear the intimidation and threats to be arrested because of their positions to portray different views from Kagame’s regime.” Which they say is not consistent with the freedom of fair trial and juridical representation since it tends to be extended to any lawyer who will come to defend the case.[15]

Ingabire Victoire on Minnesota Public Radio June 9, 2010 condemns the arrest as a “shameful exploitation of the misfortune of all people for political ends.” She added: “The government of Kagame uses the genocide as blackmail to frame everybody who’s against him.”

Robin Phillips is executive director of the Advocates for Human Rights. According to Minnesota Public Radio, he said Erlinder’s arrest gives [us] “a glimpse of what Rwandans and millions of others living under repressive governments around the world face every day.”[16]

In his June 1, 2010 statement, Phillips says their organisation was “gravely concerned that the Government of Rwanda appears to be using its genocide ideology law to silence both members of the political opposition and the attorneys seeking to ensure a fair trial for the accused.”

On May 29, 2010, three lawyers, Christopher Black, Feargal Kavanagh and Peter Zaduk came to the fore in defence of their family member. In their comments on a blog, they confirmed Erlinder is indeed a genocide denier and shares a lot with them as with genocidaires.[17]

Chris Black is a known genocide denier, based in Toronto, Canada and a Lead Counsel in the ICTR. In his comment on the blog he says Erlinder has never denied there was genocide. But, he adds, “His position is that the RPF also committed genocide during the war in Rwanda. …and throughout our trial at the ICTR the evidence has been clear that there was no planned genocide against the Tutsi population, rather most of the killing was committed by the RPF forces. But the RPF junta in Rwanda put into effect a law making it a criminal offence to even discuss what happened in Rwanda because they are afraid of the truth coming out. If the world knew that most of the massacres are on their heads they cannot justify their war or their fascist rule in Rwanda.”

Kavanagh was a legal counsel for Eliezer Niyitegeka, a convicted genocidaire who was the minister of information during the genocide.  Kavanagh is currently on the Senior Counsel Bar of Ireland and says he intends to lobby Amnesty International and Front Line as well as Irish and US politicians in order to ensure Prof Erlinder’s speedy release.

He alleged Erlinder’s arrest appears to have been designed to prevent him from representing his client so as to enable the Rwandan government to silence its critics and snuff out any opposition.

Much as Zaduk claims Erlinder has never denied that there were mass killings of Tutsi that can be encompassed by the legal definition of genocide, he makes an important revelation which many did not know.

“He [Erlinder] makes two broader points, which are shared I may say, by almost all of the defence lawyers who have practiced before the ICTR.”

The two points are: “there were mass killings of Hutus as well, by the Tutsi RPF. These equally constitute genocide but have been overlooked by the ICTR which has never prosecuted a single Tutsi. The ICTR often trumpets the “end of impunity” but in fact has institutionalized impunity with respect to RPR crimes. And, there has never been proven a broad conspiracy by the Hutu led government or military to commit genocide. The prosecution has never established this.”

In a press release of May 28, 2010, The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation deplored what it termed the “clearly politically-motivated arrest” of Erlinder, whom they describe as “an outspoken critic of the Kagame regime. The foundation also said Ms. Ingabire, Erlinder’s ostensible client, had a case for “expressing her political views, which are in opposition to official government policies.”

In a message of May 28, 2010 from John Philpot, a known genocide denier, defence lawyer at the ICTR, and Vice president of ICTR Defence Lawyers Association (ADAD) does not deny accusations against his friend but says Rwanda has no jurisdiction over those crimes because they were “apparently committed outside Rwandan territory.” Philpot also pleaded for Doctor Eugene Rwamucyo who was arrested in France, accused of committing genocide in Rwanda. He referred to Rwamucyo, as a “fine doctor.”[18] Similar supporting views were stated by Alan J. Kuperman,[19] LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, Texas in his reaction to an article by Gerald Caplan (The Law Society Of Upper Canada And Genocide Denial In Rwanda – online June 11, 2010) Kuperman misrepresents facts, saying Erlinder’s argument “has prevailed at the court, which has acquitted everyone accused of pre-planned “conspiracy to genocide,” issuing convictions only for crimes committed after the assassination of Rwanda’s Hutu president.”

Eleneus Akanga on June 12, 2010 contends Prof. Erlinder was always in Kagame’s black book and it was not a surprise when his name appeared alongside those of people considered evil and worth eliminating by the Rwandan regime as leaked on the internet by Keith Harmon Snow.[20] If one searches for this last name on the internet, you are sure of getting a long list of genocide deniers.

Without citing John Philpot, the Star Tribune reporter says that apart from the conflicting accounts of history, Rwanda’s case against Erlinder has alarmed his defence team because “none of the writings or statements cited in the court documents was made in Rwanda.” The story only quotes Erlinder’s main U.S. attorney, Kurt Kerns who said “It’s a bizarre intellectual exercise.”[21]

Someone by the name of Doctor Jean-Paul Puts is a genocide denier who produced a lot of propaganda for Erlinder. He claims “honest” (sic) people like him cannot refuse to recognize that a Rwandan “genocide happened in 1994, where both Hutu and Tutsi were killed by both sides in conflict.”

Dr. Puts says that after so many years of analysis of Rwandan documents, he thinks that the best definition of a genocide denier as: “somebody who refuses the RPF/Kagame version of the genocide and desires the truth, only the truth and the justice for all the Rwandans.”

Lawyers Unwittingly Jump to the defence of Erlinder

The legal profession by and large, at least if its associations are any indication of the broader will, has reacted shamefully and ignorantly to Erlinder’s arrest. They regard their defence of him as a principled stand for their profession when in fact this professor of law is dragging their profession into infamy.

David Gespass, the president of National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is quoted saying “There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for defendants whom it dislikes, and a government that seeks to prevent lawyers from being vigorous advocates for their clients cannot be trusted…Government intimidation and interference with criminal defence lawyers is unacceptable in all its forms and it fundamentally undermines justice.” Gespass has also stated he was honoured by the membership of Erlinder in the NLG.

Two French lawyers at the ICTR, Arthur Vercken and Anta Guisse, on June 1, 2010 joined the bandwagon and issued a statement criticizing the tribunal’s silence over Erlinder’s arrest: “To date it seems the ICTR has not raised the slightest protest against this arrest or demanded the immediate freedom of this lawyer who is on its list and who represents an accused person.”

On June 3, 2010, an article in The Star Tribune ‘The Strange Case of Peter Erlinder’ by Kevin Diaz, Randy Furst, and Jeremy Herb was equally disturbing. Erlinder’s colleague, Professor Kenneth Kirwin, said he doesn’t think Erlinder is really denying that there was genocide.  “I think he is more concerned with who was more at fault, or more responsible.”

The International Justice Desk, on June 3, 2010 published an article by David Rupiny in Kampala. It was titled: ‘Lawyers protest Rwanda’s arrest of Peter Erlinder. ADAD’s Allison Turner told reporters at the conference that Erlinder’s arrest was an attack “on the independence of the ICTR” and also “an attack on the freedom of speech and a politically motivated attempt to further frustrate the democratic process in Rwanda.” In this article, readers are kept in total darkness, because, ADAD is an association of Arusha based defence lawyers whose denial of genocide against the Tutsi is unswerving. And, Peter Erlinder is also the member of ADAD.

In this article, referring to Erlinder, law professor Kenneth Gallant, of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas, demonstrated how ignorance played a role in this whole wave of thoughtless defence, when he says: “There is a need to bar the use of words spoken or written or acts posed in the performance of one’s professional duties as the basis of criminal or civil charges.” None of the accusations against Erlinder is based on what was said in the courtroom.

Similarly, basing on ignorance of the charges, the International Criminal Bar (ICB) called upon member states “to bar the use of in-court statements by counsel appearing before the ICC or any international tribunal as the basis for criminal prosecutions.”[22]

Same as others above, Jeanne Mirer, President of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) said her association was outraged at the arrest of Erlinder in Rwanda. “This arrest violates the rights and privileges of lawyers in discharging their professional responsibilities, constitutes a wilful obstruction of the judicial process and is in gross violation of the rights of defence of an accused person,” she said.

The case is manipulated to look like a political game and also an attack on defence lawyers, as if Erlinder’s accusations are based on what he said in court in the course of defending his client. See a story ‘Rwandan Arrest of US Lawyer Motivated by Politics’ of May 30, 2010 by Marjorie Cohn

In an article, ‘U.S. Law Professor Arrested by Rwandan Government’ Julian Ku came up with an interesting definition of Erlinder’s clients at the ICTR: “key opposition figures.” In a mixture of lack of knowledge, superciliousness and bias, Ku says: “I don’t know anything about this case, although the current Rwandan government has proven hypersensitive about allegations of their involvement in genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.”[23]

The Green Party of Minnesota, in the US said the arrest of Erlinder was politically motivated and effectively punishes him for fulfilling his responsibilities as a vigorous and conscientious legal advocate for his client.[24] A charge repeated by Robert Amsterdam on June 15, 2010 that Peter Erlinder “has not committed any crime, but rather has been jailed and persecuted for exercising his duties as a defence lawyer at the ICTR.”

“For decades Professor Erlinder has sought justice for his clients in the face of political repression,” said Gena Berglund, Associate Director, International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota and a member of the Green Party. Berglund said he was very sceptical of a government “that locks up lawyers for speech crimes.”

Shortly before his arrest, Erlinder, in an email sent to Berglund, wrote: “Victoire Ingabire, Rwandan Presidential Candidate, is like Mandela and I am very honoured to be defending her.” This is a blunt insult to Nelson Mandela, an African who stood against and suffered under the apartheid rule. Ingabire, has, and it is clearly documented, that she is associated with genocidaires.

On June 7, 2010, more than 93 law school deans from across the United States signed a letter calling for the release of Erlinder, sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda W. Stuart Symington, and Rwandan Ambassador to the United States James Kimonyo.

The same appeal was made by the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers statement and 63 ‘learned lawyers ‘in the University of Wisconsin letter to U.S. Sen. Russell Feingold There no doubt that majority among the signatories of these appeals, did it out professional solidarity, without minding to verify the veracity of the matter which their appeal was based.

On June 8, 2010, Niloufer Bhagwat, the Vice President of the Indian Association of Lawyers wrote[25] to defend her professional colleague: “It is necessary for lawyers associations in all affected countries to be vigilant against attacks on their professional colleagues and protect the democratic rights and civil liberties of citizens.”

But, Bhagwat ends up endorsing the ideology of genocidaires and its deniers. She says that the Rwanda Patriotic Front was “responsible for the special military operation against the then Rwandan government and a major role in the killings in Rwanda, of both Tutsis and Hutus, in which the RPF was a key player which was subsequently passed off by international propaganda through the global media as a genocide only against one group, the Tutsis.”

On June 2, 2010, The American Bar Association issued a Press Release urging the government of Rwanda to observe the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which state that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” and that “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”[26]

It is very painful to read compliments for pathological deniers. For the sake of just defending as member of his academic staff, Eric Janus, the dean at William Mitchell describes Peter Erlinder as “a tenacious and vigorous advocate” when he is assigned to take on the responsibility of defending someone on a serious criminal case. Janus said this crazy denier would give that person “the very best defence he can” including “digging into the historical record.”[27]

All of this ignores the means involved in the defence, and how the ideology of clients becomes part of the defender’s life. It is vital to ask oneself why people, especially academics, fail to realise how facts are altered to dupe the world including the academic staff and students taught by this driving force of evil.

At this juncture, it is of consequence to take note of Gerry Caplan’s observations: “Why the deniers are so determined, so passionate, so intransigent, so absolutely certain, so satisfied to remain part of a tiny minority of cranks, is completely unknown to me. Why they want to create such gratuitous, almost sadistic hurt for the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda is impossible to fathom. But in the end, it’s irrelevant what furies drive their obsessions. It’s their egregious views – not their motives – that matter. And their views relegate them squarely to the lunatic fringe.”[28]

Infectious Ideology, Infected Academics

A most interesting comment which was made by the professional associations and deans of law faculties is when they stipulate that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” and that “lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.”  I found this statement of great interest because it is clear that some defence lawyers at the ICTR – including Erlinder in particular – have in fact clearly and explicitly identified themselves almost one hundred percent with genocidaires, as if they were the ‘true victims’.  It seems that genocide ideology can be a highly infectious thing.   This is why the likes of Erlinder cannot be brushed aside, and the significance of his ideas should not be underestimated.  He may be foolish but this does not absolve him of responsibility for criminal discourses that seek to legitimise, by denying, the reality of genocide.  Because of writings such as his, there may in future be even more who espouses the hateful idea that killing innocent people in times of genocide can simply be justified by claiming that ‘this is war’.

Christian Davenport, Professor of Political Science at the University of Maryland, USA is also Director of the Radical Information Project (RIP). He lists his research interests as human rights violations, genocide/politicide, torture, political surveillance/covert repressive action, civil war and social movements, measurement, and racism.[29] Davenport and Allan Stam have also written an essay entitled: “Rwanda: Genocide + Politicide” which again questions the reality of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis.  This research was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, and the data collected by the researchers is assembled online at www.genodynamics.com.   Davenport and Stam wrongly claim of this data that: “When you add it all up, it looks a lot more like politically motivated mass killing than genocide…”.  They also suggest that a ”…wide diversity of individuals, both Hutu and Tutsi, systematically used the mass killing to settle political, economic and personal scores,” thereby both denying, and appearing not to deny, the nature of the planned genocide of Tutsis in 1994.[30]

Another paper: “What really happened in Rwanda?” (Miller-McCune.com Nov. Dec. 2009) Davenport and Stam explain how Erlinder initiated them into the genocide denial thesis.  These individuals originally researched for the prosecution, but were thrown out and then the defence lawyers took them on, on the rebound, as it were.  The two relate how, shortly after their dismissal, Peter Erlinder contacted them, to make them his new recruits.  They describe him as “an academic turned defender of the least likeable suspects.” Initially, Davenport and Stam claim they had misgivings about working with the defence —“the gravest being that such work might be seen as supporting the claim we were genocide deniers” Indeed, at a certain moment, they claim, they were “paradoxically” labelled genocide “deniers.”  This paper asserts that, “among other things, it appears that there simply weren’t enough Tutsi in Rwanda at the time to account for all the reported deaths.”  These two academics do not clearly show the sources on which they base this claim. Instead, their arguments step onto the treacherous path of justification of the 1994 Tutsi genocide. Their approach echoes the line taken as early as 1994, by Father Serge Desouter, a Catholic Priest and well-known genocide denier, when he said: “I don’t know if the genocide of the Tutsi was planned.  In any case, not in the sense of a programmed ideology. They talk about a million dead Tutsis… There have never been that many Tutsis in Rwanda (my emphasis).”[31] Desouter was President, at that time, of the Committee of Belgian Missionary Institutions.

Such scholars were thus inspired by ‘doubts concerning the historical record’ to start to rewrite the history of the 1994 genocide.  I can review just a sample of these practical denialist historical revisions here.  In 1998, a defence witness for Dr. Clement Kayishema told the ICTR that in Bisesero, where tens of thousands of Tutsi were killed during the genocide, it was RPF sympathisers who initiated fighting.  According to the witness, fights between “the people of Kibuye and RPF sympathisers” sparked off genocidal killings.  The witness described an incident in which RPF T-shirts and paraphernalia were found in somebody’s home, together with a list of RPF “trainees”.[32] In his testimony, DO, like many other defence witnesses before him, referred to the genocide as “fighting”.  Fighting, he claimed, took place between “hill billies” or “bandits” and “people who had gone into the stadium and church.”

On the witness stand, Kayishema claimed that government officials were overwhelmed by the spontaneous violence of Hutu peasants, who were blaming Tutsi neighbours for the death of the President. “It was not the policy of the government to kill Tutsis.”[33] Kayishema claimed, and he denied there was any intention of genocide. Instead the killings arose from “the chaos of civilian defence”.  As to the government, he claimed they were busy in: “a mission of pacification.” Kayishema added that those who claimed the government ordered the killing of Tutsis had “received the wrong version of events.”[34] Kayishema was former governor of Kibuye province, yet claimed to be powerless himself as Hutu peasants supposedly avenged their leader’s death.  Kayishema also claimed the peasants “blamed an invading Tutsi army” for assassination of their President, which let loose an “uncontrollable wave of violence against their unarmed Tutsi neighbours.”[35] Kayishema reiterated that ‘country-wide mass killings’ across Rwanda following the assassination of Rwanda’s president Habyarimana were perpetrated by lawless peasants and bandits. Since their popular illegal acts overwhelmed government officials, this was not genocide.[36] Kayishema was in any case convicted by the ICTR and is now serving a life sentence.

With reference to claims around the Bisesero massacres and to the mistake of confusing crimes of genocide with killings during a civil war, prosecutor Brenda Sue Thornton, stated that by killing Tutsis, Kayishema in any case violated the Geneva Convention that protects civilians in times of war. Russian judge Yakov Ostrovsky also asked how victims could be affected by military operations where there were claimed to be no military operations.  The judge questioned the link made by Kayishema between genocidal massacres against Tutsis in Kibuye and the war between the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels (RPF).

On the other hand, it cannot but be shocking to note that William Van der Griend, counsel for Obed Ruzindana, also later convicted by the ICTR, remarked of the genocide that took place during the civil war: “Sometimes you get something for free.”[37] The prosecutors then had to restate that Tutsi and other victims in Kibuye were murdered not as part of the war effort, but as part of a separate, genocidal attempt to destroy the entire Tutsi ethnic group and all their Hutu supporters.   Another witness, also a denier, identified just as DZ, also testified for Obed Ruzindana, was asked by prosecutor Brenda-Sue Thornton whether he believed that “innocent Tutsi women and children were massacred in Rwanda in 1994.”  He answered:  “it was mentioned.”[38] Jean Paul Akayesu, continuing to assert his innocence, even asked the ICTR. “I am asking for pardon… I place my fate in your hands, honourable judges and before God.”[39] Like Kayishema, Akayesu asserted to the end that the country-wide mass killings were the sole responsibility of lawless peasants and bandits whose illegal acts completely overwhelmed ‘powerless’ government officials.[40]

Another convicted genocide criminal, Laurent Semanza, shortly before his conviction, told the ICTR there was no genocide in his commune. He added that: “in fact there was no genocide in Rwanda in general.” Semanza clarified that he knew this from books he had read and from what he had heard from Rwandans he met him while he was in exile.[41] Semanza told the judges at the ICTR that the charges against him were “fabrications by people who want to illegally confiscate his property in Rwanda.”[42] Testifying for Laurent Semanza in 2002, Antoine Nyetera told the court that: “It is the RPF that started the killings, this brought about the Hutu reaction that led to the overall killings.”[43] Nyetera told ICTR judges that he knew “everything” about Rwandan culture, implying that he had access to the ‘truth’ of the purported genocide.[44]

Dr. Pascal Ndengejeho was a Minister of Information in Habyarimana’s Government in the early 1990s.  After the genocide he was employed by the Catholic Church in Namibia, and among other things, and lectured in a Catholic Major seminary in Namibia for several years. Ndengejeho also went to the ICTR to testify for Semanza. He admitted he was not an eye witness to what he told the court about the killings at the parish church of Nyarubuye. But, he said, he got the information from a “Belgian couple” who further told him that what had happened there “was indeed a simulation.”  Ndengejeho said he was told by this Belgian couple that what the world witnessed was not Tutsis who were killed by the Interahamwe militia and FAR for ethnic reasons, but old men and women, and children who were killed indiscriminately “by those who wanted to seize power by force.”  The killings were random, cruel, but not deliberately targeted at Tutsis. It would be hard to find a more classic example of ‘literal denial’ of the genocide of 1994.

Ndengejeho had no hesitation, however, in accusing the RPF of being behind the founding of militia groups, including the Interahamwe itself.[45] He emphasised in his denial of any genocide against Tutsi, that it was ‘Tutsis’ who planned massacres of other Tutsi people and that there were many Tutsi also in the Interahamwe.[46] Ndengejeho said the RPF planned and perpetrated the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi inside Rwanda for their own ends, suggesting to the ICTR court that an act of collective suicide should not be called genocide. Ndengejeho said the RPF discreetly carried out the genocide, with their allies called “Deus ex-Machina.” He thus affirmed the denialist position of blaming allies of the victims as planners and the root cause of the victims’ demise.   When questioned he asked the court: “If a Tutsi plans the massacre of the Tutsi, can you call that a genocide? If a Hutu plans the massacre of the Hutu, can you call that a genocide?”[47] In this testimony he claimed there were many Tutsi in the Interahamwe militia, citing examples of Robert Kajuga and Anastase Gasana, but this claim cannot be substantiated beyond this tiny number of exceptions. This again was not just denial per se, but a lie, because Kajuga was not a Tutsi but a Hutu, with a Tutsi mother. Kajuga’s father, one of his brothers and family, were killed by the Interahamwe. His father was well known to be against Hutu Power politics since 1959.

Ndengejeho also spoke about Empire building. He said “everyone knows” the RPF’s destabilization of Rwanda was part of a plan by Uganda President Museveni to take control of Eritrea, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville Democratic and the Republic of Congo.[48] He did not elaborate on who “everyone” is. Ndengejeho denied genocide was planned by the administration: “I do not think any planning of that sort could have taken place under any circumstances.”[49] Yet history shows that such plans were indeed made, and have also been implemented. Rather, claimed Ndengejeho, it was the Tutsi who had lists of Hutu leaders to be killed, and “who they would later accuse of genocide.”[50]

Ndengejeho insisted that in Rwanda there was no genocide committed but only “massacres.” Since the killings were not planned, they could not be classified as genocide.[51] Ndengejeho accused the RPF of murdering two million ethnic Hutu after April-July 1994, but could not spell out how and when this happened. Like other genocidaires, he accused the United States, Belgium and France of having done nothing to stop the massacres of the Hutu.[52]

Dr.  Leopold Munyakazi is one of the fugitives sought by the government of Rwanda on charges of genocide. On February 6, 2009 the New York Times published a story wherein Munyakazi is quoted denying the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. “I refer to it as civil war, not genocide; it was about political power.”[53] For the NYT, he was quoted because he was challenging “the Rwandan government’s official account of events during the genocide.” Genocide denial is thus becoming ‘acceptable’ on the spurious grounds that it is not what the government claims.  Yet on this basis, Holocaust denial, and neo-Nazis should be considered legitimate political opposition in Europe; but in many countries it is not.

On March 3, 2008 convicts and detainees of genocide in the ICTR facilities, in Arusha, Tanzania wrote to Judge Dennis C.M. Byron, President of the ICTR. They called themselves “UN Political Prisoners.” This appellation is not privy to the prisoners in Arusha. Genocide deniers like Mick Collins, February 22, 2010 wrote an article “UN Political Prisoners in Arusha Respond to Mutsinzi Report.”[54] This was in reference to a letter of February 18, 2010 by twenty four detainees to the President of the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary General, and the President of the ICTR.

The signatories of the letter were requesting for the “Independent inquiry and prosecution of perpetrators of the terrorist attack against the President Habyarimana’s airplane on 6th April 1994.”[55]

Christopher Black, campaigns for the cause of these so called “Political Prisoners” when he looks beyond Arusha, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[56]

In championing their ideology, which might now be called ‘Erlinderism’, they said: “ICTR detainees and convicted persons are viewed by Kigali as its fierce opponents. Many among them are embarrassing witnesses of crimes committed by RPF members. It is why leaders of that front struggle so much to have them in their jails. We confirm that we are victims of a large conspiracy aimed at eliminating us in order to strengthen the RPF power and to cover up crimes committed by its members. The Tribunal is an instrument in that conspiracy hatched by the RPF leaders with the support from some great powers who put them to power by force of arms and against the will of the Rwandan people.”[57]

Rwanda’s authorities cannot ignore the danger of these statements to a country whose people are still attempting to recover from the horrors and consequences of the 1994 genocide.  If Europeans continue to insist on giving space and credibility to genocide deniers, just one half century after their own great genocide, then they have learned little from the Holocaust.  After six years of debate, the European Union finally agreed in November 2008, to finalise a “Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.”  This is already the case for genocide, which is the only basis on which the international community not only can – but indeed must – intervene to prevent killings.

Article 1 of the new anti-racism EU Council Framework Decision provides that:

“Each member state shall take the measures necessary to ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable: (a) publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin;…(c) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or member of such a group; (c) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing the crimes defined in Article 6 of the charter of the International Military Tribunal appended to the London Agreement of 8 August 1945, directed against a group of persons or a member if such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in such a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.”

Article 3 provides that:

“Each member state will take the necessary measures to ensure that the conduct referred to in Article 1 is punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment.”

The EU compromise does not make Europe less democratic; it makes it more respectful of the danger of human rights violations through undemocratic forms of speech – through the word as well as through policy and action. It is because of the past and present experience of racism, violence and perhaps even because of the Holocaust, that European still feel it necessary to have these legal mechanisms.  In most democratic circles, Hitler and the Nazis are not considered heroes, and neither are those who still admire them, or express sympathy for them.

Regarding the denial of genocide as an offense in its own right, Erich Kulka historian and Holocaust survivor, asserts that “Attempts to rewrite Holocaust history on the pretext of ‘revisionism,’ aided by scholars with academic backgrounds, must be viewed as intellectual aggression,” a repetition in thought of what was enacted earlier as physical deed.  And in his report to the Millennium Assembly the UN Secretary General has also stated that: “the fact that we cannot protect people everywhere is no reason for doing nothing when we can.”[58] Unless, as the Wall Street Journal seems to think, “Some are more worth protecting than others.”[59]

In this light, the decision to arrest and try Erlinder, whatever the price for our diplomatic relations or aid budgets, is a step forward for democracy, a step taken by the Rwandan government to show that those who do nothing when faced with genocidal ideologies should not later come to sympathise with victims and survivors of genocide.  Allowing this American professor to openly – and with impunity – continue to propagate the genocide ideology and to facilitate continued denial – amount to irresponsibility for the future well-being and security of Rwandans.

It is thus being asserted, through this action, that Rwandan lives are worth every bit as much as the lives of people who live in Europe, or in Asia, the US or elsewhere.  Denial of the Holocaust is widely considered wrong, and so it can be understood that denial of the Rwandan genocide is similarly not viewed lightly under Rwandan law. There are different circumstances, different eras, but the ideology of removing groups of people out of the population through killing them, is repellent and cannot be discussed in such a way as to make it anything but genocidal.  To support Erlinder is the duty of his defence counsel.  But on the evidence, it does seem that he has been playing a sort of Russian roulette with the future security of Rwandans, at least those living inside Rwanda, especially those who recall the refusal of the US, and other Western powers, to support military intervention in Rwanda during the genocide to save lives.  In the final say, it is the memory of those who died that we still need to defend, so that the lessons of genocide will not be unlearned by humanity, which includes Rwandans as all other nations.  To defend the historical lesson, that genocide must not be repeated or wished for, it have proven necessary for the Rwandan government to arrest and to prosecute Erlinder for genocide denial.   This decision may be regrettable, but much more regrettable is the fact that some people will not face reality, and instead must engage in propagating violently dangerous fictions.

Kigali August 30, 2010


[1] The New York Times, June 10, 1994 ‘Officials Told to Avoid Calling Rwanda Killings ‘Genocide’ By DOUGLAS JEHL, published in on http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/10/world/officials-told-to-avoid-calling-rwanda-killings-genocide.html

[2] See: http://europe.wsj.com/home-page

[3]ICTR Appeals Chamber The Prosecutor v. Clément Kayishema and Obed Ruzindana Case No. ICTR-95-1-A in Judgement (Reasons) 1 June 2001

[4] THE APPEALS CHAMBER “DECISION ON PROSECUTOR’S INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL OF DECISION ON JUDICIAL NOTICE” (Prosecutor v. Édouard KAREMERA Mathieu NGIRUMPATSE Joseph NZIRORERA) Case No. ICTR-98-44-AR73(C) 16 June 2006 (para. 35)

[5] Erlinder, Peter (2008). Bush and Other War Criminals Meet in Rwanda: The Great ‘Rwanda Genocide’ Coverup. http://www.inshuti.org/erlinder.htm

[6] Erlinder, Peter (2008). The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: International Justice or Juridically-Constructed “Victor’s Impunity” http://www.inshuti.org/erlinde2.htm

[7] Erlinder, Peter (2008). The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: International Justice or Juridically-Constructed “Victor’s Impunity” http://www.inshuti.org/erlinde2.htm

[8] Alexandre Kimenyi, TRIVIALIZATION OF GENOCIDE: THE CASE OF RWANDA: Anatomy of Genocide: State-Sponsored Mass-Killings in the 20th Century, eds. Alexandre Kimenyi and Otis L Scott. 2002. The Edwin Mellen Press. Lewiston: New York.

[9] The Associated Press on June 14, 2010 http://www.wkbt.com/global/story.asp?s=12644949

[10] Masako and Sarah Erlinder, quoted in ‘American jailed in Rwanda’, June 2, 2010 by Steve Karnowski, Associated Press On  http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2010/jun/02/us-lawyer-jailed-in-rwanda-after-criticizing-its/?print

[11] ‘The Strange Case of Peter Erlinder’ by Kevin Diaz, Randy Furst, and Jeremy Herb Source: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/06/03-4

[12] Read ‘Rwanda: Peter Erlinder’s Family and their Legal Team Seek Release of Peter Erlinder’

June 3, 2010 on http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201006030919.html

[13] See: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/01/Locked_Up_in_Rwanda?page=0,0

[14]See:  http://opiniojuris.org/2010/06/02/two-thoughts-on-peter-erlinders-arrest-in-rwanda/

[15] See: ‘Prof. Peter Erlinder’s arbitrary arrest and detention by Rwandan authorities is a shame’ May 31, 2010 http://www.fdu-rwanda.org/fr/rwanda/detail/article/prof-peter-erlinders-arbitrary-arrest-by-rwandan-authorities-is-a-shame/index.html For more on how this issue is politicised, also see : Us Lawyer Held In Rwanda Critical Of Its President by STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press Writer, June 02, 2010 on http://www2.wsav.com/news/2010/jun/02/us-lawyer-held-in-rwanda-critical-of-its-president-ar-297245/ and, ‘MN Lawyer Held In Rwanda Critical Of Its President’ http://wcco.com/local/lawyer.rwanda.jail.2.1727821.html See another story ‘Erlinder’s arrest: justice or politics?’ of 16 June 2010 by Emmanuel Munyarukumbuzi – in the International Justice Tribune http://www.rnw.nl/international-justice/article/erlinder%E2%80%99s-arrest-justice-or-politics

[16] See: ‘Rwandan law on “genocide ideology” impossibly vague’ on http://rwandinfo.com/eng/rwandan-law-on-genocide-ideology-impossibly-vague/

[17] See: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2010/05/peter_erlinder.php

[18] See: http://africannewsanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/05/message-from-john-philpot-ictr-lawyer.html

[19] See: Interpreting genocide on http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/letters-to-the-editor/june-14-letters-to-the-editor/article1602749/?cmpid=rss1

[20] See: ‘Erlinder’s Arrest: A Blessing or Curse?’ http://www.256news.com/page.php?aid=1287

[21] See: ‘Erlinder essay on Rwanda has defence nervous by KEVIN DIAZ, Star Tribune on

http://www.startribune.com/local/96189189.html

[22] See: http://www.rnw.nl/international-justice/article/lawyers-protest-rwanda%E2%80%99s-arrest-peter-erlinder

[23] See: http://opiniojuris.org/2010/05/29/us-law-professor-arrested-by-rwandan-government/

[24] See: Green Party of Minnesota – www.mngreens.org

[25] Lawyers Who Reveal the Truth: The Arrest and Threats to the Life of Attorney Professor Peter Erlinder http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=19621

[26] ABA President Urges Rwanda To Observe UN Principles on Role of Lawyers.

[27] See: Police: US lawyer held in Rwanda attempts suicide by STEVE KARNOWSKI and EDMUND KAGIRE – Associated Press Writer on http://www.heraldonline.com/2010/06/02/v-print/2210230/us-lawyer-held-in-rwanda-critical.html

[28] Gerald Caplan, The politics of denialism: The strange case of Rwanda Review of ‘The Politics of Genocide’ June 17,2010 in Pambazuka  Issue 486 http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65265

[29] See: http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/davenport/Christian_Davenport_Curriculum_Vitae.pdf

[30] Davenport, C. (2004). Rwanda correcting the record.

[31] Le Vif L’Express, October 7, 1994  p. 61

[32] Alison Campbell, Witness to Rwandan massacres testifies in defence of former district official–Arusha (Internews), June 23, 1998

[33] Former Rwandan district official on trial for genocide “changed his story,” lawyers say. Arusha, September 15, 1998 (FH)

[34] Former Rwandan official on trial for genocide denies training and arming civilians Arusha, (Internews) September 14, 1998

[35] District official on trial for Rwandan genocide tells court he was powerless to stop the killings Arusha, (Internews) September 7, 1998

[36] Former Rwandan district official on trial for genocide testifies about child survivors Arusha, September 8, 1998 (FH)

[37] ‘War or genocide or both?: Lawyers argue over the laws of war,’ Arusha, October 26, 1998 (Internews)

[38] Rwandan war crimes trials resume with defence witnesses for former businessman charged with genocide. (Internews ) Arusha, August 19, 1998)

[39] Former Rwandan mayor convicted of genocide represents himself in court Arusha, September 28, 1998 (Internews)

[40] Former Rwandan district official on trial for genocide testifies about child survivors Arusha, (Fondation Hirondelle) September 8, 1998

[41] Sheenah Kaliisa, ‘THERE WAS NO GENOCIDE IN RWANDA,’ SEMANZA CLAIMS; ARUSHA, (Internews) February 2002

[42] Sheenah Kaliisa ‘GENOCIDE CHARGES AGAINST ME ARE MERE FABRICATIONS,’ SEMANZA TELLS JUDGES; ARUSHA (Internews)18 February 2002

[43] Sheenah Kaliisa, SEMANZA WAS NOT INFLUENTIAL IN RWANDA, DEFENSE WITNESS CLAIMS, ARUSHA (Internews)  12 February 2002

[44] Sheenah Kaliisa SEMANZA TRIAL: JUDGES BAR DEFENSE WITNESS FROM TESTIFYING AS AN EXPERT ARUSHA (Internews)7 February 2002

[45] Ibid.

[46] Mary Kimani, SEMANZA TRIAL: EXPERT WITNESS BLAMES RWANDA PATRIOTIC FRONT FOR GENOCIDE. ARUSHA (Internews)  January 29, 2002

[47] Id

[48] Id

[49] Id

[50] Mary Kimani, SEMANZA TRIAL: PROSECUTOR CHALLENGES EXPERTISE OF FIRST DEFENSE EXPERT WITNESS. ARUSHA (Internews ) 31 January 2002

[51] Sheenah Kaliisa, RWANDA GOVERNMENT THREATENING SEMANZA DEFENSE TEAM, ATTORNEY CLAIMS; ARUSHA (Internews)6 February 2002

[52] Sheenah Kaliisa SEMANZA TRIAL: EXPERT DEFENSE WITNESS ACCUSES RPF OF KILLING TWO MILLION HUTUS ARUSHA (Internews) 5 February 2002 (Internews)

[53] See: ‘U.S. Professor Is Accused of Genocide in Rwanda’ By IAN URBINA on http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/us/07prof.html

[54] See http://cirqueminime.blogcollective.com/blog/_archives/2010/2/22/4463186.html

[55] Also see: Detenus-Arusha_Reaction-au-Rapport-Mutsinzi.pdf

[56] See: Mick Collins ‘The International Committee to Defend ALL NATO/UN Politial Prisoners is LAUNCHED with Chris Blacks’s response to Prof Kuzmarov’s review of Herman & Peterson’s ‘The Politics of Genocide” on http://cirqueminime.blogcollective.com/blog/_archives/2010/5/25/4536931.html In a letter of June 9,2010, pleading for Erlinder, the prisoners and detainees in Arusha replicate assertions of victimhood. See http://www.nzirorera.com/docs/100609-ICTR_detainees_request_to_release_peter_erlinder.pdf

[57] Protest against the signing of the agreement between the ICTR and Rwanda about the enforcement of sentences in that country’ http://www.inshuti.org/prisonni.pdf

[58] Kofi A. Annan, “We the People”: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century (New York: United Nations, 2000), p. 48

[59] Christine M. Chinkin, “Kosovo: A ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ War?” American Journal of International Law 93 (1999), p. 846.

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