The Rising Revisionism of the Tutsi Genocide in Europe, US and Canada

Posted: March 18, 2011 in Evidence Material
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By Felix M. NDAHINDA

The Hague Peace Palace – premises of the International Court of Justice among other institutions – hosted on 26th April 2008 a controversial event under the catchy title:   “Conference on Peace and Development in the Great Lakes Region of Africa”. The gathering featured Mr “Hotel Rwanda” Paul Rusesabagina who was made famous worldwide by a 2004 Hollywood movie for his “heroism” in saving lives of more than a thousand peoples during the infamous genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. The Peace Palace conference was organized by Duurzaam-Voor Africa and Dusabane. The latter association is composed of people who fled Rwanda mainly in 1994 and are known for their visceral hostility to the current Rwandan government. For that matter, they shared with Hotel Rwanda “hero” their contempt for Rwandan authorities, and mainly the country’s president whose movement – the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) – ousted by arms the genocidal regime. Nostalgic of the Habyarimana era during which Tutsis in the country were oppressed while thousands of others were forced to remain in their long exile, some of the organizers are said to be the brains and financers of such negative forces operating in the great lakes region as the FDLR (Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda). It appears that fourteen years after fleeing the country – some after playing a role in the slaughter – they have had enough time to regroup and think about suitable strategies to recapture power in Rwanda, using international sympathies. They conveniently avoid the word “genocide” to talk of the “Rwandan tragedy” and where they are forced by facts to use the word, they prefer talking of “genocides”, hence popularizing a theory of “double genocide”. Events are reinterpreted to so as to fit into a stereotypical “African conflicts” scenario whereby it is all about “inter-tribal” killings.

The Hague conference was part of a growing movement of negationist and/or revisionists of the genocide of the Tutsi in the western hemisphere. It was preceded by similar events in, among other places, Chicago and Brussels. The movement is premised on a revision of historical facts of the genocide, a reversal of roles and responsibilities in its commission and, a strategy of blaming the Tutsi victims for their fate. In an easy twist of facts, the genocide becomes the fault of the RPF which attacked a peaceful, ethnically democratic Rwanda and, killed a beloved president of the Hutu masses. And the story goes that the innocent masses got angry and spontaneously started chopping their neighbors into pieces mainly with machetes. In an interview with Keith Harmon Snow published on 24 April 2007,[i] Rusesabagina has even suggested that the roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out and executed were manned by Tutsis infiltrated by the RPF. Asked about the reality of the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, he stated among others: “We can call it, let’s say, we have to call it genocide, because we can never change it. This genocide designation has been decided by the Security Council”. This discourse conveniently ignores all alternative theories over responsibilities for shooting down Habyarimana’s plane and, the now proved case of a long planned genocide before the said plane was downed. The United Nations’ International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the Genocide (UNAMIR) General Romeo Dallaire and several other reliable sources have proved how genocide of the Tutsi was planned long in advance and meticulously executed, with the help of the state machinery.[ii]

The rise of negationism and revisionism in Europe, US and Canada in relation to the history of the genocide of the Tutsi is also finding support from a very limited but rising number of western scholars. Some of them are acting in defense of their countries’ alleged direct or indirect role in the genocide (in the case of France). Others are emotionally involved with defense politics within the ICTR or have personal divergences with the current Rwandan government officials on a number of issues. The differences between activism and scholarship, human rights promotion and embracement of a political cause, have clearly narrowed in relation to interpretations of events surrounding the 1994 genocide Rwanda. Racist pamphlets such as the book by French author Pierre Pean: Noires Fureurs Blancs Menteurs (Black Furies, White Liars) are illustrative of this trend.[iii] What cannot be easily done in Europe about the holocaust is interpreted as freedom of speech and a stimulus to the democratic debate in Africa. Arrest Warrant issued by French and latter Spanish investigative magistrates against nine and forty RPF officials respectively – with recommendation to find ways to prosecute the Rwandan president currently covered by immunity – constitute the newly found gospel of the revisionist movement. These European countries which have never prosecuted genocide suspects on their territories (mainly France and despite very recent dynamics in that direction) are hailed by this revisionist movement as role-modals to be emulated by other Western governments.

This movement conveniently ignores globally acclaimed progresses Rwanda has achieved in terms of stability, internal security and development; even if a lot still remains to be done. Reconciliation and fight against ethnic-based divisions are the cornerstones of post-genocide governmental policies. The Rwandan leadership has received a wide international acclaim for, among other things, promoting women participation in decision making bodies. The country currently has 49 percent of women in parliament, the highest ranking in the world. It also has one of African highest economic growth and corruption is one of the lowest on the continent. There are Hutus and Tutsis in government. Meritocracy rather than ethnicity are held to be the criteria for appointment or selection into public institutions.

This is the background that the Rwandan Diaspora still connected to dynamics in the country (there are both Hutus and Tutsis in the group) had mind in trying to stop the conference from taking place since it was announced. At the same time, as it proved that the Peace Palace and other official supporting the event would not renounce their project; many members of the diaspora registered to attend the event. Others organized a demonstration to denounce a conference which could hardly fit in the Peace Palace. Those who registered did not receive any reply for weeks, some never did. After several interventions and pressures towards organizers and supporters of the event, many of those who registered finally received invitation to attend. After traveling from all over The Netherlands to The Hague, nearly all of them were refused entrance. Despite their names figuring on the general list, a second list had been established by organizers naming persons who should not by any means be allowed in. At one time a security agent reported to us that someone from the organization will come and look at our faces to see who should get in and who should not. For those familiar with circumstances of the 1994 genocide, this combination of “lists” and “facial looks” invoked a horrifying memory of the way Tutsis were identified and killed. I was allowed in merely by a security agents’ mistake. I was standing immediately behind a group of people who could “naturally” be allowed in, because of being members or sympathizers of those who organized the event. I presented my invitation with confidence, and the security agent omitted to check the second list of those not to be admitted in where my name featured in second place.

The conference itself did not offer any surprise. Belgian citizen Christian de Beule made a pretentious, colonial-style account of the history of the region – mainly focusing on Rwanda and Burundi. He blamed the “domination oriented Tutsis” for all the woes that the region has faced throughout history. His obsessive, simple idea is that Kagame is some kind of African Machiavelli to be stopped rather than receive the support he enjoys in the West. Robert Kruger, a former U.S. Ambassador to Burundi, shared his views on how to achieve lasting peace based on his experiences in the region. His main idea was that in all three countries – Rwanda, Burundi and DRC – no one shall be prosecuted. The solution was to emulate South African truth and reconciliation commissions. This was also the essence of the “vision” of Hotel Rwanda and event’s “hero”, Paul Rusesabagina, under the catchy title: “vision for peace in the Great Lakes Region through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Rwanda”. His speech – focused on thanking his international, high-profile supporters and on his acute criticism of the RPF – sounded more like a launch of a political platform. During the questions sessions, I pressed him on comments he made that events in Rwanda qualified as genocide only because the Security Council decided to call the so, but he declined to answer the question. He also did not say a word about my other questions on his alleged political activities hidden behind humanitarianism; on his alleged link with the FDLR armed groups operating in Congo; on his alleged political party (Party for Democracy in Rwanda: PDR-IHUMURE) and; the lack of activities of his foundation on the ground. Dutch Member of Parliament Chantal Gillard’s presentation on the need of an integrated regional resolution for stability in the whole Great Lakes Region was the only neutral, general and less activistic presentation.

A well choreographed, and thus tightly controlled, one hour question session showed divergence between the mass of revisionist movement supporters who had come from all over Holland and neighboring countries; the Congolese participants who could not find their place in a debate stereotypically presented under the light of the “old tribal hatred” between Hutus and Tutsis and; other participants not from the region. Some could not understand the newness of Rusesabagina’s “vision” as dynamics in Rwanda and Burundi were in that direction. Others even lauded the leadership in Rwanda for its achievements, to the dismay of some participants.

It was obvious that the organizers were trying to gather support for their long lost cause. It is doubtful whether they succeeded. But in the eyes of many Rwandans, the Peace Palace lost some of its glitter for hosting a conference aimed at directly or impliedly denying the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. Some might see substantial differences between the two but for many Rwandans, including those demonstrating outside the palace; this invaluable platform was like hosting a conference in the palace for deniers of the reality of the holocaust. The fact of the matter is that while some view this and similar events as a way of promoting democracy in Rwanda, this might end up being a path to destabilization of a country which is still struggling to overcome the legacy of past divisions.


[1] Keith Harmon Snow, ‘The Grinding Machine: Terror and Genocide in Rwanda’, 24 April 2007, available at http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1022/0/, last visited on 23 May 2008

[1] Authoritative references include, but are not limited to: Gérard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (Columbia University Press,1995); Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwanda Genocide and the International Community (Verso, April 2004); Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda (Princeton University Press,2002); Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004); Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda ( Human Rights Watch, 1999); Fred Grunfeld and Anke Huijboom, The Failure to Prevent Genocide in Rwanda: The Role of Bystanders (Martinus Nijhoff, 2007))

[1] The revisionist movement is exemplified by: Pierre Péan, Noires fureurs, blancs menteurs : Rwanda 1990-1994 (Broché, 2005); Robin Philpot, Ca ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali (Les Editions des Intouchables, 2005); the website http://www.survie-alsace.org/ has extensively documented (in French ) the various negationist publications and statements in conferences.

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