Show Business and 'Lawfare' in Rwanda

By Morrill, Constance | Dissent, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Show Business and 'Lawfare' in Rwanda


Morrill, Constance, Dissent


TWELVE YEARS AGO this summer, over a period of a hundred days, between five hundred thousand and eight hundred thousand Rwandans-mostly Tutsi-were slaughtered with a brutality that shocked the world into paralysis. Although Tutsis were the main targets of this genocidal killing, Hutus who opposed the extermination campaign were also massacred. The killers ranged from the Presidential Guard to many members of the former army to the interahamwe militias, propelled by extremist elements within the thenruling regime: friends and neighbors of the people they murdered. All had fallen prey to the genocidal political ideology of Hutu Power, which reached the population via the airwaves with anti-Tutsi refrains of "The graves are not yet full!", and "Remember to kill the little rats as well as the big rats," and "Leave none to tell the story!"

Rwanda, so the story goes, has a culture of obedience: those who were told to kill simply obeyed. But this is too simplistic a summary of why and how the 1994 Rwandan genocide happened. For the current government, whose most powerful members are Tutsis who grew up in exile in Uganda, the genocide narrative is convenient. The government's relations with international donors depend largely on the legitimacy it derives from its military role in stopping the killing. But evidence of its own gross human rights violations-perpetrated by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the military branch of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), since it invaded Rwanda on October 1, 1990-is actively suppressed and denied. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that Paul Kagame, commander of the RPA and current president of Rwanda, gave the order to shoot down the plane carrying former president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart on April 6, 1994-the event that triggered the genocidal campaign. But not all of the evidence is available, and the full story of what happened in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994 has yet to emerge. While publicly maintaining that "reconciliation" between genocide survivors and perpetrators is one of its primary goals, the present government has actively obstructed the discovery of the truth about those years, which is indispensable to long-term politico-ethnic reconciliation.

Rwanda remains a country in which stories of living citizens cannot safely be attached to names, especially when such stories implicate the current regime. Kagame and his army are credited with stopping the genocide, and that is true enough. But it is becoming clearer that Kagame's activities were driven by something more complex than an altruistic regard for human rights. Even Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian lieutenant general who decried the international community's failure to intervene and whose own efforts to stop the genocide were thwarted by the UN's refusal to supply him with enough troops, acknowledged in his memoir that ". . . the deaths of Rwandans can also be laid at the door of . . . Paul Kagame, who did not speed up his campaign when the scale of the genocide became clear and even talked candidly with me at several points about the price his fellow Tutsis might have to pay for the cause." That cause was bringing the RPF to power, not stopping the genocide.

In the summer of 2001, seven years after the genocide, a gray-haired educated Hutu named Eugène,* with trauma in his eyes, told me something that those who know Rwanda know to be true: "There was a genocide in Rwanda," he said. "And it was perpetrated by Hutus-the interahamwe. But don't think for a second that the RPF is innocent. The Gacaca [community-based genocide courts] might be a good way to help us out of the current impasse, but you mustn't believe that the whole 'truth' will come out in these courts. I can sit here and tell you my truth . . . that the RPF raped Hutu women, especially after the victory [in July 1994], but these truths may never see the light of day under the current regime."

SITTING IN A dark bar in Kigali, just down the hill from the hotel des Milles Collines, Eugène told me his truth. …

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