Rwanda 1994: The Lies Continue


To the Editor of Rabble.ca:

In “Inflammatory falsehood poor homage to twentieth anniversary of Rwanda genocide” (Rabble.ca, February 24, 2014), the head of the Paul Kagame Fan Club of Canada, Gerald Caplan, writes:  

Not least among [United States Holocaust Memorial] Museum priorities has been combating the despicable phenomenon of Holocaust denial. Imagine the shock, then, when last January 9 an essay appeared on the Museum’s website that played directly into the hands of those malevolent forces that deny the genocide in Rwanda ever happened. Intended to launch the Museum’s recognition of the 20th anniversary of that genocide, it was written by one Michael Dobbs, someone not known to those of us who have studied Rwanda. Here is Dobbs’ central proposition: “Whether the genocide was planned, and was thus foreseeable, has been hotly debated by scholars, politicians and lawyers.” And he adduced some other information that he claimed added to this debate.

Here’s the significance: If it were unplanned, that meant the killings were spontaneous. If so, perhaps there was no intent to exterminate all Tutsi. If so, according to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, there was no genocide at all.

This was not only deeply inflammatory, it was utterly untrue. There has never been a debate among experts as to whether the genocide was planned. All agree it was….[1]

Caplan’s second and third paragraphs are the key. Note well his reasoning: If no plan existed among Rwanda’s majority Hutu population to exterminate the country’s minority Tutsi population prior to the assassination of Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994 , then, as Caplan argues, the killings that began late that night and the next day were “spontaneous,” that is, were a response to the crisis that immediately ensued—at least among the Hutu population, if not among the armed forces of the Tutsi-controlled Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Therefore, the massive killing events from April 6 through July 17-18, 1994, by which date the RPF had militarily seized virtually all of Rwandan territory and declared victory over the interim government, cannot be explained as the result of a conspiracy among the Hutu to commit genocide against the Tutsi. And as Caplan himself notes once again, then “according to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, there was no genocide at all.”

This logical and indeed necessary conclusion is what so infuriated Caplan and his ten colleagues, and mobilized them to send a “letter of rebuttal to the [New York] Times,” which on January 10 had published Dobbs’s commentary “Rwanda’s Shrouded Nightmare,” [2] and “another letter in confidence to the head of the Museum. As well, several members of our group contacted senior Museum officials. We demanded the obvious: that Dobbs’ piece be immediately removed from the Museum website.”

Aside from the fact that to demand that Dobbs’s longer commentary [3] “be immediately removed from the Museum website” is straightforward academic repression, Caplan is onto something very important here. Whatever happened in Rwanda back in 1994, it cannot be explained the way that Caplan and his fellow experts contend that it must be explained—as the consequence of a pre-April 6, 1994 conspiracy among Rwanda’s Hutu to commit genocide against the Tutsi. In short, Caplan & Company’s “central truth” is untrue.

It turns out that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by and large agrees. In judgment after judgment at the ICTR, and appeal after appeal, both trial chambers and appellate chambers have rejected the notion of a Hutu conspiracy to commit genocide.

In fact, in the “Concluding Observations” in the Military I trial, the trial chamber asserted that “in the context of the ongoing war with the RPF, [the] evidence does not invariably show that the purpose of arming and training these civilians or the preparation of lists was to kill Tutsi civilians. After the death of President Habyarimana, these tools were clearly put to use to facilitate killings. When viewed against the backdrop of the targeted killings and massive slaughter perpetrated by civilian and military assailants between April and July 1994 as well as earlier cycles of violence, it is understandable why for many this evidence takes on new meaning and shows a prior conspiracy to commit genocide. Indeed, these preparations are completely consistent with a plan to commit genocide. However, they are also consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle…. Accordingly, the Chamber is not satisfied that the Prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the four Accused conspired amongst themselves or with others to commit genocide before it unfolded on 7 April 1994.” [4]

Adopting the Military I trial chamber’s logic, one could just as plausibly argue that when viewed against the backdrop of the targeted killings and massive slaughter perpetrated by Rwandan Patriotic Front’s civilian and military assailants between April and July 1994, as well as during earlier and later cycles of violence, it is reasonable that for many this evidence takes on new meaning and shows a prior conspiracy, not only to seize state power in Rwanda, but to commit genocide against the country’s Hutu population. Indeed, RPF preparations for war are completely consistent with a plan to commit genocide. [5]

Not only is this argument plausible, from a logical point of view. It also happens to be a lot closer to the historical truth about Rwanda 1994. A fact that fanatically dedicated advocates of the Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide” model such as Caplan & Company cannot brook. And that also explains why, in the case of Michael Dobbs and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Caplan & Company have shown themselves to be nothing more than bullies and slanderers against anyone who deviates from their accepted truths.

David Peterson
Chicago, USA

[1] <http://tinyurl.com/mdh2mp7 >.
[2] <
http://tinyurl.com/mxhheex >.
[3] See “Genocide Fax,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed February 25, 2014 <
http://tinyurl.com/pgdgnrk >. Also see “The Rwanda ‘Genocide Fax’: What We Know Now,” Electronic Briefing Book No. 452, The National Security Archive, January 9, 2014,< http://tinyurl.com/l7p3yl6 >.
[4] Judge Erik Møse et al., Judgment, Prosecutor v. Théoneste Bagosora et al., Case No. ICTR-98-41-T, December 18, 2008, para. 2109, 2110, and 2112, pp. 539-540, <
http://tinyurl.com/ncarqtd >.
[5] Note well the findings that Robert Gersony on behalf of the UNHCR Emergency Repatriation Team reported to the United Nations Commission of Experts on Rwanda in October 1994: That in several of Rwanda’s prefectures he found an “unmistakable pattern” of “systematic and sustained killing and persecution of their civilian Hutu populations by the RPF,” with between 5,000 and 10,000 Hutu killed per month since April. (See “Summary of UNHCR Presentation Before Commission of Experts,” October 11, 1994 pp. 4-8, <
http://tinyurl.com/lkxq9ze >.)  Note also the memorandum drafted in September 1994 by the U.S. Department of State’s George E. Moose for the Secretary of State Warren Christopher, wherein Moose reported “[RPF] and Tutsi civilian surrogates [killing] 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the [RPF] accounting for 95% of the killing.” (See George E. Moose, State Department Memorandum, drafted sometime between September 17 and 20, 1994, in Peter Erlinder, The Accidental… Genocide (Saint Paul, MN: International Humanitarian Law Institute, 2013), pp. 311-312, < http://tinyurl.com/k2opuat >.)  Note, finally, the determination in late 2010 by the UN “Mapping Exercise” of the “most serious” crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that the RPF and its proxy forces in the DRC had carried out “systematic and widespread attacks…which targeted very large numbers of Rwanda Hutu refugees and members of the Hutu civilian population, resulting in their death,” and that these attacks “reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified crimes of genocide.” (See Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, August 2010, para. 500-522; here para. 515, <http://tinyurl.com/2e752gj >.)

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