Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply

Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson


Like Gerald Caplan’s hostile "review" of our book, The Politics of Genocide, Adam Jones’s aggressive attack on our response to Caplan can be explained in significant part by Jones’s deep commitment to an establishment narrative on the Rwandan genocide that we believe to be false—one that misallocates the main responsibility for that still ongoing disaster, but dominates by virtue of political interests and intellectual conformity.[1] Caplan devoted perhaps 5 percent of his "review" to our book, and the remaining 95 percent to an attack on us for our treatment of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  But Jones went Caplan one-better, ignoring our book altogether (which at the time of his writing Jones did not appear to have read, despite his great concern with "genocide") while focusing on our response to Caplan.  The result was a series of false accusations and emotional insults that—at least in the latter case—we had not seen in Jones’s work before.   

There are further disagreements between Jones and us that might upset or anger him: His and our moral priorities differ, with Jones’s all-too-often fitting well with the priorities of U.S. and other Western governments, while ours most assuredly do not.  Another difference is Jones’s closely related faith that Western-organized and dominated institutions such as the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda dispense something more than a victor’s justice in which the enemies of these tribunals’ sponsors are targeted with punishment (i.e., ethnic Serbs and Hutus), while they and their friends enjoy impunity.  

Jones, Genocide, and Priorities

As regards priorities, the Western establishment has given minimal attention to the “sanctions of mass destruction” imposed on Iraq by the United States and Britain via the UN Security Council (1990-2003), which resulted in the death of as many as one million people.  In his 2006 textbook, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, Jones does mention twice that he believes these sanctions were a case of genocide, given the scale of suffering and loss of life they caused, and the "awareness of that damage" by those in power—the Genocide Convention’s mens rea or conscious intent to inflict such losses.  But Jones qualifies this judgment, adding, as if it were relevant, that he "acknowledge[s] the despotic nature of the Iraqi regime" during the sanctions era, and he lists the sanctions in a section of his textbook called "Contested Cases," rather than offering it as a case deserving extensive attention.[2]  Jones’s 2006 textbook also fails to mention the March 2003 U.S.-U.K. invasion-occupation of Iraq, although he surely knew that vast numbers had died and been internally displaced or turned into refugees by the time his book went to press.[3]  For a textbook designed to educate English-speaking youth, these are impressively large zones of silence.


In the same 2006 textbook, Jones devotes only a little more than one full page to "The US in Indochina" (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), even though he acknowledges that "Somewhere between two million and five million Indochinese died, mostly at the hands of the US and its allies," and were subjected to an "historically unprecedented level of chemical warfare" (especially against southern Vietnam), with an estimated "3.5 million landmines and 300,000 tons of unexploded ordinance" left behind by the United States at the time of its withdrawal in 1975.[4] 


On the other hand, Jones devotes a full-length chapter to "Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge."  But, curiously, although Jones observes that the "US bombing of a defenseless population was also the most important factor in bringing the genocidal Khmer Rouge to power," and though Jones even calls this U.S. bombing war "Probably genocidal in itself,"[5] he then quotes the Canadian pseudo-moralist Michael Ignatieff, whose words Jones uses to frame the rest of the chapter: "This is not to say that the Americans are responsible for the genocide in Cambodia."[6] 


Even more notable is the fact that Jones devotes a full-length chapter to "Bosnia and Kosovo," two theaters of conflict that were favorites among the "humanitarian war" brigades of the Western establishment.  "The dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s brought genocide back to Europe," this chapter opens, as Jones repeats every propaganda claim of the past two decades: From "[Slobodan] Milosevic sowing the seeds for genocide in April 1987, on a visit to the restive Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo," where Milosevic uttered "No one should dare beat you," thereby "coining a modern Serb rallying call" for his effort "to secure territories in which Serbs were strongly represented for his ‘Greater Serbia’," to the mythical Serb "rape camps,"[7] all the way to the "final genocidal act to be played out in Milosevic’s campaign for a Greater Serbia—in Kosovo, the Serb province where his nationalist drive had begun."[8]  We have dealt with these claims at length elsewhere and here will merely refer readers to this and other alternative analyses.[9]  But on the dismantling of Yugoslavia, Jones’s 2006 textbook is the uncritical conduit of an eminently challengeable party-line, and does not deviate from establishment historiography.


Jones’s chapter on Bosnia and Kosovo also flies in the face of his claim that he "adopt[s] a comparative approach that does not elevate particular genocides over others, except to the extent that scale and intensity warrant special attention."[10]  Measured by "scale and intensity," the civil wars in Bosnia – Herzegovina and Kosovo were not remotely in the same league as the U.S. assault on Vietnam, the killings in Indonesia (in the mid-1960s, during and after the overthrow of Sukarno), the two phases of  the Iraq genocide (the sanctions era and then war of aggression-occupation), or the still ongoing invasion-occupation of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Furthermore, his treatment of numbers in Bosnia is deceptive.  Jones asserts that “a quarter of a million people died in Bosnia and Herzegovina” in the years up to the Dayton accords in late 1995.[11]  But by the time Jones wrote this, two important establishment studies had shown that the total number of war-related deaths on all sides, soldiers as well as civilians, totaled approximately 100,000.[12]  Of these deaths, some 40,233 are now reported as non-soldiers (39,199 civilians, and 1,035 policemen).[13]  So Jones suppresses information that would show the earlier standard claim of 250,000 deaths to have been an inflation of wartime propaganda. 


More important, and no doubt contributing to Jones’s failure to mention this dramatic downward revision in the numbers, is the fact that these numbers are quite small relative to cases that Jones does not feature in his 2006 textbook, but that do not comport well with friendly portrayals of the role of the Western establishment in genocide. Based on Table 1 in our book The Politics of Genocide,[14] we can estimate the ratio of the relative "scale" of Muslim deaths in Bosnia (1992-1995) to deaths in other theaters that Jones does not feature in his 2006 textbook: Assuming Bosnian Muslim deaths = 1, then Iraqi deaths during the sanctions era = 24, Iraqi deaths during the U.S.-U.K. war = 30, and deaths in the DRC = 164.[15]  The scale of deaths in Vietnam and Indonesia would yield similar levels that also dwarf deaths in Bosnia.  We may recall Jones’s reference to Kosovo as Milosevic’s "final genocidal act"—a case where the final death-toll among the Kosovo Albanians (through June 1999) was estimated to be 4,000 (or 0.1, on the scale we’re using here).  Clearly, then, Jones’s chapter on "Bosnia and Kosovo" is not based on considerations of "scale and intensity," but on political considerations, plain and simple. 


Jones, Rwanda, and the DRC

Jones’s assault on our treatment of Rwanda fares no better than his treatment of Bosnia and Kosovo. Most important, Jones evades dealing with central points that we stressed in our book as well as our response to Gerald Caplan.  For example, it is widely accepted that the shooting-down of the jet carrying then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, then-Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, and 10 others on its approach to the Kanombe International Airport in Kigali on the evening of April 6, 1994 was the “triggering event” in the mass killings that followed.  We point out that the investigation into the assassination that was carried out by Michael Hourigan under the auspices of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Paul Kagame and the RPF responsible for it, but that this investigation was quashed by ICTR Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, on fraudulent grounds, after consulting with U.S. officials.[16] The investigation by the French anti-terrorism Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière also implicated Kagame and the RPF, and argued that Kagame required the "physical elimination" of Habyarimana as Kagame and the RPF were certain to lose the upcoming elections to be held under the Arusha Accords signed in August 1993.[17]  We also note that the ICTR failed to undertake any further inquiry into the assassination in the 12 years since its chief prosecutor terminated the original inquiry that pointed to Kagame and the RPF.  Why would the ICTR do this unless the Western-favored Kagame was sure to be found guilty?  And what do these facts do to Jones’s core view that a clique of Hutu Power conspirators had planned the mass killings, if in reality those killings were triggered by the Kagame-RPF’s decision to strike?


Then there is the fact that Kagame’s forces went into action within an hour of the shoot-down, and that within 100 days, succeeded in capturing state-power in Rwanda.  The alleged Hutu Power  conspirators seem to have been in complete disarray, while Kagame’s forces worked with great efficiency, which again points to a Kagame-RPF conspiracy to seize state-power, rather than a Hutu conspiracy to eliminate the country’s minority Tutsi. We also stress the fact that the United States voted to scale-down UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, and that this was what Kagame wanted, but the remnant of the Hutu government opposed.  Again, this is consistent with the view that Kagame’s RPF was doing the main killing, and didn’t want anybody to interfere with it.  Why would Kagame and his U.S. ally oppose “humanitarian intervention” in Rwanda, unless events were working out in favor of the RPF’s goal of seizing the Rwandan state?  Jones not only fails to deal with these critical questions.  He doesn’t even raise them. 


Jones claims that Kagame and the RPF did not align with the Tutsi of Rwanda, the invading RPF allegedly having "no connection to, and apparently no particular sympathy for, the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda."  Jones fails to mention the long historic class division and warfare between Tutsi and Hutu, and the creation of many hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees after the RPF invasion of Rwanda in October 1990, the Tutsi-organized assassination of the Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye of neighboring Burundi in October 1993, and the ensuing large-scale bloodbaths that followed.  He fails to mention the internal State Department memorandum of September 1994 which we cite that claims that the "[RPF] and Tutsi civilian surrogates [were killing] 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the [RPF] accounting for 95% of the killing," and that the memorandum "speculated that the purpose of the killing was a campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to clear certain areas in the south of Rwanda for Tutsi habitation."[18] 

Jones acknowledges one conclusion drawn by Christian Davenport and Allan Stam from their work on Rwanda 1994: that the "majority of those killed were likely Hutus" (here quoting Jones), but he assails the "fundamental illogic" that he alleges characterizes their work, and "Herman and Peterson’s mendaciously selective use of it."   "[W]hy on earth would Hutus have been killing other Hutus on such a massive scale," Jones asks, "and in such a seemingly systematic fashion?… [W]here is the evidence for such a gargantuan Hutu-on-Hutu bloodbath, with Tutsi victims pushed to the periphery?"

Jones’s objections are ill-informed, even laughable, and they badly misrepresent both Davenport and Stam’s work as well as how we use it.  Notice, for example, how Jones simply disregards the obvious answer to the question that he raises as to why so many Hutu died—the militarily strong but politically weak leader of the Tutsi RPF, Paul Kagame, knowing that he stood no chance to gain anything in the national elections called for by the Arusha Accords, ordered the assassination of the Hutu president of Rwanda (along with the Hutu president of Burundi), and in this one single act, triggered the rapid escalation of political violence to follow.  It was because Kagame’s highly organized, well-prepared and well-equipped Tutsi RPF launched its plan to seize Rwandan state-power on the evening of April 6, 1994, and rejected—along with U.S. support in the Security Council—the UN peacekeeping reinforcements that would have helped stem the slaughters, that the RPF was able to quickly overrun the country, rout the Army of Rwanda, and continue to kill thousands of Hutu every month, well into 1995.  No "gargantuan Hutu-on-Hutu bloodbath" was required for Hutu deaths on such a massive scale.   

Rwanda‘s official census as of August 15, 1991 reported the country’s ethnic breakdown as 91.1% Hutu, 8.4% Tutsi, 0.4% Twa, and 0.1% other.  As the 1991 census determined Rwanda‘s total population to be 7,099,844, these percentages meant that Rwanda‘s minority Tutsi population was 596,387, compared to a majority Hutu population of 6,467,958.   (See Table 1 in our Appendix, below.)

Davenport and Stam argue quite reasonably that if there were approximately 600,000 Tutsi in Rwanda in 1991, as the 1991 census found, and if, "according to the survival organization Ibuka, about 300,000 Tutsi survived the 1994 slaughter," then "out of the 800,000 to 1 million believed to have been killed then, more than half were Hutu,"[19] and could not have been otherwise—and were not, as Jones states in his 2006 textbook, "overwhelmingly Tutsi."[20]  Indeed, both Jones’s and the standard model’s contention that the vast or "overwhelming" majority of the likely one million deaths in Rwanda at the time were Tutsi would have required a number of Tutsi deaths that exceeded the number of Tutsi who were alive at the start.  Clearly no Tutsi would have been left in Rwanda to help Kagame rule that country and win 95 percent of the vote in the 2003 election!  

Equally important, Jones misrepresents Davenport and Stam’s core finding, as expressed in their October 2009 Miller-McCune article, that "not all of Rwanda was engulfed in violence at the same time" in 1994, but that the "violence spread from one locale to another, and there seemed to be a definite sequence to the spread."  As they explain the logic behind the sequence of Rwandan political violence:



The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR [Army of Rwanda] seemed to escalate as the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased.  The data revealed in our maps was consistent with FAR claims that it would have stopped much of the killing if the RPF had simply called a halt to its invasion. This conclusion runs counter to the Kagame administration’s claims that the RPF continued its invasion to bring a halt to the killings.[21]


In our book The Politics of Genocide, we point out that "Davenport and Stam’s work shows convincingly that the theaters where the killing was greatest correlated with spikes in RPF activity (i.e., with RPF ‘surges’, in their terminology), as a series of RPF advances, particularly in the month of April 1994, created roving patterns of killing;"[22] elsewhere we state that whenever and wherever the RPF advanced, a lot of Rwandans died, and whenever and wherever the RPF halted its advances, fewer Rwandans died.[23]  In our book, moreover, we write that "Davenport and Stam shy away from asserting the most important lesson of their work" (which we’ve just summarized), and are "inconsistent on the question of likely perpetrators, with their evidence of likely RPF responsibility contradicted by assertions of primary responsibility on the part of the FAR."[24]  We make these criticisms on pages 58 and 59, and in endnote 129 (pp. 132-133); anyone who wants to learn about how we actually use Davenport and Stam’s important, if sometimes hesitant and even contradictory, work,[25] should turn there rather than to Jones.


This pattern of RPF-bloodbaths from April through July 1994 did not terminate when the RPF seized Rwandan state-power in July, but continued throughout the remainder of 1994 and well into 1995 (recall the findings of the September 1994 State Department memorandum), and later was extended to vast territories of neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).  Jones grossly misrepresents this second, much larger phase of the RPF’s rolling genocides across Central Africa.  He contends that when the RPF extended its killing-fields to Zaire, this was because two million Hutu refugees had exported "genocide" from Rwanda to Zaire, "prompting the newly installed RPF regime in Rwanda to launch operations in the region that themselves led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, together with hardcore genocidaires."[26] 


But as the 2002 report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo made abundantly clear, although "Rwanda’s leaders have succeeded in persuading the international community that their military presence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo protects the country against hostile groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who, they claim, are actively mounting an invasion against them," the "Panel has extensive evidence to the contrary"—the "real long-term purpose is, to use the term employed by the Congo Desk of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, to ‘secure property’."[27]  In short, once the RPF controlled the Rwandan state, it immediately turned its prodigious killing-machine towards Zaire‘s natural resources.  This it may have done under cover of chasing the Hutu "genocidaires," but the pillage of Zaire – the DRC worked out so well for the RPF that by the late 1990s it had "built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation," in the words of the UN Panel,[28] with the pillage of resources so complete that it not only finances the RPF’s aggression, but generates annual surpluses back in Kigali as well.  As the historian René Lemarchand sums-up this system of blood and money: "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that by turning a blind eye to the profits drawn from the looting of the Congo‘s wealth, the international community…is tacitly encouraging a colonial enterprise in the best tradition of European imperialism."[29]  Of course, what is true of the "international community," is true of academics as well.


The UN Panel’s 2002 report ended its section on Rwanda with assessments of "Armed conflict and its consequences" and "Malnutrition and mortality." It warned of "more than 3.5 million excess deaths…from the beginning of the war [August 1998] up to September 2002," and added that "These deaths are a direct result of the occupation [of the eastern DRC] by Rwanda and Uganda."[30]  Of course, even greater death-tolls have been reported over the eight years since 2002.[31] 



Concluding Note

René Lemarchand uses the phrase "politically correct interpretation of the genocide" to refer to what we call the standard model of the "Rwandan Genocide," which the majority of historians defend even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.  Among the relevant facts that this "politically correct interpretation" downplays or suppresses are the overwhelming significance of the October 1, 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the RPF under U.S. and Ugandan sponsorship, a war of aggression (not a civil war) the immediate goal of which was the ouster of the Habyarimana – Hutu majority government and the capture of state-power by this foreign proxy; the RPF’s responsibility for the assassination of Habyarimana, the "triggering event" of the April – July 1994 bloodshed, and the evidence (which all-too-few scholars are willing to examine) that it was in fact the actions of the RPF from this moment onward that drove the carnage, with the RPF’s longer-term goal of deepening and expanding its own (and U.S.) influence in Central Africa.  In the real world, the "Rwandan Genocide" (i.e., the deaths of perhaps one million Rwandans from April through July, 1994) occurred within this historical context—as have the far greater bloodbaths that Kagame’s and Museveni’s national armies, proxies, "elite networks" and collaborators unleashed against the DRC since 1994 in an effort to capture its natural resources, with uninterrupted U.S. support through the present day. 


There is no doubt that Lemarchand’s warning makes a sound critical point about the dominant historiography on Rwanda—a great deal of fear haunts the halls of "Genocide Studies."  The devastation in these tragic Central African theaters of conflict has been greatly facilitated by the political triumph of the "correct interpretation," and the rejection of the kind of "revisionism" and "denial" that would call the Western-supported aggressions and the rolling genocides of Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni by their proper names. 




Table 1. Rwanda’s national population as of 1991, broken-down by its two largest ethnic groups [1] 




   Totals [2]


   618,172 (82.0%)

 130,419 (17.3%)


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