In a commentary originally published via the Telesur website, “The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide,” York University Associate Professor Justin Podur writes favorably about the recent BBC 2 documentary, “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” a documentary that shines some critical light not only on the role of the dictator Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) both during the bloody events of 1994 and over the 20 years since, but also on the standard history of the “Rwandan genocide.”
The BBC 2 does this largely by providing airtime to well-informed figures conventionally marginalized within the establishment media. Among these are Theogene Rudasingwa and Kayumba Nyamwasa, former high-ranking Kagame acolytes now forced to live in exile for opposing his rule and dedicated to his downfall. Another is Aloys Ruyenzi, a former member of Kagame’s personal guard, who recounts what he heard at a meeting between Kagame and his closest staff during which Kagame gave the order for the shooting down of Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 jet on April 6, 1994, the event which Kagame used to launch the RPF’s final offensive to seize state power in Rwanda.
Yet another is Carla Del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), who recounts how she was relieved of her job in 2003 for having opened an investigation into RPF crimes and then rejected overtures from the United States and Britain to terminate it. Still another is former FBI counter-terrorism agent James Lyons, who was Commander of Investigations at the ICTR; Lyons tells the BBC 2 that in 1996-1997, his team had developed solid sources claiming that Kagame was responsible for the Habyarimana assassination, only to have ICTR Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour order the investigation shut down and the evidence destroyed.
Among the other guests is the distinguished Belgian scholar Filip Reyntjens, a specialist in the history of the Great Lakes region of central Africa; Reyntjens states frankly on camera that he regards Kagame as the “most important war criminal in office today.” Also the Belgian Colonel Luc Marchal, a former high-ranking member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) with responsibility for the capital city, Kigali. And, perhaps most important of all, the BBC 2 devotes a substantial segment of its documentary to the work of two American professors at the University of Michigan, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport, who from 1998 on carried out important field research in Rwanda, and who have gone on to develop many powerful and provocative interpretations about what really happened in Rwanda in 1994.
In his review, Podur devotes several paragraphs to analyzing the competing methods used by the historian Gérard Prunier, Reyntjens, Davenport and Stam, and others to estimate both the scale of the killings in Rwanda in 1994 as well as the ethnic composition of the victims. We ourselves have undertaken the same task in the past, and have done so again in a forthcoming book titled Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (The Real News Books).
Curiously, Podur takes unique exception to our efforts but to none of the others. We find this strange, as we hew closely to the methodology of Davenport and Stam, two of the stars of the BBC 2 documentary.
In one crucial exchange between Jane Corbin, the BBC 2 presenter, and Allan Stam, we learn (from the 29:40 mark of the Vimeo copy of the documentary on):
Jane Corbin: It’s widely accepted that around a million Rwandans died in the genocide in just three months, and the government says over 90 percent were Tutsis. But some academics question this official version.
Allan Stam: Violence was committed in 1994 by almost every side, and every participant in this war, and breakdown of social order. Random violence happened, and hundreds of thousands of people died for no particular purpose.
Jane Corbin: The population records at the time of the genocide and in the troubled years before were not always reliable. But the American academics claim they used the most accurate figures available.
Allan Stam: If a million people died in Rwanda in 1994—and that’s certainly possible—there is no way that the majority of them could be Tutsi.
Jane Corbin: How do you know that?
Allan Stam: Because there weren’t enough Tutsi in the country.
Jane Corbin: The academics calculated there had been 500,000 Tutsis before the conflict in Rwanda; 300,000 survived. This led them to their final controversial conclusion.
Allan Stam: If a million Rwandans died, and 200,000 of them were Tutsi, that means 800,000 of them were Hutu.
Jane Corbin: That’s completely the opposite of what the world believes happened in the Rwandan genocide.
Allan Stam: What the world believes, and what actually happened, are quite different.
By all appearances, Podur is sympathetic to this logic; we find it impeccable.
Among the relevant factors that need to be taken into account are the population of Rwanda at the start of April 1994, the percentages of the population that were Hutu or Tutsi, how many Rwandans perished from April 6 through late July, 1994, and how many Hutu and Tutsi survived the bloodshed. Davenport-Stam are quite flexible on all but one of these factors (i.e., the number of Tutsi survivors, which they place at 300,000), given the possible variables. After all, their work is empirically driven, rather than dogmatic.
Let us apply the Davenport-Stam methodology a bit further.
In his September 1993 Report to the UN Secretary-General based on his reconnaissance mission to Rwanda during August of that year, the Canadian Lieut.-General and eventual force commander of UNAMIR Roméo Dallaire wrote that Rwanda’s population was then 7,347,000 persons, of which 90 percent were Hutu (or roughly 6,612,300), and 9 percent were Tutsi (roughly 661,230).
These are approximations, obviously, based on the reported percentages; we are using them only to illustrate and apply the logic of Davenport and Stam’s methodology.
Table 1 captures the logic of their methodology, using Rwanda’s August 1993 demographics as reported to the UN by Roméo Dallaire.
Table 1. Ranges and ethnic compositions of deaths in the “Rwandan genocide,” based on Roméo Dallaire’s September, 1993 Reconnaissance Mission Report to the UN Secretary-General [*]
|Total Deaths||Tutsi survivors||Tutsi Deaths||Hutu Deaths|
[*] Adapted from Table 1, Section 4 of our forthcoming book, Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (The Real News Books). With rounding, based on a Tutsi population in Rwanda as reported by Dallaire in September 1993 of approximately 661,000, and based on Davenport-Stam’s estimate for Tutsi survivors of 300,000 as of August 1994.
What Table 1 shows is that the smaller the total number of deaths in Rwanda in 1994, the greater the percentage comprised of Tutsi. Conversely, the greater the total number of deaths, the greater the number of Hutu deaths overall, and the greater the percentage comprised of Hutu. Based on an estimated number of 300,000 Tutsi survivors (the one constant in Davenport and Stam’s work), if 500,000 Rwandans perished during the April – July period, then 361,000 of them were Tutsi, and 139,000 were Hutu. (See the second row.) Similarly, based on upper-end estimates of the death toll, if 1.1 million Rwandans perished during the April – July period, then once again 361,000 of them were Tutsi, but 739,000 were Hutu. (See the fourth row.) In short, with the commonly reported numbers for the total killed in Rwanda in 1994 of 800,000 or more, it appears that the Hutu victims of the “Rwandan genocide” greatly outnumber the Tutsi victims.
Given that we use a methodology in assessing the number and ethnic composition of the probable deaths in Rwanda in 1994 very similar to that of Davenport and Stam, why, then, does Justin Podur take such a strong issue with us?
We believe that this rests on the fact that Podur cannot slough off a belief in the standard model of the “Rwandan genocide,” which in essence maintains that the genocide in Rwanda was the result of a deliberate and planned effort on the part of the country’s Hutu majority to exterminate its minority Tutsi population. Podur cannot conceive of the events of 1994 in any other way. He simply rules out the possibility that Paul Kagame and the RPF were the principal génocidaires driving the events of April through July (and beyond). He skirts by the awkward fact that the Hutu were the principal victims in authoritative number counts.
In explaining his view of the source of the genocide, Podur objects to our having written back in 2010 that the “RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994, and the only one that planned a major military offensive.” But our statement was accurate and is supported by the evidence on the military superiority and readiness and actions of the RPF in contrast to the Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR), and even the judgments of the ICTR.
One of Dallaire’s tasks during his August 1993 reconnaissance mission to Rwanda was to carry out an assessment of the military capabilities of the belligerents: The RPF and the FAR. In the words of his Report to the Secretary-General, whereas the FAR was in very poor shape, and had been in this broken down condition at least since its rout by the RPF the previous February (1993), the RPF was a “well led, effective, disciplined force,” and “displayed the potential to easily defeat the [FAR].”
By April, 1994, this disparity in fighting capabilities had widened greatly, with the RPF receiving uninterrupted flows of supplies and personnel across Rwanda’s border with Uganda, and with a lot of these supplies in turn winding up stockpiled at the RPF’s compound in Kigali, in contravention of the Arusha Peace Accords of August 1993.
So when Kagame ordered his RPF to pull the trigger on April 6, 1994, and shot-down the presidential jet, killing Habyarimana and leaving the remainder of his government and the armed forces in a state of complete disarray, it is quite accurate to say that the “RPF was the only well-organized killing [or fighting] force within Rwanda,” exactly as we argued in 2010.
Moreover, we suspect that Justin Podur is unfamiliar with the extent to which the trial and appellate chambers of the ICTR have come around to a position on the alleged Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide” against the Tutsi that is closer to so-called “revisionists” and “genocide deniers” than most commentators are willing to acknowledge. In our forthcoming book, we show that in each of the 15 cases in the four major joined-trials before the ICTR (Government I and Government II; Military I and Military II), the ICTR has either acquitted Hutu defendants on the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge or reversed on appeal its previous convictions on this charge. We believe that such acquittals are a remarkable outcome at the ICTR, given its longstanding anti-Hutu, pro-Tutsi biases. As has generally been recognized, once one removes conspiracy from the commission of alleged acts of genocide, one also removes intent (as in “intent to destroy in whole or in part”). The Judgment in the Military I trial went so far as to reason that, “in the context of the ongoing war with the RPF,” the actions of the FAR following the assassination of Habyarimana were “consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle.” As history has shown, Rwanda in 1994 witnessed both a political and military power struggle in which the well-organized, militarily superior RPF vanquished the disintegrating FAR and the post-Habyarimana interim government.
Podur provides no evidence that the FAR was either a well-organized fighting force or that it turned away from combatting the RPF in order to carry out the killing of Tutsi civilians. Why would the interim government, hastily assembled in the aftermath of the assassination of Habyarimana, and the FAR opt to exterminate Tutsi civilians when an imminent RPF victory would end their careers and maybe their lives as well? Why did both the interim government and the remnants of the FAR repeatedly call for ceasefires with the RPF—rejected by the RPF in Rwanda and by the United States and Britain in the Security Council—if the interim government’s and the FAR’s aim was to kill Tutsi civilians? In our forthcoming book, we stress that with the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s jet on April 6, whereas Kagame’s RPF forces were able to mobilize immediately, each component of Habyarimana’s armed forces was taken by surprise, disorganized, and shortly thereafter in retreat. Even Roméo Dallaire, an establishment favorite on Rwanda 1994, and a soldier about whom Barrie Collins observes was “not neutral but sympathetic towards the RPF and opposed to Habyarimana, the MRND and France,” is still able to recognize the military superiority of the RPF throughout the armed conflict. If Kagame’s RPF could conquer Rwanda in little more than three months, is it not amazing that there could have been a Hutu genocide against the Tutsi?
Podur does recognize and acknowledge that “Kagame’s massacres, proxy warfare, and occupation of the [Democratic Republic of] Congo have led to the deaths of, by best estimates, millions of people”—many of these Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda from late 1990 through 1995. But the continuity over the past twenty years in the structure of power, the aims of the principal killers and the targets and victims of the only “well-organized killing force” operating first in Rwanda and soon thereafter in the DRC, is a story that Justin Podur does not grasp.
—- NOTES —-
 Justin Podur, “The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide,” Telesur, October 11, 2014. <http://tinyurl.com/nn8fuda >
 See Jane Corbin and John Conroy, “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” BBC 2, October 1, 2014 (as now posted to the Vimeo website). < http://vimeo.com/107867605 >
 See, e.g., Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Miller-McCune, October 6, 2009. < http://tinyurl.com/lpjan8o >
 See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide (Monthly Review Books, 2nd. Ed., 2011), “Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” p. 51-68. Also see our “Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Propaganda System,” Monthly Review, May, 2010. <http://tinyurl.com/p7omr2f >
 In their October 6, 2009 article for Miller-McCune, Davenport and Stam wrote that the Tutsi organization IBUKA claimed “about 300,000 Tutsi survived the 1994 slaughter.” “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” < http://tinyurl.com/lpjan8o >
 See the Report of the Secretary-General on Rwanda (S/26488), September 24, 1993. <http://tinyurl.com/k27chgg > Dallaire’s Reconaissance Mission Report was circulated among members of the UN Security Council as an appendix to S/26488, but since it was classified for “UN Eyes Only,” it was not made publicly available at the time. Note that the numbers we provide for the Hutu and Tutsi population are based on the percentages Daillaire reported, and are not to be found in Dallaire’s Report. For a copy of Dallaire’s Report, see Peter Erlinder, Ed., Report of the UN Reconnaissance Mission to Rwanda—August 1993 (Saint Paul, MN: International Humanitarian Law Institute, 2011), here para. 30, pp. 34-35.
 Herman and Peterson, “Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Propaganda System.” < http://tinyurl.com/p7omr2f >
 In Erlinder, Ed., Report of the UN Reconnaissance Mission to Rwanda—August 1993, para. 31-69, pp. 35-40; here para. 67, p. 40.
 Judge Erik Møse et al., Judgment, Prosecutor v. Théoneste Bagosora et al., Case No. ICTR-98-41-T, December 18, 2008, para. 2109-2010, p. 539. < http://tinyurl.com/ncarqtd >.
 Barrie Collins, Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and Its Consequences (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p. 126.
 Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004).